A Gift to the Future, and My Vote on Bancroft

In this excerpts from a blog from Herb Hess, the Haddonfielder explains why he supports the Bancroft referendum.

Today, many in town are making arguments for or against the purchase of the Bancroft property. If you don’t know right now I’ll say clearly that I support the purchase but I see the merits of both arguments. Times are tough, can we afford this? Have we (personally, as a borough and county) managed our current responsibilities as well as we should or can? Is this the best use of the money? For the conspiracy theorists, are their moneyed influences exerting an agenda here?

My decision comes down to my personal faith in the future, as simply explained in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Having children has taught me a lesson about faith and hope. Why would I invest diligently in savings for them unless I had faith that they would excel in their primary education and go on to earn higher degrees? Why should I spend time daily reading, Scouting, hiking, swimming, roller skating, growing crystals, doing math, spelling, talking, or just watching a movie together with them unless I had evidence that their future would be fulfilling to them and equally vital to the health of our society?

And what of our society? Where will the earnings come from to fund Social Security for you and I when the number of earners to retirees ebbs down to 2 to 1 from 5 to 1 in the past? Who will develop the medical breakthroughs that you and I will depend upon as we reach our 100th (110th or 120th) birthday? (It will happen.). Even more strikingly, who will lead the societal and technological changes that will distribute water and food far more efficiently than we do today? Nine billion people in the future are counting on it.

The people in Haddonfield are smart, no doubt about it. Just sampling the arguments on Haddonfield Talks shines a light on many perspectives that are well-reasoned. When I read the arguments, to me, they all reduce down to faith. Do I have faith that I’m being told the whole truth? Do I have faith in the stewardship of my current tax dollars? Do I have evidence that more learning space is needed, or will technology transform the campus from a building to the world delivered on an iPad?

I know it will cost money to buy Bancroft. I knew it when I helped set up a booth at the Fall Festival in 2006 to collect names of people interested in this purchase. I knew it when I collected signatures in 100-degree heat downtown to put an initiative on the ballot for an Open Space tax. Handing out free lemonade seemed to raise my success rate that hot day and the ballot passed and was renewed five years later by the voters of Haddonfield. (By the way, I paid for the lemonade myself.)

Financially, we are at historic low interest rates; they may be up by 1.5 points by the end of the year. In 2006 Bancroft could have been sold relatively easily for the $20 million sought, especially with the help of a proactive COAH (Council on Affordable Housing), now they will accept a bit over $12 million. As Dave Seidell pointed out, the appraisal for use as a campus was $15 million. In 2006 I personally researched and estimated their debt on the property at about $15 to 19 million from public records. I don’t believe their banks would let them sell for much less. It may not be the best deal possible but I don’t believe we are leaving $4 million on the table. And, as one "no" voter pointed out, the $3.5 million in funds and grants represents taxes we have already paid. If so, then why not use them for ourselves instead of giving them to someone else?

For those who would vote "no," the success of this referendum puts a burden on all of us to see that we become better stewards of our tax dollars. I agree with the "no" voters that we haven’t had a great track record of building maintenance or spending restraint, at least not until the Great Recession. More to the point, we need to commit our borough and BOE financial resources to the core mission of government, divesting or sharing those responsibilities that are not core, and always seeking more cost-effective alternatives. We have already made some progress and we can still do more if we rethink how we deliver services. If we had this much discussion, involvement, and debate around our borough and BOE budgets 15 years ago we likely wouldn’t be complaining so much about our tax burden today.

For those who would vote "yes," the failure of this referendum puts a burden on us as well. The "no" voters clearly see an alternative use for their income. Perhaps it is something as basic as food or shelter, or maybe it’s just something more important to them personally. To the "yes" voters I would ask “What is your gift to the future?” What will your saved $100, $200, $300, or $500 each year be dedicated to? Individually it may not seem that great a sum. Together it will amount to a millions each year. Will those funds be dedicated to improving our school facilities as they exist today? Repairing roofs? Investing in technology and teachers? Clearly there are needs which are not met today that could use some financial help.

My vision for Bancroft today is like that of a father’s vision for an unborn child—a mixture of hope and trepidation. Hope that the space leads to the further development of Haddonfield’s most successful industry—public education. Hope that the space allows Haddonfield to be more than just a consumer of education through new media but also a producer—generating income for our district by allowing our teachers to deliver education without bounds. Hope that the dedication of this space to public use will properly burden the downtown with (inevitable) redevelopment that will improve our ratables to offset this baby’s cost of care and feeding. Hope that the additional greenspace allows each of us, not just kids, to enjoy greater time outdoors with family, pets, and nature itself. Even hope that continued partnerships with other communities and colleges will lead to our retained leadership in public education well into the future.

