Report from Meet the Mayor

April 12 was the latest installment of your Civic Association’s Meet the Mayor and TC event – a chance for residents to hear from the TC and ask questions. A small group of attendees were treated to some interesting information. We will try to distill our 6 pages of notes to the highlights.

Tim Jones emphasized the unique nature of Harding with our open space and a strategy to control growth through preservation. Most recent purchase is 163 Lee’s Hill Road which will provide Harding’s own link to the Great Swamp and its trails. He mentioned that Covid brought lots of hikers to both public and private land without issues.

Jones said that filing a demolition permit on the Glen Alpin building got Trenton’s attention some years ago and initiated action which has led down the path to “diversion,” a process of unloading this type of property. He said a proposal by two entrepreneurs to make GA a private club with a pool was rejected because the property must be accessible by the public. More proposals are coming in weeks. “Someone will take it over” and the GA restoration will not be on the Harding taxpayer.

On Hurstmont, the dilapidated estate on Rt202 just north of GA, the developers have gone “back to the drawing board” due at least in part to Covid. The preliminary new plans call for one building, not two which will be lower and smaller. It will be at least a year before ground is broken.

The group home on Rt202 for Pillar (fka Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey) has been occupied for about 7 months. There has been no demand on Harding resources and only one EMT call.

Dr Nicole Lacz, the newest TC member, introduced herself. A breast cancer radiologist and 11 years in town with prior experience on the Bd of Health and various schools volunteer opportunities. Lacz is working on the Centennial celebration, park advisory committee and 2025 affordable housing round.

Chris Yates, mayor from 2017 to 2020 and the chair of the finance committee, said again that Affordable Housing mandates from the State are the single biggest challenge for Harding. Developing a strategy for the 2025 mandate will start next month.

HT continues to develop a 10-year financial plan. HT has a AAA bond rating and is projected to be debt free by 2028 barring any new issue for capital project or open space purchase. In 2022, the average tax bill increases $39 while total taxes collected rose $89K. Cost drivers are healthcare premiums, pension expense. The town is looking into a “new structure” to control healthcare costs. Municipal court, previously shared with Madison and a few other towns, is now shared with Long Hill Township a move that saves $120K annually.

Nic Platt, the longest serving TC member at 12 years as described as “Open Space Champion” by the moderator. Platt mentioned that he is running for re-election this Fall and gave praise to Jones and (former TC member Dev Modi) for their work on the Glen Alpin diversion and to Chipperson for her work on the Centennial.

Platt highlighted that he, and Jordan Glatt, former mayor of Summit, were appointed by Governor Murphy as “czars” for shared services – a strategy to reduce municipal spending. The latest area of focus is schools and possible consolidation. Platt was clear that Harding Township schools are NOT on the menu of possible schools to be consolidated.

Rita Chipperson, a TC member since 2020, also took the opportunity to introduce herself – an intellectual property attorney with and engineering background. She is 9 years in Harding with a daughter at Oak Knoll School and son at Delbarton and serves on the Morris County Covenant House Board. Her subcommittee and liason responsibilities are CPAC, Glen Alpin and Harding Open Space Trust. She took the opportunity to promote the Centennial events.

Interesting fact: 75 properties changed hands in 2021, almost 6% of the total in Harding. That is triple the number in each year 2019 and 2020.

Questions from the field:

When will Kirby Hall be fully open? “Relatively soon”

When will the rest of Sand Spring Rd paving be completed? “Don’t know – the State of NJ determines”

Path to Diversion of Glen Alpin? “April 18, the waiting period will be over. “Final approval in May.” Then it’s up to entrepreneurs to submit plans.”

Cell Tower Status? “TC is not able to comment as application is pending. The wireless equipment on the roof of the Hurstmont development will be hidden.”

When will Hurstmont break ground? “at least a year. Many permits still needed.”

Why are property taxes so low? HT gets no state aid. School gets some and must wait for NJ to give them teacher benefit and healthcare numbers for their budget. Remember that the school is about 50% of your property taxes while HT and Morris County are each about 25%. Yates said that HT are only low for people who have lived their lives in NJ. They are only low relative to other towns in NJ. He said they work hard to keep spending down – they have had requests for sidewalks, skating park, dog park and others. All denied. A wag in the audience blurted out: “So I guess the ferris wheel is out of the question.”

Further, fire department and EMT squad are “major line items” for most municipalities. But not at Harding as they are 100% volunteer staffed and citizen supported financially. Yates gave another example of the challenges the town faces. Bulk garbage pickup contract is in its last year of a five-year term at $90K/year. Some of the new bid’s range to $250K – a challenge.

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