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Bonds, Tax Increases and Public Hearings…Oh, My! (Washington Township Bond – Part 2)

As a follow-up to my article last week, let’s get clear about what declaratory and confirmatory resolutions really are…the former asks you for permission to explore an idea and the latter confirms the idea is worth pursuing. Generally, this process works but in the case of Washington Township, it will take just two board members to decide on an unusual and significant bond” situation that will ultimately mean another tax increase.

Public hearings were held on the matter Tuesday morning ( October 16) and the audience gleaned very little for their time and effort. Simply referred to as the project,” no more information was provided about the details. One gallery member feels the Trustee is a visionary, but he neglected to mention that he is a member of the Township’s Parks Advisory Board. Maybe he knew more than the rest of the audience, but if that was the case, he wasn’t saying. No one received confirmation of any of the details and no denials were made regarding previous supposition.

There was some great commentary from concerned citizens, including one who expressed the need for creative thinking from the Trustee’s office. (This person should know, too, as she was formerly the Director of Washington Township Parks but was relieved of her duties shortly after the current Trustee took office just four short years ago.)

Of the other township residents engaged in the public hearing, most questioned the need to raise taxes to simply acquire green-space or build a connector trail. Several people left the meeting after its conclusion, questioning if the Township Trustee and Board needed to be in the business of parks, pointing out that to date, the majority of the land in the Township’s purview has been acquired through private land gifts. (The City of Westfield recently noted that it now has a total of 110 miles of trails for the enjoyment of residents in our 56 square mile township.)

One concerned citizen reminded the Township Board there would be the potential for a tax increase due to the upcoming “911 tax” being proposed by Mayors and City Councils in Hamilton County. Additionally, a suggestion was made that residents of Westfield-Washington Schools have yet to feel the full impact of the referenda on their property taxes payable in 2019.

Finally, it has been confirmed that if the bond is approved, it would be the only protected fund in Washington Township. What it means is that debt service becomes the top priority and other budgeted funds must be reduced to make up for the shortfall: township assistance and fire protection. That’s right, the most prioritized accounts in the Township can be robbed of their monies to pay the borrowed amount for green-space. This is a twenty -year debt. In the first year the payment will be $600,000 (including issuance and real estate fees.) When the bond issuance is maxed at $15 Million, the total debt service payment will be approximately $1.1 Million per year. Washington Township budgets have averaged $1.5 Million.

While the timeline for this bond business is swift, Township Board President David Gill, had the forethought to table the vote until after the second required public hearing on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018. (The hearing begins at 8 AM at the Washington Township Trustee’s office.) It is anticipated, according to the published timeline, that the Board will adopt the Confirmatory Resolution on the same day.

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