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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!

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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