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Township Introduces 2005 Budget; Called A 'Work-In-Progress'

Matthew Hersh

Citing "major increases" in infrastructural improvements, salaries and benefits, and utility costs, Princeton Township Committee Monday night unanimously introduced its $29.8 million budget for 2005 – an estimate that was repeatedly deemed a "work-in-progress."

As was the case in 2004, the "lion's share" of municipal tax, or about 22 percent, will go to fund infrastructure operations, otherwise known as "debt service," according to Township Chief Financial Officer Kathy Shaddow.

That cost is followed by about 19 percent of the $30 million budget going to fund public safety – an umbrella that covers the Fire and Police departments, followed by health and welfare, or human services at 13 percent; parks and recreation, including the library, at 12 percent; and employee pensions and benefits at 10 percent.

Committee will hold a public hearing and vote on the budget for its May 23 session.

But in the meantime, members of Committee must weigh aspects of the budget that could possibly result in a six-and-a-half cent increase in the local purpose tax rate over the 2004 budget, which itself saw a four-and-a-half cent increase. This year's projected increase would mean a $290 increase for the average Township homeowner, bringing that total to approximately $2,864, or about 69 cents to every $100 of assessed property value. In 2005, the average value of a Township home was about $420,000.

Though no final budget is expected this cycle until after the Township and Borough governing bodies convene to discuss the costs of various shared facilities and agencies, the budget estimate, which is reduced approximately $500,000 from last year's operating expenditures, is on top of an-already-potential 12-cent increase for Princeton Regional Schools. That budget, amounting to $67 million, is pending approval by Borough and Township residents when they go to the polls on April 19.

But in the Township, the six-and-a-half cent increase is commensurate with increases in other Mercer County municipalities, according to Township Administrator James Pascale. He added that residents are also subjected to a potential eight-cent county tax increase.

Other Township budget items included monies earmarked for the Public Works Department and for costs incurred by the municipal court and administrative costs, each taking a nine percent share of the budget. About four percent went toward engineering, zoning, and planning, all of which fall under the category of "land use."

The remaining two percent of the budget will be tentatively appropriated to finance other costs incurred by the Cable TV Commission, and appropriations related to grants involving the Police Department and Corner House,

"The budget will not stop with an introduction tonight," Mr. Pascale said, adding that members of Committee should continue to keep an eye on certain expenses from various utilities such as gasoline and electricity. "We look at other ways to save energy," he said suggesting that solar energy may be a future possibility. New Jersey's Board of Public Utilities currently offers a program that enables a private residence to acquire solar paneling at 30 percent of cost. According to Ms. Shaddow, a similar initiative is available for municipalities as well and that the Township was, in fact, exploring its options with the BPU.

Mr. Pascale added that the Township currently has about $3.5 million in surplus that could have been used to trim this year's increase, but Ms. Shaddow said the municipality would be better served spending those funds over the course of several years.


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