Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 17
 
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
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Borough Council Should Take Control of Redevelopment Project Immediately

MARK G. ALEXANDRIDIS
Princeton Avenue

American Boychoir Seeking Donations to Defray Flood Damage Reconstruction

CHARLES G. BICKFORD
President, The American Boychoir

Team of Chang, Ciccone, and Gambatese Supported for Election in West Windsor

K. KALAWAR
West Windsor

Unexpected Defeat of School Budget Stirs Expected Response, Pro and Con

(4 Letters)


Borough Council Should Take Control of Redevelopment Project Immediately

To the Editor:

I was both heartened and troubled to see Councilman Martindell's response (Town Topoics Mailbox, April 11) to my recent letter on the downtown redevelopment project. His willingness to embrace transparency and to encourage scrutiny of the project is refreshing news for Borough taxpayers.

Sadly, his letter reveals additional issues that have been little discussed in public, such as the developer's failure to pay $150,000 in rent owed to the Borough over the last year. Why isn't the Borough collecting rent? Are there penalties being levied for late payment, since the Borough charges its residents the exorbitant rate of 18 percent interest on late (no grace period) tax payments? Why is the Borough negotiating with the developer about Phase 2 of the project if the developer refuses to meet its Phase 1 obligations?

In the private sector, the appropriate course of action would be to cease all negotiations with the developer concerning Phase 2 until all outstanding issues are resolved with Phase 1, including the payment of overdue rent, the construction of the pergola, the satisfactory completion of the leaking garage, etc.

Another course of action would be to invoke Section 4.1.2 of the redevelopment agreement, declare the agreement terminated because the developer does not have financing in place for Phase 2, and seek an alternate developer in whom we might have greater confidence in completing the project on potentially better terms for the Borough.

A third course of action would be to perform a complete review of the much delayed and costly project to determine whether its original goals are being met (revenues, capital and operating expenses, parking requirements, and aesthetics), and whether those goals and objectives should be modified in light of the intervening years and continuing problems at the site.

What is not appropriate is to continue business as usual. Nothing is getting done and except on-going negotiations, apparently to further sweeten the deal to motivate the developer to complete the project. Isn't it time to find alternative developers to pick up where the present one has stumbled? Competitive bids for the contract (which should have been done at inception) will focus everyone's attention on how to best get out of the quagmire we are in.

Indeed, it is ironic/bizarre that, on one hand, the Borough is negotiating more favorable terms for the present developer to encourage him to execute an existing contract, while on the other hand the Borough is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the developer against the Borough in connection with Phase 1 of the project. Taxpayers are sure to get the wrong end of both deals.

It is time for the Borough Council to fulfill its fiduciary duty and seize control of this project; it's time to require the developer to meet its contractual obligations for Phase 1; it's time to solicit alternative proposals for completion of the project; and it's time to reconsider where this project is going.

MARK G. ALEXANDRIDIS
Princeton Avenue

American Boychoir Seeking Donations to Defray Flood Damage Reconstruction

To the Editor:

On Friday, February 9, a 2-inch water pipe burst in the American Boychoir School's Ettl dorm between the first and second floors, causing significant damage. The boys who live in the dorm have had to be temporarily housed off-campus. Construction and renovations have begun, and we are hoping to have Ettl dorm up and running by May.

One of our families has given ABS a generous challenge gift to help defray the additional cost of flood damages not covered by the insurance. We wish to raise $60,000. The challenge gift will match one dollar for every two dollars donated. A portion of this challenge gift is being set aside to cover special activities for the boys while they are housed off-campus, as well as upgrades where possible.

The American Boychoir is committed to supporting others in need. It has performed in many benefit concerts including the Katrina Flood Victims Benefit, and a World Trade Center benefit in 2001. Unfortunately, our boys gained new insights, understanding, and empathy for the Katrina flood victims after experiencing their own flood, but they are also aware and grateful that no one at the Boychoir was harmed.