Most of all, it is my hope that—if not for my children—then for the next generations to come, this space provides for the physical, moral and intellectual development that will be demanded by a global, knowledge-based, resource-constrained society. Tomorrow’s learning will depend equally on technology and the interpersonal interaction of our young learners with other teachers, students, artists, and athletes in their school; in what we ALL agree should be a GREAT school. If we are challenged by delivering another $200 each year in tax dollars to our community, just think how challenged the future America, including my kids, will be competing with a dominant Asia and competing for water, energy, talent, and capital. Haddonfield better produce the brightest and most talented young people possible. I have faith the Bancroft’s property will allow that to happen, not only for our own kids, but for kids with iPads and tablets everywhere learning from Haddonfield teachers and students.

Please be sure to vote!

Jack S January 14, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Much of what Mr. Hess writes above is expressed beautifully, but unfortunately he gives no real reason for voting 'yes.' We are told this is for our children, but precisely what is for our children? Not one penny in the bond is currently slated for education, unless one considers a turf field to be absolutely essential to education. I respect the right of those who favor the bond to hold that opinion, but please do not suggest that we are hurting our kids when we don't want to fork over even more $ for the "children." You make us sound like pikers who pay little or nothing today for education, when most of us have been extremely generous. And that's coming from someone with a child in the schools today. Also, one can get a sense of the quality or substance of the argument(s) (or lack thereof) when the "$15 million" appraisal is cited. Where is the citation of the $6.5 million appraisal by the same appraiser? The $15 million appraisal assumes a use of the property which is not legally permitted, and coming as it did after the purchase price was already negotiated, it was clearly 'made-to-order' and is legally inapplicable. When I questioned the school board about the $15.1 million appraisal, their only response was: "Well, if you don't like it, you can vote 'no.'"
John Moscatelli January 14, 2013 at 12:40 PM
Nice article, and all due respect to the author, blind faith is NEVER a virtue. Overpaying for the land by half is a bad decision. Let's fix what we have before going off half cocked and buying more land, along with historic building we need to maintain.
HaddonGirl January 14, 2013 at 01:40 PM
While our town is full of jewelry stores, banks, and law firms, Mr. Hess quite rightly points out that Public Education is Haddonfield's most successful industry. This referendum is a capital improvement & investment for that industry, at a time when our own previously paid tax dollars can be applied toward the purchase. I'd like to see that cash come back. It's never easy suck it up and buckle down when the budget needs to be tightened for such an expenditure, but to let this opportunity go by would be one of the most foolish things residents could ever do. To acquire the space for school and public use is putting it to it's "best and highest use". There were once homes where the high school library and the entire "C" building now stands. This, in the 1970's. It is not unreasonable that another 40-50 years later, another major improvement should happen to one of the finest schools in the state.
Susan Hoch MD January 14, 2013 at 01:42 PM
Nicely written letter. However, I fail to understand how building an athletic field and a turf one probably improves education in science and technology or allows our teachers to be producers of education. I agree that the future demands that our students are educated to join a global knowledge based society. I just don't understand how an athletic field contributes to this goal at a time when the school does not have adequate computer technology or even enough computers for the students to take the State Mandated tests. If this was a referendum to pay for upgrading computers and Internet access and videoconferencing, we would be having a different discussion. But that is not what this referendum is about. It is about land for athletic fields. Mr Hess, at least recognizes that neither the Board of Education nor the Borough have been adequate stewards of either our tax dollars or the physical structures - buildings, roads, trees etc. It is blind faith that makes him think that somehow they will improve on this longstanding neglect. Most of us do not have blind faith in the leadership of the town or the Board of Education having observed them over the last fifteen years or more.
Joe Taxpayer January 14, 2013 at 01:42 PM
Herb, nice letter. Jack, that's a pretty serious accusation on a firm's professional reputation because if what you say was to be true, a "made to order" appraisal would be fraudulent. Anyone investigating this?
Maryann Campling January 14, 2013 at 01:54 PM
"The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to him that lendeth." Prov.22:7 With all due respect to the Good Book, I'd like to quote from the Gospel of Ed and Elsie (my late parents). "There is a difference between what you want and what you need." Don't mortgage your future to satisfy today's whims and dreams." "If you don't have the cash to buy it....it means you CAN'T AFFORD IT.:" I am bothered by the fact that so many folks have focused on the (inflated) purchase price of the Bancroft property, while ignoring the projected development figure of 28M.....add this to the 41+M this small town already carries and we're looking at around 85M debt....that should be of concern to everyone!
