Eminent domain could hit home with new development: Hammonton (NJ) News, 6/7/06

Letter to the Editor

By Ann Tomasello, Hammonton NJ

I wrote this letter in July of 2003 and never mailed it. Now is the time.

It is good to see that some members of Town Council are aware of the trauma involved with the loss of your home. Here is one story about Dominic (Buddy) Zinno. The school board decided they wanted Buddy's property to build a new school. They told him there was no sense fighting it — it would be expensive to fight and they would get it anyway.

He was born in that house on the White Horse Pike and he planned to die there. He worked in the fields during farm season and did other tasks at other times of the year. He asked if he might live in that house until he died. He was told no, that they needed the piece of ground that his house was on.

An auction was scheduled for Saturday, April 8, 2000, to sell farm equipment and anything else he wanted to auction. On Friday, April 7, he was on his way to the DMV at 7 a.m. to get a title on a vehicle to be sold. On Tilton Road, (his first trip on that road in 30 years) a driver fell asleep, crossed the line and hit him head on.

His good friend was a passenger and is now confined to a wheel chair and has many other problems. It was touch and go with Buddy and of course he has had continuing problems. While in the emergency room about eight hours after the accident, he asked to get the auction postponed. They refused to do this and sold things he wanted to keep. Some of the prices were ridiculously low, but no one could stop it.

Some time later, Buddy read in the paper that the valuable frontage where his house was would be sold for a great price to make money for the school system. This was the land that was "needed." Since they would be selling it for more than they paid Buddy, someone stopped it (at least temporarily). We still wonder why others were permitted to keep their houses in that "needed" area.

Farmers get a tax break on land used for farming. If they choose to sell this ground for other than farming they must pay the higher back taxes for three years. The school board representatives asked the town to waive these back taxes. The tax person said that Buddy sold his property "voluntarily" so he had to pay those back taxes. How is that for a kick in the teeth?

Buddy had bypass surgery in September 2002 and is now again very ill in the hospital. I do not know if any of these horrible problems were caused by this terrible stress but they were not helped. He worked hard all his life and asked nothing of anyone. It would have been nice if his last years could have been lived in peace.

For those of us who never care until a problem hits us, do not be complacent. With new schools, new town halls, new recreation departments and whatever else the powers can think of, some of the rest of us may know how it feels to lose a home.

In October 2003, Buddy died of cancer. His house still stands as an awful reminder of what we do to people. He was unnecessarily rushed out. Can we keep this in mind for the next eminent domain situation?

In August 1999, I wrote a Letter to the Editor to the papers saying we voted for the new school after being told our property taxes would not increase. I suggested that with the interest on the loan and unforeseen expenses, the cost would be millions more than the price quoted. Perhaps we should wait to see the tax impact before starting other projects.

We voted for the current School Board to straighten out the mess created by prior boards. It seems like more of the same. This Board in its infinite arrogance has disregarded all the work done by a quite impressive group of financial people without even exploring their suggestions. Is this to make a point, whatever it might be?

There is unrest in this town, and the people are angry. The board seems intent on rushing us to further disaster, and this may include the teachers' contract.

The first qualification for teaching should be that you must work out in the world before you teach in a school. No matter how teachers complain, three months off in the summer is not a bad deal. Arrange to get your checks spread over 12 months. With lunch and planning time, how long is your day? I am not talking about the dedicated ones who work hours at home. While I am talking about good deals, who in the work force today does not contribute to their medical coverage?

Perhaps if greed and ego were put aside, we could find a satisfactory compromise to straighten things out without harming anyone.

The Hammonton News: http://www.thehammontonnews.com