The announcement of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision this week not the hear the Klockner Woods is a calamitous one, not only for what it does to the wallets of Hamilton Township taxpayers, but what it means for taxpayers and the legislative powers vested in governing bodies throughout the state.
In this case, former Mayor Glen D. Gilmore negotiated a horrible price for some acres of woodland near Route 295 in Hamilton – $4.5 million – without ever getting Township Council members to effectively appropriate the money, as they are statutorily empowered to do.
Normally the legislative body of the township, through refusing to allow township funds to be used on the land, should have had the ability to negate what amounted to a horrible deal for the township. But the developer successfully argued in court that the mayor’s actions put Hamilton Township on the hook for the money, and the Appellate Division upheld that decision.
The only hope was for the New Jersey Supreme Court to step in and overturn the decision, but with the decision not to hear the case mayor and administrators everywhere have been empowered to negotiate deals with little oversight from municipal legislators.
Now, through the missteps of a now-ousted mayor, Hamilton’s taxpayers are going to be on the hook for what the township administrator estimated to be as much as $550,000 in annual debt, in a municipality that has already experienced fiscal shock after fiscal shock.
“I don’t know where to take the fight from here,” said Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo, in the Times of Trenton. “It’s terribly upsetting for me and I’m sure it’s going to be terribly upsetting to the residents that they are going to be stuck paying for this.”