Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 17
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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Republican Candidates Ponder Consolidation, Municipal Governance, Taxes, Cost Savings

Dilshanie Perera

With the primary elections slated for June 7, there are four Republican candidates who will appear on the ballot for seats on Princeton’s two governing bodies. Peter Marks and Dudley Sipprelle will be running for Borough Council, while Geoffrey Aton and Mark Scheibner are running for Township Committee.

The candidates expressed a variety of views on the prospect of consolidation, municipal governance, rising taxes, and the current state of Princeton, with most pointing out that the issues facing the town go beyond partisan characterizations and require multiple points of view for thorough problem-solving.

Mr. Aton said he would prefer to wait to comment until after receiving the official party nomination in the primary election, but indicated that in the weeks leading up to the primary he would be considering municipal challenges and speaking with neighbors and community members regarding their experience in Princeton.

Also on the Township side, Mr. Scheibner said he was inspired to run for local office because he “felt it was essential that a broad spectrum be heard. I really feel we need to move beyond partisan rancor.”

As someone who favors municipal consolidation as something that would be in the best interest of both the Borough and Township, Mr. Scheibner said he had reservations about the form of government suggested by the Consolidation Commission. In his view, the goal of municipal consolidation should be a “reunification of the Princetons,” as opposed to solely the “consolidation of political power.”

Mr. Scheibner suggested that ward representation would allow for neighborhoods to have a voice within a consolidated government, and that residents would have the ability to engage with issues through initiative and referendum. Such a system “would allow people to run based on their character and ideals as opposed to the partisan line.”

A 10-year resident of Princeton, Mr. Scheibner said that his daughter has gone through the elementary school system here and currently attends John Witherspoon Middle School. He is running in part “so that she would have the opportunity to afford to live here” when she grows up.

The town and University should be working together to “develop revenue streams for the community,” according to Mr. Scheibner, who said that such a consideration should be made in the current development proposal brought before the town.

Calling consolidation the “opportunity where we can move beyond partisanship and reshape Princeton and reform it, so that it can be a better community for generations to come,” Mr. Scheibner said that “we really need to go beyond our divisions and unite.”

For more information about Mr. Scheibner’s campaign, visit scheibnerforprinceton.blogspot.com.

On the Borough’s side, Peter Marks said he sees both Republicans and Democrats as “all trying to solve the same problems.”

“For me, the defining characteristic of the Republican Party is its conviction that increased self-reliance is the solution to most of our social problems,” he noted, adding that in order for a substantive reduction in property taxes to provide relief to citizens, a corresponding reduction in spending must be enacted.

While there are many services that are essential to Borough functioning, Mr. Marks said that certain “peripheral departments can be eliminated … not because they aren’t worthy,” but in order to have residents decide how to proceed in certain kinds of decision-making, as opposed to a governing body.

Volunteer committees or neighborhood committees were suggested as an option for replacing certain departments.

One of Mr. Marks’s concerns is that the totality of programs managed by the municipality is becoming unsustainable, particularly as the population and density of the Borough grow.

“I am strongly opposed [to consolidation] mostly because it … accelerates the transformation of the Borough into an urban core,” Mr. Marks said. “I have a conviction that smaller is generally better — efficient, friendlier, and more intimate, and I am not persuaded that the combination of the two governments will produce substantial savings” or translate to lower property taxes.

Municipal health and pension plans were another concern brought up by Mr. Marks, who characterized them as “theoretically desirable, but completely unsustainable, creating crushing pressures on everybody else.” He said he would like to see the Princetons take a more active role at the state level in advocating for the municipalities.

Long time Borough resident Dudley Sipprelle said he felt it was important to run in the upcoming election because “this is a very important year for the Borough as well as the Township because of the issue of consolidation.”

Mr. Sipprelle also supports a “strong mayor” form of government, wherein the mayor could be an advocate for the municipality at the state level, and that citizens would be able to use initiative and referendum measures to directly engage with municipal laws and ordinances.

Also a proponent of the ward system where “distinct areas within the municipality would have their own elected representatives,” Mr. Sipprelle said that such an organization would allow for political diversity. “The dominance of one party for the last two decades in both the Township and the Borough has allowed for the lack of different points of view” and may also lead to a lack of transparency, he said.

“We are at a watershed time in the Princetons that will define the quality of life, and the opportunities for new ideas for decades,” Mr. Sipprelle said.

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