31 March 2008

Madness!

Are we finished yet?

I can still hear the mid-month roars reverberating across the blog. What a time we've had.

Yes, we're going out like lambs.

Goodbye March, see you next year!

30 March 2008

Next Year is Now!

There's no more "Wait til next year!" for Hillsborough's little leaguers. Practices began this weekend for our 1300 "boys of summer" ages 5 to 16.

With the official opening day just three weeks away - April 19 - there's not much time to get into midseason form.

Most games take place at the Willow Road Baseball Complex. Maybe I'll see you there this spring - you bring the crackerjacks!

29 March 2008

New Old Timers

Hillsborough's Historic Mural project has gotten me thinking about who is in the best position to tell the story of Hillsborough. How many "old-timers" are still around? Who owns our history anyway?

One group of residents has a lot to do with the look and feel and character of Hillsborough today - the original homeowners of our 50s and 60s developments. I'm afraid these people and their stories may be overlooked in the rush and excitement to find centenarians and learn about the one-room schoolhouse days.

The last 50 years are important too! If you are an original homeowner in Green Hills, Village Green, Country Club Homes, or Claremont we would love to hear your story, too. Leave a comment on the blog, or email me at greg907684@yahoo.com.

28 March 2008

Phasers On Stun

Governor Corzine announced yesterday that his planned municipal aid cuts would be "phased in", as a lead up to completely overhauling the way state aid is distributed to New Jersey's 500+ municipalities. Hillsborough was scheduled to lose about $400,000 - some smaller towns had been told they were receiving nothing.

Do you feel better now? Revamping the state aid system sounds like a good idea. The outcome must be that some towns will get more, and some get less - and hopefully the system will be more equitable. The governor has admitted that the current system seems to operate with no rhyme nor reason. Maybe that's why he has set switched his phaser from "kill" to "stun".





Which group should Hillsborough be in - should we get more or less? I look at it this way - Hillsborough is a town of working people making good salaries, and paying a lot of state income tax. We also spend a lot, and pay a lot of state sales tax. That's what the state aid is - it's your income tax and your sales tax. Are you satisfied that you are getting your fair share sent back to Hillsborough, relative to other towns in Somerset County and across the state?

If you would like more of your money to go to the big cities, then maybe we SHOULD be getting less. What do you think?

27 March 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, it's that time of the year again! The sure sign that Winter is behind us and there are brighter and tidier days ahead.

You guessed it - Hillsborough's Annual Clean-Up has arrived. Coupons are available at the Public Works Office until April 25th - I picked mine up yesterday. You can find all of the rules here.

Now I have to get back out to the garage and continue sorting - I know my lawn mower is in there somewhere, not to mention the kids' bikes and the barbecue stuff. I just have to clear out all this JUNK to find it!

26 March 2008

Wargames Across the River

There have been some unusual stories involving guns in the news the last few days. First was the apparent suicide of the Franklin Township police detective - which is still being investigated as a probable suicide, or possible accidental shooting.

Today there were two more odd stories. Two investigators, working independently, have each come to the conclusion that the fatal shot that killed Robert F. Kennedy was not fired by Sirhan Sirhan, but by one of Kennedy's bodyguards. And famed Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme was somehow wounded when he was hit by a falling bullet fired up into the air by an unknown gunman while he was cooking outside at a golf tournament. It is believed that the gunman could have been up to a mile away!

We tend to think of firearms accidents as modern tragedies, but that isn't the case. Here is a story that appeared in The New York Times on December 17, 1896.


KILLED BY HIS PLAYMATE.

A Boy of Fourteen Shot in a Game of War.

EAST MILLSTONE, N.J., Dec. 16. - While playing imitating the Cuban-Spanish war, about 5 o'clock this afternoon in this village, William Swenson, fourteen years old, shot and killed Herbert Hayes, fourteen years old. Hayes had a stick representing a sword and was pretending to try and kill Swenson, who had a twenty-two-calibre rifle, which was supposed to be empty. Swenson pulled the trigger, and the ball entered Hayes's breast, which caused hemorrhage.