The American Boychoir is committed to giving their special 'Voices of Angels' to help others in times of dire need and now it is the community's chance to help them.

To make a donation, please call Alfie DeMoss at (609) 924-5858, ext. 12.

CHARLES G. BICKFORD
President, The American Boychoir

Team of Chang, Ciccone, and Gambatese Supported for Election in West Windsor

To the Editor:

On May 8, I encourage the election of the strong and qualified team of Diane Ciccone, Franc Gambatese, and Hsing-chi "Chuck" Chang to the West Windsor Township Council.

The independent and nonpartisan West Windsor Together team of Diane, Franc, and Chuck truly represents the voice and diversity of our town. Together, they will work to make and keep this town livable for us, our children, and grandchildren, from bringing in new business to reduce property taxes to a planned, coherent township development that will sustain open space preservation to benefit all West Windsor residents.

Ms. Ciccone, Esq. is a member of our Planning Board. Her experience as a commuter to New York, and as an administrative law judge and mediator, will be crucial to the decision making process in the Princeton Junction redevelopment. As an independent member of the Town Council, she will always keep in mind what is best for all West Windsor residents. Her mediation background with focus on consensus building will bring results that matter for us during Council deliberations.

Mr. Gambatese, past president and current member of the West Windsor Township Council, has consistently demonstrated effective leadership and thoughtful representation of the residents of our township. Along with his West Windsor Together teammates, he supports open government and transparency in the Council decision making process that is critical in future town planning and redevelopment.

Mr. Chang has served on the Planning Board for more than 10 years and will bring solid and extensive experience in environmental safety and engineering to Township Council. His perspective will be equally critical to Council deliberations as we move forward in keeping our town a livable and safe place.

Diane Ciccone, Franc Gambatese, and Chuck Chang will focus on what's important to the residents of our township. Together, they will be a positive, trustworthy, and forward thinking team for West Windsor Township.

K. KALAWAR
West Windsor

Unexpected Defeat of School Budget Stirs Expected Response, Pro and Con

To the Editor:

Superintendent Wilson of the Princeton Regional Schools has missed the point of this defeat completely. She says "I hope that this result will fuel us to push for greater change in the property tax reform." I say, I hope this will result in our School Board reviewing how to lower the budget instead of automatically raising it.

Are any administrators superfluous? Can any administrative salaries be frozen? Is every program worthy of the expenditure? The Board and Superintendent Wilson must truly review the budget and do their part in helping us suffering taxpayers. Don't pass the responsibility on to Trenton. Do your part for us all.

GRACE GAMBINO
South Harrison Street

To the Editor:

Despite some years of effort I cannot pretend to understand the Princeton school budget or where and how it might be cut. Neither, however, do I deem Alan Hegedus, Michael Mostoller, Charlotte Bialek, Walter Bliss, Jeffrey Spear, Mia Cahill, Rebecca Cox, and Joshua Leinsdorf dolts, dupes, or lacking in spine. They unanimously adopted it.

(Even Helmut Schwab, a good man with as sharp a pencil as any, is reported saying he would vote for it.)

The budget they adopted called for a 2.9 percent increase for 2007-08, less than inflation. They already had trimmed $1.3 million in worthwhile initiatives. Regrettably, I think, they deferred some maintenance costs. It was not a budget for bargaining purposes.

No one carries a brief for financing the school budget from the property tax, but it should be noticed that the Princetons, with Trenton, have the lowest school tax rates in the county. The rates will be substantially lower after reevaluation in 2009.

Of the oft-cited "frills" we are told the pool already pays for itself, and the performing arts center is expected to do so soon.

Administrative costs at 14 percent are below the 16 percent limit which other districts push.

Brilliant people — of which Princeton has not a few — may never appreciate what a struggle learning is for some and the resources required. Wise people, however, will prize achievement by the tortoise as well as the hare and recognize the stake our nation has in achievement by all.

