LETTER – READINGTON CANDIDATE BEN SMITH RESPONDS TO FABRICATIONS OF LELAH AND LYONS

Larry Lelah and Deb Lyons recently wrote a letter listing items that they perceive to be facts.  Unfortunately, they are misinformed or misleading.

“Merck’s departure has placed a heavy burden on the township, and will continue to do so for many years.”

Merck has recently informed the township that it is under contract to sell its property.  In 2014 Merck’s negotiated a 28%, or $62 million, reduction in their assessed value.  This was a 2.33% decrease of the Township’s overall value of $2.663 billion.  Meanwhile, redevelopment on US 22 has added $20 million of new value.   Using Readington’s 2014 municipal tax rate of 0.503% and the average $400,000 home value, the increase would be $31.73 to cover the loss in tax revenue.  Is this a “heavy burden”?

“The Township Committee, Planning Board and Open Space Committee have a direct impact on the debt.”

Not true.  Only the Township Committee can pass bond ordinances and borrow money.  The vote must be taken after a public hearing, and requires a super-majority or 4 out of 5 votes of the Committee.  Negotiations for open space or farmland preservation are strictly the purview of the Township Committee.

“We have one of the highest municipal tax rates in the county.”

This is incorrect.  To compare tax rates between municipalities accurately, one needs to look at the State equalized tax values because each municipality has a different assessed value percentage.  Equalized value brings assessed values up to market rates and correspondingly adjusts the tax rates so that you can compare apples to apples.  Readington’s equalized municipal tax rate in 2014 was 0.441%, which places it 19th highest of 26.  The highest were High Bridge (0.883%) and Flemington (0.831%)–double that of Readington.

“Readington’s ratables have consistently decreased over the past several years.”

This is true, but Lelah and Lyons are portraying national trends as a local problem.  Readington is just like every other town nationwide where home values increased to a peak in 2008, the recession happened, and home values decreased.  Readington’s total equalized value strongly matches the US Census chart (2004-2012) for median home value.

“Readington is $57.2 million in debt, which is the highest in Hunterdon County”

Readington has the largest land area and second largest population in Hunterdon County.  It is true that Readington has the highest dollar amount of debt, but that is a very simplistic view.  Municipal debt ratio (debt to equalized value) is limited by State law to 3.5%.  Readington’s 2014 debt ratio was 1.840%, half the legal limit, and has a AA credit rating.  Flemington and Frenchtown have ratios of 1.808% and 1.737%.  Meanwhile, High Bridge with $12.9 million of debt has a debt ratio of 3.610%!

Municipal debt is used to purchase tangible items such as vehicles, land, and buildings.  Just over 1/3 of the debt, or $20.9 million, is for the airport–approved by referendum in 2006.  Just under 1/3 of the debt, or $16.7 million, was used to preserve farms and open space–largely between 1996 to 2006.  The remaining 1/3, or $19.6 million, reflects the other items like buying fire trucks, plow trucks and repaving roads.  This $20 million is largely in line with other townships of similar population and land area in Hunterdon (e.g., Clinton Township $23.2 million, Raritan Township $18.0 million).

Lelah and Lyons do not appear to understand municipal comparisons.

Liz and I are committed to meet the challenges facing Readington. We have a good understanding of the problems facing our township, have experience and excellent professional qualifications, and are best equipped to meet these challenges.

Ben Smith