Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 16
 
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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Borough Mayor Spells Out Procedures for Challenging New Home Assessments

MILDRED TROTMAN
Princeton Borough Mayor
On behalf of Borough Council

Firefighter Sees More Cons Than Pros in Consolidation of Three Firehouses

JOHN PROCACCINO
Chestnut Street

Mutual Understanding Sought by Church Based on Broad Definition of Ecology

JOHN BEESON
Associate Pastor
Westerly Road Church

Brunch at Home Donors and Volunteers Earn Senior Resource Center’s Gratitude

HEIDI JOSEPH
Montadale Drive
Event Chair

Redress for Revaluation Tax Increases Must Include University’s “Fair Share”

ANNE WALDRON NEUMANN
Alexander Street


Borough Mayor Spells Out Procedures for Challenging New Home Assessments

To the Editor:

In light of the reassessment that has affected every property owner in Princeton, I would like to remind residents of the upcoming deadlines for meeting with the assessment company and/or appealing their assessment.

Residents should be aware that just because their assessment might have doubled, that does not necessarily mean that their taxes will double as a result of this revaluation. In fact, because the average Borough home assessment roughly doubled, it could very well be that taxes will remain relatively unchanged as a result of revaluation.

To schedule a meeting with Appraisal Systems to have an informal discussion about your assessment, call (800) 994-1999 by May 1. The meeting would be for the purpose of sharing information and may or may not result in an adjustment.

Those who feel they could not sell their home for the new assessed value may file an appeal by May 14 through a Mercer County appeal. That number is (609) 989-6704.

The appeal forms are available at Mercer County or at the Assessor’s office.

We urge all residents with concerns to take advantage of these opportunities to address them.

MILDRED TROTMAN
Princeton Borough Mayor
On behalf of Borough Council

Firefighter Sees More Cons Than Pros in Consolidation of Three Firehouses

To the Editor:

Princeton has three firehouses manned by an all-volunteer force: Engine Company No. 1 on Chestnut Street, Hook and Ladder on Harrison Street, and Engine Company No. 3 on Witherspoon Street. Recently, a decision has been made to house all the trucks and gear of the three fire companies at Engine Company No. 3 on Witherspoon Street. In addition, firefighting personnel of the three companies will respond only to Engine Company No. 3.

This is a bad idea.

The decision was taken to improve fire response times. In theory it sounds good; maybe there will be more volunteer firefighters if they all respond to calls at one firehouse. But we have to consider where those volunteers are rushing to. Engine Company No. 3 is half a block from Community Park Elementary School, and Witherspoon Street is often very congested. Having all firefighters in their own cars converging on this area could create a potentially dangerous situation for students and pedestrians, and fail to achieve the goal of reduced fire response times.

I have served with Engine Company No. 1 since 1983. There have been many changes in the administration of the Fire Department in the last few years. I now believe that the top four or five people in the department would like their positions to become paid, moving the two Princetons from over 200 years of a volunteer fire department. We will see firefighting unions coming in to Princeton, staggering pay packages that paid firefighters command (along with health insurance and big pensions), and, with only one firehouse across town, rising insurance ratings for homes, businesses, and the university.

The Chief called for two firehouses to close on April 15; now he is calling for a study to see if this policy will work. Most would do the study first, before making such a monumental move. The Princetons have had an excellent fire fighting service provided exclusively by volunteers. Hook and Ladder and Company No. 1 are steeped in tradition and history. When these firehouses are gone they’ll be gone forever — and with them a history of voluntarism.

JOHN PROCACCINO
Chestnut Street

Mutual Understanding Sought by Church Based on Broad Definition of Ecology

To the Editor:

Last Thursday’s Planning Board meeting provided an interesting opportunity for us at Westerly Road Church. Although we are a longstanding member of Princeton, it’s rare for us to have such a public forum. We hope this forum will provide more than mere discussion of our site plans, but that it will also allow for broader consideration of Princeton’s ecology.

At the meeting, Senior Pastor Matthew Ristuccia articulated that the decision of the Princeton Planning Board is not merely about development and the environment:

“It is about ‘ecology’ more broadly defined: specifically, what makes for a life-giving community, one that is sensitive to the ongoing life needs of both human beings and nature. This broader understanding of ecology as consisting of both natural and human environments places tangible and measurable issues like water runoff and tree replacement into dialogue with issues that can easily get overlooked because they are intangible and not easily measured. Specifically, I have in mind things that are part of Westerly’s track record in our community … things like working with youth to develop moral, spiritual, and social judgment, strengthening families, assisting the needy, helping students prepare for career and calling, supporting seniors and shut-ins, working against racism and prejudice. These intangibles are real parts of a community’s ecology, and — here’s the rub — they require physical space to occur.”