After the rifle was fired Hayes exclaimed: "willie, tell your mother I am hurt and send for a doctor." Dr. Taylor was summoned immediately, but Hayes was dead before he reached the house. He lived about 15 minutes. By permission of County Physiciam Wagner of Somerville the body was removed to his home.

Hayes was the oldest son of the Rev. R. F. Hayes, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The boy was a general favorite in the village. He and Swenson have been very much attached to each other. Swenson is the youngest son of O. A. Swenson, a passenger conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

25 March 2008

Do You Remember?

Just a reminder - On Saturday April 5, Paul Ritz and Doreen Lorenzetti - the people behind Hillsborough's Historical Mural plan - will be at the library, noon to 5 p.m., to meet with residents and scan their Hillsborough related photos and historical documents.

Some photos may be chosen to be represented on a 200 foot long poster mural, planned for the entrance to the municipal complex.

I'll have more about this project in a future blog.

24 March 2008

Visual and Aural Treats

Have you taken a walk through the municipal complex recently? Hundreds of pieces of student artwork are currently on display in celebration of Youth Art Month. The artwork will be on display through the end of April.

There will be an open house tomorrow night, Tuesday March 25, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Visitors will be able to leave messages for the student artists about their work, and the school district's choral groups will provide entertainment.

Students who were showcased at the recent Hillsborough Township Cultural Arts Commission Concert will also be on hand for your listening pleasure.

I hope to see you there!

22 March 2008

Just the Facts?

I think I have mentioned before that I am a newspaper junkie. I suppose I just need to always know what's going on. Newspapers are still the best source of information - because they are filled with facts. Except of course on the editorial page!

The editorials and letters-to-the-editor often go beyond facts in an attempt to find the truth. Truth can be defined in all kinds of ways - philosophers have been debating the meaning of truth for thousands of years. One thing is certain - truth ain't just a big pile of facts.

A letter in this week's Hillsborough Beacon has a great example of this. The letter writer tells us that in 2007, Hillsborough's municipal taxes went up 10.7%. Our township committee told us that our municipal tax increase raised our property taxes 1.4%. Both of these statements are facts - but which is the truth?

You can read the Hillsborough Township press release about the tax increase here. This is the relevant paragraph:

Last year’s $2.86 total Hillsborough tax rate will see the municipal portion rise by 4 cents or 1.4%. The new municipal tax rate will be 39.8 cents per $100 of assessed value under the proposed budget.


How does 1.4% turn into 10.7%? The municipal portion of your tax bill is tiny, only about 13% of the bill. It takes a 10.7% increase in MUNICIPAL taxes to raise the TOTAL tax bill 1.4%.

Let's look at it another way. Hillsborough could actually DOUBLE your municipal taxes - increase all the budgets of every department to provide unheard of services to the residents - and your overall property tax bill would only go up 13%. Incredible.

Taxpayers don't normally separate the different portions of the tax bill when thinking about how much property tax they pay. Combine this with the fact that Hillsborough is the entity that bills the taxes and collects the taxes - and you can see why the 2007 tax increase was described as being 1.4%. That's the number that gives the most information - the most useful information - to the Hillsborough taxpayer.

You won't read this information on the editorial page. Instead you get something like this:

Now add to this – our political “leaders” lied to us last year when they said taxes only went up 1.4 percent in the municipal budget and so municipal taxes, actually went up 10.7 percent.


Which contains no useful information at all - despite being "full of facts".

I leave it up to you to decide which speaks to the truth.

20 March 2008

Let's Talk COAH

By now you know that the Council on Affordable Housing has come out with their new rules for municipalities. Rules that could require Hillsborough to build 1000 "affordable" homes over the next several years.

The Hillsborough Township committee is justifiably concerned. The new rules undo the requirements contained in builders' approvals since 2004, and don't take into account land that is in any of our preservation programs.

Now the builders and municipalities and State bureaucracies will be fighting it out to determine who ultimately controls our state's future. And they wouldn't have it any other way.

While everyone is busy arguing about the details and formulas, our attention is distracted from the real issue - What is "affordable housing" and why do we need it?

