Republican Mayors Oppose Plan to Take Planning Decisions from Local Communities

A proposal to end a state program which permits one municipality to pay another to assume its responsibility for building low and moderate income housing drew sharp criticism today from three local officials in Atlantic County who said ?the demise of the program will throw a punishing tax burden onto the county?s growth zone communities.?

The three local officials — Egg Harbor Township Mayor Sonny McCullough, Galloway Township Mayor Tom Bassford, and Hamilton Township Committeeman Charles Pritchard — warned that forcing their communities to accept even greater housing development ?will strain municipal services and budgets to the breaking point and lead to devastating property tax increases.?

The three called on Second District Assemblyman Jim Whelan to ?oppose the plan as forcefully as possible and convince the leadership of his party that repeal of the law would have disastrous consequences.?

Whelan has expressed his support for the recommendation by Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, Democrat of Camden County, to eliminate regional contribution agreements as a tool for towns to use in sound planning and to meet their state mandated housing obligations.

McCullough, Bassford and Pritchard represent so-called growth zone municipalities — communities designated as areas open to the housing development which is prohibited in the Pinelands region of the county.

?The strain placed on our communities, our school districts, our municipal services, and our transportation infrastructure has been immense as a result of the growth zone designation,? they said. ?Despite our pleas for state assistance to help us cope with the growth, none has been forthcoming and we and our citizens continue to struggle with the increased costs and tax burden associated with it.?

They said that repealing the 1988 law which permits regional contribution agreements will ?make a difficult situation even worse in our communities by forcing us to accept housing growth which we can no longer absorb or afford.?

The three responded to comments by Speaker Roberts, who, in offering the repeal proposal, accused municipal officials of racism.

?Using overheated rhetoric and employing such terms as ?blood money? and ?segregation? is not only insulting but accomplishes nothing in terms of resolving the growth and sprawl problem we face,? they said.

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