Jack S January 14, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Joe, the suggestion of fraud is yours, not mine. The $15 million appraisal (as opposed to the $6.5 million appraisal) argues that the "higest and best use" of the property is "expanded" institutional. But an expanded institution use is not permitted at the property. Likewise, the "highest and best use" of my house may be as something other than a residence. But the zoning board is highly unlikely to approve either use variances. I give credit to the appraiser for coming up with a creative approach to the valuation that endeavors to support the $12.2 million purchase price. Nothing "fraudulent" in that. However, it's a stretch to think a super majority of our zoning board is going to roll over and approve such an "expanded" use, when, among other things, there is no real public interest in doing so (particularly since the current owner pays no ratables). When I've pressed some of our elected officials on the weakness of the $15.1 million appraisal, they've had no substantive response other than to say that, if one has little or no faith in the $15.1 million appraisal, they can vote 'no.' Which obviously I intend to do.
Jack S January 14, 2013 at 03:10 PM
Maryann, just a point of clarification that the up to $28 million in additional capital repairs/improvements are at the existing schools, and not Bancroft. Any future development at Bancroft would be separate from the $12.5 million bond and the up to $28 million in capital repairs/improvements at the existing schools. Net-net, the total debt load exposure is even worse than as you have described.
Brian Kelly January 14, 2013 at 03:12 PM
I appreciate Herb's letter as it comes from his heart. I have been criticized many times for speaking the same way but never cared as I know what I'm saying comes from my heart also. That Herb's faith is plays is something I respect but even in the beginning of his letter he alludes to the conspiracy theorists out there. People have every right to express their concerns or opinions. It is being expressed on both sides, whether it's vision of the future or the town unable to handle its debt. Herb has expressed his opinion from his heart. I will say, from my heart the problem I see is so many residents of the town dealing with financial problems and staying afloat with one goal in mind. Being able to live in the town they love and in many cases grew up in. If you're for the bond I respect your reasons, please just realize what I say is a reality for many residents. I recently talked to a woman on Beechwood Avenue, a retired widow on a fixed income who has lived here for over 40 years. She views January 22nd as a countdown. If the bond passes she knows her time in Haddonfield will be over. I would ask anyone that has doubts about this to join me as I walk through the neighborhoods. Listen to their stories firsthand. Walking around in the other persons shoes is so important. We all walk the streets of our town and share what makes Haddonfield so unique as a community. Thanks to Herb for his feelings on this issue.
Reed Rothchild January 14, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Those are some shiny shoes. The picture accompanying the article really contributes to this issue. The bancroft purchase (as it currently stands) will be the stuff stuck to the bottom of each Haddonfield residents shoes that they can't get off, for decades to come, if this passes. The responsible thing to do is vote NO now. The BOE and town should prepare a legitimate bid, case and plan including making the current high school and structures top notch and world class prior to obtaining additional space which will be neglected.
Dawn January 14, 2013 at 03:30 PM
I am so glad to be reading these comments. After spending my morning going through my mail from last week and seeing so many One haddonfield fliers and ads I was dismayed by the thought of the residents believing this political crap being shoved down our throats. There are people out there that do not believe the crap that they are being fed. How can any of the families listed on the yellow flier put their names out there like that? Do they not realize they just sold their soul? Bancroft paid to print and distribute those fliers. How can people not see the one sided agenda. AND STOP saying we are only going to have a $200 tax increase. IT IS NOT TRUE! It will begin with a several hundred $ increase, on top the of normal increase every year. It will not stop there.
Maryann Campling January 14, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Jack S. thanks for the clarification (I think)....my blood pressure just went up about 20 points! According to a 2010 Demographic Profile: Total housing units:4634, owner-occupied:3654:household with individuals under 18:1630. Bottom line....the projected debt is staggering...for everyone and in case some folks haven't notice, the economy is still in the toilet and, according to my financial adviser, has a potential 10 year turn around projected. And Dawn...I did see the yellow list of supporters....it read like "Mrs. Astor's 400!"
