Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 15
 
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
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Township Budget Plans Stymied by Loss of Energy Tax Receipts

Ellen Gilbert

At its Monday evening meeting Township Committee approved the introduction of the 2010 municipal budget.

The proposed budget asks for a 0.78 cent increase, the smallest increase in over 25 years. For the average home newly-assessed at $837,350, this means an increase of $65.32 a year.

Mayor Bernie Miller described the proposed budget as having undergone “an unprecedented level of scrutiny.” The Citizens Finance Review Committee was thanked several times for its assistance in considering this year’s budget as well as long-term financial considerations.

The loss of $450,000 in energy tax receipts from the state was a serious blow to this year’s budget plans, said Township Administrator Jim Pascale. “We were on our way to a zero tax increase when the government pulled the rug out from under us. Now we’re doing things we’ve never done before.”

Noting that municipal staff has already been reduced by 18 percent over the last five years, Mr. Pascale described continuing measures of economy such as including deferred maintenance on infrastructure, deferred capital expenditures, and imposing a salary freeze on non-union employees.

The Public Works and the police unions, which have contracts that run an additional two years, cannot be required to take a pay freeze, noted Mr. Pascale. If they do not accept a pay freeze, however, “management prerogative” can be used by the Township to influence staff size through furloughs or lay-offs.

Since the school and county budgets were not yet in, the numbers were based on 2009 information, though the final count will “probably not be very different,” said Mr. Pascale and Chief Financial Officer Kathy Monzo in their overview.

“We’re just the collector,” commented Mr. Pascale, displaying a pie chart that divvied up tax dollars between the school district (47 percent), the county (28 percent), and “local purpose” (25 percent).

Local taxes are the main source of revenue for municipal service expenditures, which go into capital investment (19 percent); statutory/employee benefits (13 percent); public safety (10 percent); sewer (10 percent); public works/utilities/buildings (9 percent); library (8 percent); administration/finance/court (7 percent); grants (6 percent); health/housing/human services (4 percent); land use (4 percent); and parks and recreation (4 percent). The Township’s “reserve,” which has earned it a triple-A bond-rating, follows in importance as a source of revenue, and will be more heavily relied on this year, Mr. Pascale said.

The proposed budget, which will be advertised on April 16, will receive a public hearing when it is proposed for adoption on Monday, May 24.

ID Cards

Many members of Princeton’s Latino community filed into the meeting room on Monday evening to hear Township Committee’s “working discussion” of proposed community identification cards.

Issued for $10 per person ($5 for minors) through a nonprofit advocacy group at no cost to the municipality, the cards would provide those who cannot obtain IDs through other sources with access to basic services like health care and library use, and would facilitate the identification of individuals involved in accidents or crimes. It was reported that a similar card-issuing program has enjoyed great success in Trenton.

The Borough and Township Police Departments, Public Library, Human Resources Commission, and Corner House are among the local agencies that have spoken in favor of the self-funded project.

Councilman Kevin Wilkes reported that Borough Council was also discussing the card, which has “been in the works for some time.” Although picture IDs are increasingly required for various transactions, Mr. Wilkes pointed out, people are ordinarily reluctant to carry around their passports, and “this would be a good alternative.” 

While members of Township Committee acknowledged the usefulness of the card, it was agreed that its language would undergo some fine-tuning before official acceptance.

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