At the heart of COAH there is a very noble idea - New Jersey shouldn't have any "exclusive" towns. No municipality, or region, should consist of only one type of upscale housing, thereby excluding people of moderate incomes from living in that town. People should have the opportunity of living near where they work.

How do we accomplish that? The simple answer is to provide a variety of housing choices. This is what affordable housing SHOULD mean, providing housing choices - from small one bedroom apartments to two bedroom condos to three bedroom townhouses to single family homes built in the 50s and 60s to four and five bedroom homes on quarter and half acre lots from the 80s and 90s to the upscale Country Classics and Toll Brothers developments of today.

I would defy any bureaucrat or judge from Trenton to come to Hillsborough, take a tour down Farm Road, Bloomingdale Drive, or Beekman Lane and tell me Hillsborough does not have the widest variety of housing choices in the county. We should demand that the courts re-define the meaning of affordable housing to reflect reality - and not dump on Hillsborough because we have not turned our affordable housing into below-market slums!

The builders and lawyers are winning because we have let them define the question while we argue about the details. If we want to save the true noble cause of affordable housing, it's time to go back to Mt. Laurel and start over.

19 March 2008

Somerville's Worst Day

There has been some talk this election year about health care - who has it, who should get it, what it should cost, how it should be provided, etc. Proponents of "universal health care" promote a kind of "universal health insurance", which sounds pretty good. Unless health care is actually a finite commodity - meaning providing more to some will mean providing less to others. Unless access to regular preventive health care - annual physicals and the like - will actually reduce the amount of care needed.

New York Times headline, 11 July 1880
Bottom line - it gets complicated.

This past December I fell outside in the rain on the sidewalk and hurt my back. Nothing serious, but when I was actually feeling WORSE after a few days instead of better, I decided to call my doctor and have it checked out. I was thinking maybe she would send me for an x-ray - just to be safe.

I have really good insurance, and the ability to pay out of pocket if need be - but when the doctor's office found out that I did not fall in my own home, I was denied an appointment. "There might be a lawsuit. We don't get involved with that. Try the hospital."!?!?!?

I thought of the story of James Darcey. A down-on-his-luck veteran, he was getting by doing odd jobs around Somerville. It was at William Smith's house on High Street, while cleaning the well, that the rope he was suspended from snapped and he fell twenty feet, shattering his left leg above the ankle.

Two men managed to get another rope down to Mr. Darcey, which he fastened about himself. He was hauled up and taken immediately to Dr. Hunt, who administered morphine, but could not set the bone. Dr. Hunt suggested they try the poor-house - but the overseer was not in, and no one present was able to make out a permit to have Mr. Darcey admitted.

They next tried the jail - but since no crime had been committed, the Sheriff declined to admit him. Mr. Darcey, being a Roman Catholic, begged to be taken to the Catholic hospital in Newark. The money was raised for the train fare. but no one was willing to go with him, and Dr. Hunt discouraged such a long trip.

One of the town councilmen tried to get Mr. Darcey into a hotel, but the proprietor refused him because he was "only a tramp".

Five hours had passed since the accident, and James Darcey was in great pain. He was finally admitted to the poor-house, where the limb was set. But the incredible heat of that July day, combined with the exhaustion and delay in treatment, was too much for him, and he died two days later. He was just 50 years old.

By the way, if you haven't figured it out, this incident occurred in July 1880. Mr. Darcey was a Civil War veteran who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

The citizens of Somerville were justly embarrassed at the treatment he was given, calling it inhuman. We've come a long way in 128 years. I guess.

17 March 2008

No Pot of Gold for Hillsborough

I'm sorry to report on this St. Patrick's Day that Governor Corzine, like all good leprechauns, has taken his $400,000 pot of gold and hidden it safely away from the good people of Hillsborough. As reported in last week's Courier News, Hillsborough is facing a $400,000 reduction in state aid this budget season - and that won't be easy to make up.

Hillsborough Township municipal government faces rising costs every year - salaries, benefits, fuel, etc. It's hard enough to find savings through elimination of waste and inefficiencies just to make up for these, but to make up for a $400,000 reduction in state aid?!?!?