John Moscatelli January 14, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Another way to look at the average $189 tax increase, is that it is actually an increase of 2.7% in your school taxes. Yup, 2.7% just for this bond. That will be on top of whatever increase they go for in November; so we could be looking at 4.7% this year alone (or more if they put it to a vote). For those that want the math - average increase $189, average assessment $491,345, current school tax rate per $100 of assessed value 1.448. So $491345/100x1.448 = $7114.68 in school taxes. $189/$7114.68=2.66% That's a number they aren't talking about.
Jack S January 14, 2013 at 04:01 PM
The property tax increase in the $12.9 million Westfield, NJ turf/school improvements bond, which was defeated 3-1 this past September, was only $55 per year. Westfield has similar demographics to Haddonfield. No one should underestimate how residents feel about a $189 increase, especially since that's only the tip of iceberg.
Brian Kelly January 14, 2013 at 04:47 PM
As to the $189 per household for the bond, remember to add the costs of the 2 turf fields on the high school property to the tax bill. As the cost for the turf field on the referendum is 1.2 million dollars, that must be applied to the cost of the 2 high school fields minus the $600,000 generously raised by the HFTC. That leaves 1.6 million dollars the taxpayers will pay. As the fields have a limited life their eventual replacement is just one of the things people mean when they say hidden costs, or costs not factored into what the bill will become over time. Although there have been accusations that people expressing their opinions against the bond are using scare tactics and distorting the facts, it's an honest concern that all people, pro or against should take into consideration.
Joe Taxpayer January 14, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Brian, thanks for continuing to provide information for all. Couple of observations/comments. 1. We really need to know what the cost is per every $1 million borrowed and on a gross and net basis of other debt paydowns which occur every year. 2. Lots of improvements do not have useful lives while they are bonded for much longer. Some examples. HVAC, roads, trucks, police cars, etc. They all get replaced much sooner as well so while turf may get replaced in 10-12 years, its unfair to make it seem that no other expenses create the same replacement need. 3. I wish the BOE/boro would provide the financial case more clearly. Too many of us have become numb to the idea of borrowing and then borrowing more to pay the borrowed money like they do in DC. luckily, municipal governments actually pay back their bonds. If the need for future capital was reduced or went away, the money spent on debt service could be redeployed hopefully as tax relief. It's an important difference between us locally and the debt ceiling debate which is about borrowing more $ to pay bills we have already borrowed $ for. I think we all agree that is the definition of stupidity and nothing good comes from that. Keep sharing. Do your own research and be as informed as you can. After this is over in a few weeks, we can turn our energy to reducing the costs of the operating budgets notably healthcare costs!
Mike McCready January 14, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Even if Herb didn't explicitly point it out to all of us at the beginning, this letter is so clearly steeped in religiosity. This is what religious people often do - they talk about this IMAGINED future instead of focusing on the reality of the present. It’s the carrot that religion constantly dangles in front of its followers – believe in and follow God on earth (and drop money in our collection baskets every week!) and you will live in eternal paradise after you die. I’m not surprised that a religious zealot like Herb would also buy into the malarkey that the supporters of the Bancroft purchase have been feeding him. He’s an easy target. (No offense Herb!) But the bottom line is, Herb offers no concrete examples as to what we are going to do with this new land to improve our schools. Instead he just has “faith” and “hope”. Well I deal in reality. Hope is easy, knowledge is hard. Much like religion, one should never believe in anything on insufficient evidence. And the supporters of this “plan” have yet to offer any real evidence as to why we need an additional 19 acres of land for the high school. Because some day we may need it? Let’s drop $16m on something we may need some day in this future utopia? Sorry guys, that’s not enough.
Bumpkin January 14, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Ha! Don't you really mean, "Mrs. Colombi's 400?"
Brian Kelly January 14, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Mike, Although I respect Herb's opinion and his faith in God, you're absolutely right that reality is something we need in dealing with this issue. It was quite a hectic weekend and the week leading up to the referendum promises more of the same. Joe T, I wanted to let you know during the weekend on the Haddonfield United page someone criticized Bill Duhart of stirring the pot and accused him of being Joe Taxpayer! I told him as I believe Joe supports capital improvements in this issue he could safely assume that wasn't the case.. Thought you would get a kick out of that one!
Joe Taxpayer January 15, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Brian, that is pretty funny. Thanks for sharing.


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