To the Editor:
It has come to our attention through a local resident questioning recent Planning Board meeting statements that the township may be proposing to give away the municipal building and the land it sits on for an affordable housing development. We do not have all the details of such a decision, but what we can gather in a short period of time is that we, Rez Estevez and Mark Hamilton, stand firmly opposed to such an idea.
The results of such a decision will have numerous detrimental impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods and community, not the least of which will be raising taxes to build a new municipal building. The charade that has been put out in the public over the last several years is that affordable housing doesn’t cost the municipalities anything. That idea has finally been exposed. At the last Township meeting, town administrator Bob Hoffmann alluded to, without spelling it out, that there might be a 3 to 4 million-dollar cost. We think that if this is true, the cost will be much higher. Those kinds of costs will impact and limit the Townships ability in future years to make any capital improvements to our roads, infrastructure, library, public works equipment and recreation without a significant tax increase.
No wonder Tracy Ness, a non-tax paying resident, and our Democrat opponents keep talking about rising taxes in the future. They have been trying to conflate it with other issues, but it sounds like they knew, bought into the idea and if so, your property values will fall, tax assessment challenges will rise and a shortfall of revenue that will have to be made up through significant tax increases.
There are serious questions about this that need to be answered. Where is the transparency that we always hear about, particularly in campaigns, that the Township Committee with the guidance and approval of the professional staff would carry such a big, bold decision forward without any public input is outrageous. We expect more from our leaders and our professionals to guide the town. It makes us wonder who is driving these decisions and are they acting in the best interest of us, the taxpayers.
We understand that there are requirements to an Affordable Housing agreement that have to be met. We also understand that there are ways to satisfy those requirements without giving away the store. We have discussed this in our campaign that we would not agree to an asset giveaway. Unless a potential developer is willing to pay for the site that allows us to offset the cost of a new municipal building this is a nonstarter for the two of us. Based off public comments from Committeewoman Ness, it does not appear that there would be any compensation received by the town, and there may actually be additional funding provided to the affordable housing builder. This proposal is not only giving away the store, this is giving away the entire mall. Forfeiting assets, township taxpayer paid for assets, including land, that can never be recovered, is a ridiculous way to provide a solution to this issue. It begs the follow-on question, who came up with this hair-brained idea and why? How could our present elected leaders go along with such an idea. We understand that the municipal building, like much infrastructure, may need an upgrade. Well then make the upgrade. The taxpayers understand that maintaining infrastructure is critical to Township operations and will support such and so will we. Our Township building, originally a school, is no older than many of our schools that have made upgrades. If the Township Committee feels that a new Municipal building is needed, then we suggest build it on the present site. If given away for demolition, the Township will never be able to recreate the Municipal chamber, the large community rooms as well as the other spaces, not to mention the disruption it will bring to the Senior Center and our gym that is used for multiple recreation sports.
We, Rez Estevez and Mark Hamilton, stand opposed to such an idea. We will strive to work towards an agreement on Affordable Housing that has the least impact on Chatham Township residents. It requires Township Committee members who are committed to thinking creatively as well as willing to fight against unfair and onerous requirements. We are willing to do both and we will work to solve the problem, but not with a solution that sells out the town. I hope we can count on your support in this battle for the future of our beloved Township and your vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5th.
Rez Estevez and Mark Hamilton