Make no mistake, the services offered by Hillsborough are excellent - but they are not what I would call plentiful. In this, Hillsborough is not alone. There has been a long term trend over the years of municipalities shedding some of their responsibilities. I guess the one people think of first is trash collection.

It's hard to see what else Hillsborough can cut. Remember, that $400,000 is your money. You gave it to the state when you paid your income taxes. Hillsborough is a town of working people, some making very good incomes indeed, and contributing a hefty amount in income tax. Your money is remaining in Trenton so that our state government doesn't have to make cuts to its own bureaucracy.

Meanwhile there are four men and one woman out on the lawn at the Municipal complex looking for four leafed clovers. I wish them luck!

16 March 2008

Early Easter

Easter comes early this year - won't be this early again for about 200 years.

I wondered if the Hillsborough Rotary was still planning their Easter Egg Hunt. I see that they are!




My kids always love this event. This is my daughter and her friend last year.



I made her promise - if she finds an egg with $400,000 in it, she's giving it straight to Frank DelCore to balance the budget!

15 March 2008

SCCSW Awards Dinner

It was my pleasure last night to attend the awards dinner honoring the Outstanding Women of Somerset County given by the Somerset County Commission on the Status of Women.

Each of these women had wonderful stories to tell about their impressive accomplishments - which were much more interesting than the very short bios printed this past week in the local papers. Some of the themes included creativity, adversity, and the tireless pursuit of justice. Truly nine remarkable stories.

This photo is not from last night's dinner, but from Tuesday night's Township Committee meeting where our two local award winners, Gloria McCauley and Patty Gillette were presented with proclamations from Hillsborough Township.


Somerset County, NJ Women of the Year 2008

12 March 2008

Killer Wind

Upon my return from a brief out-of-town trip on Monday, I was greeted by my neighbors with tales of downed trees - including one in my yard! - tossed patio furniture, and general wind-blown chaos. A century ago, things might have been much worse. In the days of flimsy houses and old woodstoves on the mountain, wind was a real killer - as evidenced by this story which appeared in The New York Times on March 31, 1899.

FIRE KILLS AGED RECLUSES
Ashes of Bush and His Housekeeper in the Ruins of Their House

SOMERVILLE, N.J., March 30. - Coroner L.T. Reed went to Mine Rock, in the Sourland Mountains, fifteen miles from this place, to-day to view what remains of the bodies of Benjamin Bush and Catherine Blue. All that he found were charred bones in a heap of ashes where the little house they occupied once stood. Only a portion of the roof of the house remained. This lay in the woods seventy-five feet from where the house stood.

Bush was over ninety years old, and claimed to be a hundred. he was strong and vigorous, considering his age. Catherine Blue was over seventy years of age. For a number of years she had acted as Bush's housekeeper. The house was six miles from the nearest regularly inhabited building. The life of its inmates was that of recluses. They occasionally visited a village to purchase provisions.

Yesterday a party of men visited the neighborhood of the house and decided to see how the old couple were getting along. They found the house burned down and the remains of the man and woman in the ashes. From the position of the piece of the roof it is thought that the high winds of last Tuesday blew down the frail old house, and that Bush and the woman were pinned under the timbers, and burned to death in the fire which resulted from the overturning of the stove.

11 March 2008

Looking For Someone?

It finally happened. I am no longer the most searched for person in Hillsborough - at least in terms of visitors to this blog.

At the end of last year I detailed the various ways people found the On Hillsborough Blog. At that time, there were about 250 hits originated from Google searches - this number is now over 800.

Some of the more popular searches that bring visitors to On Hillsborough have to do with topics such as the Belle Mead GSA Depot, Railroad Quiet Zones, the Route 206 bypass project, and the Sourland Mountains.

As you might expect, the single most popular search that brings people here is simply "hillsborough blog". But there are many of you who also search for "gillette hillsborough blog" or "greg gillette courier news", or a dozen other iterations that include my last name. For many months I was neck and neck with another famous Hillsborough name - Ann Van Middlesworth!

That's all over now. We've both been trumped by the most infamous three word name in Hillsborough today.

Truly I have been humbled. I can only hope that you searchers find what you're looking for!

