Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 17
 
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
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Citizens for Tax Fairness Hold Meeting to Discuss University’s Exemption

Dilshanie Perera

A nonpartisan group, the Princeton Citizens for Tax Fairness, met with over 100 members of the public last Sunday at the Suzanne Patterson Center to discuss Princeton University’s tax exempt status, as well as its contribution to the community.

In a telephone interview, a founding member of the group, Sue Nemeth, who is also a member of Township Committee, said she was pleased by the “packed house,” which “clearly indicates an interest in this issue.” She was also pleased to see Princetonians of all socioeconomic strata and ages present.

One of the goals of the meeting was to build public awareness and public support for the issue of tax fairness. “We are asking the University to make the towns that host their community a priority in their budgeting,” Ms. Nemeth said, observing that “we’d all have endowments too if we paid no taxes.”

Princeton Republican Committee Chair and Borough resident Dudley Sipprelle noted in a phone interview that the University sits on more than 40 percent of the land in the Borough, and that its fair share tax contribution would total close to $30 million per year if it were not tax exempt.

Both Ms. Nemeth and Mr. Sipprelle agree that tax relief is important, especially as property taxes continue to rise, thereby making Princeton increasingly unaffordable for some.

Ms. Nemeth reported that the Citizens for Tax Fairness began to organize last year through the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO), and expanded its scope through a community-wide nonpartisan effort by reaching out to local Republican groups and members of the School Board.

While the University does not contribute a payment in lieu of taxes (or PILOT) to the Township, it does make a voluntary payment to the Borough government, with the 2008 total being $1,176,730.20, according to University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget.

In 2006, the Borough entered into a three-year agreement with the University, which was to pay $1,000,000 to the municipality per year, with increases based on the percentage increase in the municipal portion of real estate taxes, as well as the net increase in total square footage of tax exempt space from the previous year. The agreement was recently renewed for an additional three years until December 31, 2011.

Given the University’s scaling back in spending as a result of the economic climate and decrease in their endowment, “one of the few line items that will actually increase next year, is the contribution to the community,” Ms. Appelget said in a phone interview of the University upholding its agreement to the Borough.

“It seems that the organizers were trying to indicate how difficult it is to talk to the University,” Ms. Appelget said of her impressions of the meeting, adding “I would counter that that is absolutely not true.”

“We have been in a continuing dialogue with the community over many years,” she said, adding that the contribution to the Borough over the past ten years has grown from $80,000 to over a million dollars, and was the result of such discussions, a Borough ordinance, and public hearings.

Ms. Appelget also listed contributions the University has made to the community outside of its agreement with the Borough, which includes $35,000 annually to the First Aid and Rescue Squad, $20,000 annually to the Fire Department, “half a million for the construction of the Princeton Public Library, and half a million for the former auditorium at Princeton High School.” The most recent contribution, which totaled $25,000, went toward the skate park on Bunn Drive, she noted.

Discussions between the members of the public and the University regarding taxes will be ongoing. Ms. Nemeth hopes to discuss the issue with University President Shirley Tilghman as well as the Board of Trustees, increase PILOT payments in the short term, and look at “changing the tax code at the state and federal levels” in the long term.

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