Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 16
 
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
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Bradford Pear Trees on Witherspoon Present Risk of an Ecological Threat

STEPHEN HILTNER
North Harrison Street

Township Mayor Asks Borough to Help in Effecting Municipal Consolidation

BERNIE MILLER
Mayor, Princeton Township

Path to Fiscal Stability for Borough Inheres in Consolidated Government

CASEY LAMBERT
North Road


Bradford Pear Trees on Witherspoon Present Risk of an Ecological Threat

To the Editor:

As a fan of wetlands and a planter of native wetland gardens about town, I was thankful for the front page caption quoting ee cummings. “Mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful” captures the joy of water-rich landscapes, of which Princeton still has a few, such as Rogers Refuge, Mountain Lakes, and the constructed wetland at the high school.

But what is this talk of chestnuts blooming white on Witherspoon Street? The American chestnut was devastated some 70 years ago, due to an imported, exotic fungus. The trees shown in the front page photo are in fact Bradford Pears, themselves an exotic species, some varieties of which in recent decades have sprouted thorns and begun invading natural areas.

Spring, for anyone familiar with the ecological problems invasive species cause in our nature preserves, is a deeply ambivalent time. The lightbulb bright blooms of Bradford Pear, showstopping as they are, tell an oft-repeated story of good intentions, when exotic species are promoted for planting, only to find out later that they pose an ecological threat. The wildflower lesser celandine, whose abundant yellow blooms are most noticeable at Pettoranello Gardens this time of year, is another exotic whose beauty begins to fade when one realizes they are aggressively displacing native species in Princeton’s lowlands.

Through considerable labor, we may one day again have native chestnuts gracing our streets, and some valleys may be spared the “green pavement” effect of weeds like lesser celandine. But the struggle will be made easier only when homeowners and landscapers begin choosing plants whose beauty doesn’t exact an ecological toll.

STEPHEN HILTNER
North Harrison Street

Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to the residents of Princeton.

Township Mayor Asks Borough to Help in Effecting Municipal Consolidation

To the Editor:

On January 4, 2009, I was sworn into office as the Mayor of Princeton Township. In my remarks that morning, I said, “It is not possible to talk about the financial stress that our municipality will face in the coming year without taking pride in the fact that the many services that Princeton Township has consolidated with Princeton Borough have resulted in savings for both municipalities. Yet, the opportunity for further long-term savings in the areas of administration, police, and public works still remain. We have one excellent public school system, one world class public library, one recreation department, one health department, and one human services commission, yet we have two administrations, two police departments, two public works departments and two sets of elected officials. Early in my professional career I worked as a program manager, and my boss told me that the job of a program manager was to work himself out of a job. My colleagues on Township Committee and l would like to extend this challenge to our friends on Princeton Borough Council. Let’s work together in 2009 to quantify the long-term savings that could be realized by our residents if we could achieve full municipal consolidation. If, as I believe, the savings are significant, I for one would welcome the opportunity to work myself out of my job on Princeton Township Committee by full municipal consolidation.”

With the help and cooperation of my friends and neighbors on Borough Council, our two communities will take a first step towards considering the possibility of further sharing of services or full municipal consolidation in a joint meeting of the two governing bodies on April 27. We have invited Mr. Marc Pfeiffer, Deputy Director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services, to brief us on the new State administrative procedures that govern how municipalities can consolidate or share services. Mr. Pfeiffer will explain how the laws have changed to make sharing or consolidation more attractive, and what can be expected in the way of financial assistance from the State to facilitate further sharing or municipal consolidation. While no decisions will be taken at that meeting, it will be an opportunity for all of us to become better educated on the subject.

Our last effort at municipal consolidation was nearly a decade ago. Much has changed in that decade. In many ways we have moved closer to becoming one community while remaining two political entities. Recognizing that our downtown must be kept vital and vibrant, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, with financial support from many in the community, worked together to build a wonderful new library in the heart of our downtown. Together we have developed a green belt of parks and playing fields that surround Princeton. Many of the perceived obstacles to municipal consolidation that existed ten years ago have been removed by new state laws and have been replaced by incentives to make consolidation more attractive. Moreover, the nearly perfect storm of a severe economic downturn and the ever increasing costs of municipal services make it imperative that we look hard at all ways of alleviating the burden of property taxes on our residents. Municipal consolidation might just help relieve some of the fiscal pain that we all feel.

Many of us have lived through municipal consolidation initiatives in the past. Others have moved to Princeton within the last decade and have not previously heard the pros and cons of the issue. At this time, I ask that all of us, elected officials and citizens, approach the subject with an open mind. Come to the meeting at the Township municipal building at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 27, to listen, ask questions, and learn what the new State legislation can offer us as a community if we decide to move ahead together.

BERNIE MILLER
Mayor, Princeton Township

Path to Fiscal Stability for Borough Inheres in Consolidated Government

To the Editor

No matter where in the world I find myself, when asked where I’m from I reply Princeton, New Jersey — or simply Princeton, since we are that famous, thanks to our illustrious university. It would never occur to me to say “Princeton Borough” or “Princeton Township,” and I would guess that none of my fellow citizens do either.

Take a good look at the main street map of Princeton Township, which includes of course the Borough in its midst, and be amazed at the Borough line running smack down the middle of many roads, cutting other streets in half, snaking through the back yards of people’s property. Do neighbors on either side of these lines, drawn in 1813 before there were neighborhoods, feel differently about their lives? Do they even think about it, except at tax time or perhaps when a snowplow absurdly turns around midblock?

The l995 Consolidation Commission, of which I was a member, was co-chaired by Don Stokes, who lived on Fitzrandolph, and Margen Penick, who lived on Elm Lane. It always came as a shock to people to realize that Don was the Township chair, while Margen was the Borough chair. The situation perfectly reflects the illogic of the Borough boundary.

One objection to consolidation that pops up almost reflexively is that it won’t save us money. But we have absolutely no idea whether that is true today. We need the 2009-10 analysis that a new study would provide. It seems inconceivable that combining services, departments, and agencies would not result in savings. In addition, I have never understood why this would be the main criterion for consolidation. What about the efficiencies that would lead to better services? What about the logic of neighbors sharing the same municipal goals? What about the fact that we already have many joint agencies but must watch our separate governments support them differently? What about the greater impact a single Princeton would have in dealing with the state and other governmental entities? And what about basic safety? Having separate police departments causes enough confusion and delay that we are lucky there has not yet been a tragedy.

Now, let’s go back to money. When consolidation was last proposed, and voted down by the Borough, the report projected financial difficulties ahead for the Borough. These projections have come true, and the Borough today has no clear path to fiscal stability. Raising meter fees is not an economic strategy.

I think it is time for the residents of our small community to come together at last. A combined government would be financially stronger, more efficient, and more influential in state and regional affairs. The moment for one Princeton has come.

CASEY LAMBERT
North Road

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