Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 17
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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Township, Borough Consider Library and Fire Budget Increases

Dilshanie Perera

The operations and capital expenditures of Princeton’s volunteer fire department and public library attracted close attention as Borough Council and Township Committee discussed their joint agency budgets last week. Both institutions were requesting budget increases owing to increased costs and maintenance expenses.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi acknowledged that “over the past several years, we have compressed the library’s budget,” calling it a “policy decision.” This year, the Princeton Public Library’s requested budget is $3.78 million, up approximately $104,000 from last year.

Library Director Leslie Burger pointed to several factors that have contributed to the increased cost of delivering library services. “We have seen double digit increases in health benefit premiums,” she explained, adding that the cost of pension benefits has also gone up. Simultaneously, monies accrued from movie rentals, late fees, and copying have begun to decrease as compared with previous years.

“This indicates the changing nature of our business. We’re not far behind Blockbuster,” Ms. Burger noted.

Overall circulation is up and library usage has increased, likely owing to the economic downturn, with over 800,000 patrons coming through the doors over the past year. But revenue streams have seen a decline, as non-resident card sales have gone down.

Ms. Burger reported that the library’s state aid grant was reduced by 50 percent as well. Library staff considered proposing reducing the institution’s service hours, decreasing the number of public programs, and perhaps instituting new fees, but felt that such measures were against the library’s modus operandi.

With a $10.3 million endowment announced last year, Ms. Burger explained that while the monies would not be fully collected until 2015, it should be able to generate approximately $500,000 per year by that date. Some endowment funds are restricted for certain uses, and overall, the endowment is managed by an investment committee of the Princeton Public Library Foundation.

The endowment is intended to “supplement, not supplant municipal funding,” Ms. Burger emphasized, adding that the library has been “incredibly aggressive” in utilizing endowment funding.

Salary increases at the library are proportional to the non-contractual employees of the Borough and Township, with a two percent increase budgeted for this year. Employees are mandated to contribute one month of their health insurance premium or 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health benefits.

Capital budget requests by the library tentatively total $265,000, with further scrutiny to occur through the joint finance committee. Monies would go toward replacing public computers and library servers, implementing new self checkout stations, replacing the telephone system, the software delivery system, and print management, and maintaining the building.

Fire Department

Borough Director of Emergency Services Mark Freda called the proposed departmental budget of approximately $239,000 for operations and $120,800 for facilities as “very realistic.” The requests are up $38,000 and $27,000, respectively, from the previous year.

Since Princeton’s department is an all-volunteer firefighting force, major expenses stem from equipment purchase, repair, and building maintenance.

Mr. Freda emphasized that this “is an emergency service, and is a service that has to happen.” A study conducted by an independent consultant regarding the Fire Department will be made public and circulated in coming weeks. It is likely to detail recommendations for the future of firefighting in Princeton.

Mayor Mildred Trotman said that the report would be discussed in public at a future joint meeting.

Regarding fire facilities, Mr. Bruschi noted that the department is currently in “limited operation” of its three firehouses, and that items like “maintenance and utilities have typically been underfunded.”

“The budget that is requested is realistic,” Mr. Bruschi observed.

See this week’s page one story about the Township Committee’s budget adoption. Borough Council was slated to pass its municipal budget on Tuesday after Town Topics press time, with a full report to be detailed in our May 4 issue.

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