New Hope residents may have to pay $130 more annually to use Solebury Township Park & Recreation facilities starting in February 2018 unless borough council returns to the negotiating table to discuss fixing what Solebury considers a lopsided financial burden.
“Right now, Solebury taxpayers are paying about 25 times more than New Hope taxpayers,” Solebury Supervisor Helen Tai said in a September communication to residents.
In fact, Solebury Township supervisors have been asking New Hope Borough Council to contribute more of its fair share toward the Parks & Recreation budget since 2014, and New Hope has balked. In August, the township sent yet another formal invitation to New Hope council to meet and determine an equitable cost sharing agreement, but New Hope attempted to delay the meeting until January, too late for any new pact to be implemented in time for Solebury’s 2018 budget planning process.
On Sept. 20, New Hope Borough Council President Alison Kingsley agreed to discuss the issue with Solebury Board of Supervisors President Kevin Morrissey, and representatives from both towns finally met on Oct. 12. Morrissey and Kingsley agreed that the subcommittee should talk again before the end of October, and a meeting was ultimately set for Nov. 6. A day later, say Solebury officials, New Hope Council Member Claire Shaw cancelled the meeting.
“Although we are willing to work toward an amicable agreement, this is not a priority for the Borough at this time,” explained Shaw in an email to Solebury supervisors. “You will hear from us after the first of the year to reschedule this meeting.”
“I am very disappointed that New Hope walked away, unwilling to pay their fair share,” said Tai. “This is not how good neighbors treat each other.”
Kingsley and Shaw did not respond to requests for comment.
Solebury Township and New Hope share the cost of several services, including Parks & Recreation, fire, ambulance/emergency services, and the public library. But Solebury says its citizens currently pay $16 per capita for Parks & Recreation, while New Hope residents pay 59 cents.
“A fair agreement would be for residents of both communities to pay $12.50 per capita,” say Solebury supervisors. “This would mean that New Hope would contribute $32,000 annually vs. the current $1,500. [But] since New Hope Borough Council is unwilling to discuss the topic, we are once again left with the question of whether to charge non-resident fees to compensate for the loss in revenue.”
“I am loathe to take this step because it puts a very large burden on the New Hope families,” said Tai. “In order to compensate for New Hope’s refusal to pay their fair share, each New Hope participant would have to pay an average of $130 more.”
Solebury officials say they’re offering New Hope a new agreement that increases the borough’s contribution from $1,500 to $32,000, with a deadline of Jan. 31.
“We discussed that it was not our desire to take this step, and that we don’t want to harm the kids or sports programs,” explained Tai. “It’s really up to New Hope Borough Council to do the right thing and fund the program, or at least talk to us.”
Solebury leaders say they recognize that both municipalities contribute to one another’s welfare in different ways, and that they’ve calculated the amount each municipality “loses” in property tax due to public land (e.g. parks, schools, fire house, library). They also claim that taxpayers in both New Hope and Solebury save millions in school tax due to Solebury’s land preservation program.
New Hope did not provide any corresponding data, according Solebury officials. The borough instead suggested that rather than increasing their contribution to Solebury, New Hope residents may be better served by joining another Park & Rec program, such as that of Upper Makefield.