No one has disputed that our present facility is inadequate, and our history and commitment to Princeton mean that neither these problems nor Westerly Road Church are going to go away. As we continue to seek to respond to and address the various environmental concerns we would ask that such an understanding would frame the discussion. We have great hope that the conversation and engagement with the community over the coming months would provide for increased mutual understanding.

JOHN BEESON
Associate Pastor
Westerly Road Church

Brunch at Home Donors and Volunteers Earn Senior Resource Center’s Gratitude

To the Editor:

The Princeton Senior Resource Center sends tremendous “Thank Yous” to all the people in Princeton and the surrounding communities who supported the second annual Brunch at Home event on Sunday, March 21. More than 75 volunteers helped in the preparation of brunch baskets beginning at 5:30 a.m. Each basket of donated food included salmon, bagels, quiche, cream cheese, cheese, muffins, fresh fruit, flowers, jams, coffee, tea, sugar and creamers, biscotti, chocolates, and sparkling cider.

We were so lucky with the weather; it was a sunny, cool morning. Thirty drivers volunteered to deliver the baskets so they arrived at people’s homes by 9 a.m. Most of the food was donated by local merchants, including Americana Diner, Angel Food Desserts, Bagel Hole, Bagel Street, Bridge Cleaners, Chez Alice, Cox’s Market, ETS Chauncy Conference Center, Main Street, McCaffrey’s, MIRA, Olive’s, Produce Junction, ShopRite, Thomas Sweet, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Earth Market, and Woodland Bakery. The graphics were done by Stephanie Laudien, and how lucky we were to have the whole event documented by local photographer Frank Veronsky.

The Brunch at Home committee included Estelle Goodstein, Julia Ibera, Kay Heidere, Amy Klein, Susan Loew, Barbara Lundy, Sharon Naeole, Barbara Purnell, Paschell Sutton. Their amazing commitment to this event and the fabulous job done by each is the only way this could have happened. Kudos to the committee, and thank you! to everyone who helped to make this event such a success.

HEIDI JOSEPH
Montadale Drive
Event Chair

Redress for Revaluation Tax Increases Must Include University’s “Fair Share”

To the Editor:

Revaluation will raise property taxes on Borough and Township residents least able to pay and lower them for those who could pay more. At last Wednesday’s public meeting with Appraisal Systems, some residents said systematic errors produced this pattern.

What kinds of errors? Well, have enough lower- and higher-priced homes sold recently to establish accurate comparables? Did tear-downs and re-builds raise values on unrenovated homes nearby? How violently did prices fluctuate near the appraisal base date, October 2009? If a vacant 0.95-acre lot on the corner of Library and Hodge was recently for sale at $1,950,000, why aren’t more Western Section homes worth at least that much in land alone? Or did vanishing jumbo mortgages artificially decrease Western Section sales?

Other residents believe that market forces have pushed taxes from higher-priced homes onto lower-priced homes: 1) The tree streets and the John Witherspoon neighborhood afford entry into the Princeton housing market, and competition increases value. 2) People now facing higher taxes have heretofore underpaid. 3) People hit hardest by tax increases will benefit from higher prices when they’re forced to sell.

Whether error or market forces, some redress must be found before more of our friends and neighbors are driven from Princeton. And, no, we can’t just tell those who feel unfairly assessed to appeal individually. This shift is both too great and too widespread.

New Jersey does offer residents over 65 two substantial tax-relief programs: a “Homestead Rebate” and a “Senior Freeze” (see www.njtaxation.org). Gov. Christie hopes to dismantle these programs, however. And New Jersey municipalities can’t legally offer their own rebates.

Then what? In the very short term, widespread protests against Appraisal Systems may delay the new property taxes long enough to consider alternatives. The longest-term solution would be reforming New Jersey’s reliance on regressive property taxes.

Or could our mayors and School Board president insist more forcefully that our tax-exempt University pay its fair share? Let that payment go to lower everyone’s property taxes. It may be legal for the University itself to pay more relief to long-time Borough residents whose property taxes have risen above a dangerous percentage of household income.

Finally, could some of us whose taxes will decrease shame the University into acting by voluntarily forgoing part of our windfalls before we get used to them? I would.

ANNE WALDRON NEUMANN
Alexander Street

For information on how to submit Letters to the Editor, click here.

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