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Vol. LXII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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Petition Seeks Larger PU Tax Assessment; Ad Hoc PCDO Subcommittee Weighs In

Matthew Hersh

A petition being circulated by a handful of residents and at least one member of Borough Council is looking to local, county, and state elected officials to urge Princeton University to renegotiate its current in-lieu payment to the Borough, as well as removing the “unfair real property tax burden” on municipalities with large portions of land occupied by not-for-profit, tax-exempt institutions.

The petition takes particular aim at Princeton University’s older infrastructure, saying that while all of the University’s older buildings carry an assessed value on the tax rolls, most of them are tax exempt. The value of newer buildings on campus was vetted and assessed through the construction permit process.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and 15th District Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, as well as all members of Borough Council, including Roger Martindell, who is said to be circulating the petition, have signed the document. Mr. Martindell, who attended a March 29 Princeton Future meeting where he was gathering signatures, declined comment.

Princeton University holds 42 percent of the real property in Princeton Borough and more than 14 percent of real property in Princeton Township. If the school paid property taxes based on a taxed assessment, the petition contends, property taxes in the Borough would be reduced 24 percent, and by 15 percent in the Township.

Contending that making up the lost revenue “unfairly burdens Princeton residents and businesses,” the petition calls for a “fair payment."

A resolution easily passed the executive committee of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization that acknowledges the tax reductions if Princeton University were fully taxed, calls the exemption “unfair, in the case of wealthy, private universities located in communities with high property taxes."

Requiring a college or university to change its tax structure would be precedent setting, though those pushing the petition appear to indicate a desire to restructure the school’s annual in-lieu payments, particularly in the Borough, and to designate a portion of its endowment, close to $16 billion, for municipal purposes. Endowment funds provide almost no liquidity, however, with monies typically carefully designated for specific purposes, as outlined by the donor.

The PCDO has not sanctioned the petition, PCDO President Jenny Crumiller said Tuesday. Neither Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman nor Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand has reportedly signed the petition.

Robert Durkee, who was part of a panel at the March 29 Princeton Future meeting, pointed to “significant” University contributions to both the Borough and Township, as well as the long-standing policy of keeping faculty, staff, and graduate housing on the tax rolls.

The University and the Borough have a written $1 million-per-year agreement extending through 2011, though that amount increases each year based on the Borough tax rate and increases upon the establishment of new tax exempt properties. The University, Mr. Durkee said, also makes annual contributions to the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad and for other special purposes, including the planned skate park and Free B, the community jitney.

In 2006, Princeton University paid roughly $9.5 million in local taxes and is the largest taxpayer in the Princetons.

Mr. Durkee said at the Princeton Future meeting that the University is ready to talk further, and examine other university communities comparable in size to Princeton.

The petition was crafted by the PCDO’s Local Issues Committee, an ad hoc group, and is expected to be up for discussion at the PCDO general meeting on June 22. The resolution is expected to be forwarded to the Princeton University trustee board, the Princeton Regional Board of Education, the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and both Princeton governing bodies.

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