05 March 2008

The Life, Love and Lunacy of Joshua Gates

THE SINGULAR CASE OF JOSHUA B. GATES, WHO DIED ON SATURDAY - HIS FORTUNE AND HIS FRIENDS - WEDDED TO A WOMAN YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE HIS GRANDDAUGHTER - THEIR QUARREL AND SEPARATION - GATES' INSANITY

How would you like that at the top of your obituary? You almost don't need to read the rest of the story - it's all there in the headline of this May 29, 1877 newspaper account of the life and death of Flagtown resident Joshua B. Gates.

Still curious? Well, I've dog-eared all the good bits, so read on.

In the middle of the 19th century, Joshua Gates was one of the most successful life insurance agents in the nation. When he retired from the United States Life Insurance Company to a farm near Flagtown, he had amassed a fortune of $250,000 - in 1870 dollars!

Mrs. Gates passed away soon after - and that's when Joshua's troubles began. Living on the farm with his grown daughter, he began to show signs of his impending insanity. Always known as a man who loved, and could afford, the finer things in life, he now began to spend his fortune recklessly. One day he bought twelve stylish and valuable horses, and sold them the next week for almost nothing. He also did the same with expensive jewelry.

At a public celebration in Somerville in July 1875, he met Anna Thomas - a teenage visitor from Illinois, young enough to be his granddaughter. In the words of The New York Times he "prosecuted an ardent courtship" - and this was way before Viagra! - and the pair were married exactly two weeks after meeting.

Domestic life on the farm began smoothly for the newlyweds. It was almost a month before Joshua Gates accused his young wife of having an affair with one of his farmhands. Quarrel - separation - and the new young Mrs. Gates was out of the picture, for a while.

About a year later, Joshua's daughter, along with his brother, began formal legal proceedings to have Mr. Gates declared insane. He was examined by the best medical minds in the country - no doubt diminishing his fortune even further - and was found to be legally insane on December 16, 1876.

In February of the next year, Joshua Gates' legal guardians initiated divorce proceedings against his estranged wife, who fought the action, denying the allegations of adultery.

At the time of Mr. Gates death 5 months later, delays in the case meant that nothing had been resolved. At that time it was determined that Gates had indeed squandered nearly all of his fortune - with nothing left for his wife, except the memory of her four week honeymoon with the 75 year old insurance tycoon!

04 March 2008

Whose Parkway Is It? Ours, For Now.

Forget everything I wrote last week about Duke's Parkway West. Throw it all away.

The front page story about the expansion and reconfiguration of Duke Farms visitors' programs in Sunday's Courier News has caused me to rethink Hillsborough's request to give the 1.5 mile road to Somerset County.

For me, the key elements of the expansion - which is expected to open in the spring of 2010 - are the opening of the grounds for free non-tour exploration, the creation of an orientation center at the Farm Barn south of Dukes Parkway, and the projected tripling of the annual attendance from 50,000 to 150,000 visitors.

I am not at all concerned about having 150,000 annual visitors or the associated traffic. In the heyday of Great Adventure, that would be a three-day weekend total! I am excited about allowing visitors some limited ability to roam the grounds. This hearkens back to the early part of the last century when the estate was open as a public park.

What intrigues me the most is the plan for the new orientation center. Looking closely at the map which accompanied the news story, one can clearly see that the portion of Duke's Parkway West from Route 206 to the Farm Barn has been highlighted to look like an entrance driveway. Also, what is described on the map legend as the route of a "people mover" begins near the Barn south of the Duke's Parkway, and then crosses the road and heads north to loop around the grounds of the estate.

These clues, combined with the assertion by Duke Farms representatives that they would like to privatize roads such as Duke's Parkway that bisect the property, makes me wonder if it would really be wise to turn over control of the road to the county before the entire Duke Farms Plan has been reviewed.

After all, Hillsborough has maintained that road for many years now, and it would be a shame for the county to acquire the road from us and then turn around and sell it to Duke Farms. Besides that, in any possible future negotiation with Duke Farms over their ambitious project, it would be nice for Hillsborough to have the road as a bargaining chip.