Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 51
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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Borough Council Approves COAH Plan, Previews 2009 Budget, Agrees to Mediator

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council engaged in a flurry of activity last Tuesday as it approved the affordable housing plan to be sent to the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), previewed the 2009 budget, agreed upon a mediator for the dispute with the developer Nassau HKT, and drafted a resolution to meet with Township Committee four times every year in addition to any joint budget meetings.

Affordable housing consultant Shirley Bishop recapped the specifics of the plan that outlines how the Borough will meet the housing and rehabilitation obligation that COAH has placed upon it by 2018.

Under the obligation, the Borough must rehab 67 affordable units and must build or set aside 178 units. Having devised a checklist, implementation schedule, and spending plan, Ms. Bishop assured Council that the plan they submit to COAH is not set in stone and can be amended.

Pointing out that COAH itself admits that the data it used to calculate the affordable housing obligation in municipalities was flawed, Council member David Goldfarb added, “Obviously our statistics are very heavily skewed by the fact that we’re a small town with a very large University,” which also affects income statistics.

Borough resident Dudley Sipprelle asked why the Borough was in COAH at all, and characterized the Borough as being “built out” and “any growth that is taking place is going to come from the University.”

Mayor Mildred Trotman said that the Borough’s participation in COAH allows them to get “as much assistance as we can.” Furthermore, if the Borough fails to file a plan with COAH by the end of this year, it leaves open the possibility of a builder’s remedy lawsuit, and the height and density stipulations for future buildings could be taken out of the hands of the municipality, she said.

“We have the right in the future to opt out at any time. But in the meantime, if we’re not in, we can’t collect the developer fee,” Mr. Goldfarb reasoned.

Princeton University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget noted that the University is “ready and willing to be at the table to generate affordable housing.”

The plan was approved unanimously.

In his preview of the 2009 budget, Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi suggested ways in which expenses could be reduced. Currently, the 2009 Budget requires $1.3 million more than that of 2008.

Since the Borough’s Finance Committee had proposed goals of not increasing salaries or taxes, Mr. Bruschi noted that the attainability of the goals “will almost entirely be determined by striking the balance of cutting services and raising taxes.”

Characterizing the situation as one in which “staff and Council are going to have difficult choices to make,” Mr. Bruschi suggested requiring Borough departments to maintain the same operating expense as this year and to reduce the size of the staff by not filling vacancies.

After observing a lack of “major opportunities to increase revenue,” Mr. Bruschi also cautioned against expecting much aid from the state. Moving refuse collection to once a week, and reassigning human service operations to the County or other organizations were also proposed as ways in which to reduce the monetary burden on the Borough.

Consolidation of the Borough and Township would afford long-term savings, and bringing together services like the police departments and public works would also prove useful, noted Mr. Bruschi.

Council member Roger Martindell urged Council to “start taking action regarding the specific recommendations that Bob is making immediately — not next January,” adding, “we must start in 2008.”

Council will hold a public meeting on December 23 at 5:30 p.m. to specifically discuss the 2009 budget.

In other news, Neil Shuster was approved as the mediator between Council and downtown developer Nassau HKT in a 5-1 vote. Mr. Martindell voted against the appointment because of language in the contract that limits public comments about the mediation and places a “restriction on things we can say in an open public meeting.”

Regarding meetings with the Township, Borough Council approved of drafting a resolution to have four meetings with the Township per year in addition to any joint budget meetings, and that they “would agree on a schedule early in the year and would agree on an agenda a month before the scheduled meeting,” added Mr. Goldfarb.

Mr. Martindell pointed out that the previously agreed upon joint meetings with Township Committee had not occurred this year, saying “We really can’t rely on voiced agreements with the Township.”

“All major agreements need to be in writing between both parties,” agreed Mr. Goldfarb.

Council unanimously approved four meetings with Township Committee in 2009.

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