I want our municipalities not to cut the school budget. They don't have to. I want them to affirm the teachers and students and the miracle of learning that is happening in our midst.

JOHN L. POWELL
Snowden Lane

To the Editor:

I admit it now. I voted against the Princeton school budget. Indeed, I have voted against the school budget for the last three years, since 2004. But no, friends and neighbors, I am not an anti-education troglodyte. There are major issues here.

For 25 years, since we first moved to this fine town, I had voted resolutely for the school budget each and every year. I had and have a strong conviction that the future of our society is dependent on those who are children today, and a belief that education is the best way to develop an informed citizenry able to make important social and political decisions.

It has not been acceptable in intelligent society to question these expenditures for our children. But my concerns began some years ago. The particularly large cost increase in 2000, where a "second question" was used to get around cost caps, was the beginning of my great discomfort. Expenditures subsequently requested for topflight athletic fields, a large swimming pool, a state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, and other features much more substantial than needed for education, and with uncertain connection to educational benefit, eroded my belief that adequate cost-control was being used at a time of financial stress. Annual budget increases that were always considerably greater than inflation; well-meaning, hard-working, but amateur school boards utterly unequipped to negotiate tough labor contracts; a complete refusal by the School Board to acknowledge the impact of the Cranbury contract on enlarging our high school on its size-limited site; later budget supplements for predictable expenses to clean the enlarged facilities and to staff the Performing Arts Center; the strong statewide resistance to changing the date of the school election (thus ensuring that most voters are parents, a few of whom openly admit that they live in our town only for the years of their own children's education and then move to cheaper towns); even an astonishing consideration this year of using the "second question" technique yet again to do an end-run around cost caps — all these enhanced my increasing conviction that this is no way to run schools.

I am as surprised as anyone that the school budget was defeated this year. It should not, I think, be interpreted as a specific objection to this year's budget. It is a buildup of a long-simmering dissatisfaction with budgets and expenditure choices over the last several years. I remain convinced that our children must be educated well. But we need better ways to run our schools with controlled budgets and realistically affordable facilities.

ANTHONY LUNN
Hawthorne Avenue

To the Editor:

There are those, such as Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson, who are disappointed by the voter rejection of the Princeton school budget; and then there are those like myself who were pleased with the outcome.

The vote indicates that there are many Princeton residents who have taken a stand against the ever-increasing cost of education and its impact on property taxes.

In last week's issue (Town Topics, April 18), Ms. Wilson is quoted as saying "I hear in this the frustration of the New Jersey taxpayer, not just the Princeton taxpayer. Every taxpayer in New Jersey has limits and I hope that this result will fuel us to push for greater change in property tax reform."

It is my hope that Ms. Wilson, the school board, and other public officials understand that the funding of the education system has two components: revenue derived from property taxes and the cost of education that in turn drives the taxes. It is unfortunate that the focus of the Superintendent of Schools is on tax reform that would be nice but is beyond her direct control. Ms. Wilson and the school board should focus on that which is under their direct control, i.e., cost reduction both through an increase in efficiency and through direct cost cutting measures.

I realize that mentioning cost cutting raises a red flag to many: reducing the quality of education. But what is the relationship between cost (overhead and direct operating cost) and quality? For example, what is the relationship between class size, cost, and the "quality of education?" What level of "quality of education" is appropriate in terms of the number of fixed income homeowners that may be forced to leave the Princeton community if taxes increase? Today, school funding is directly related to real estate value. Can other homeowner attributes such as number of children currently in the school system and annual income become part of the equation? The important point is that I do not hold out much hope for the so-called tax reform. I believe that we must emphasize cost control and to do this we need to agree as to what "quality of education" is, how it relates to cost, and what quality of education we are willing to pay for.

Our school budget problem may be solved this year by holding the line and reducing services or approving a compromise budget. But this will not solve our longer-term problem until some of the questions raised above are addressed.

JOEL S. GREENBERG
Parkside Drive

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