Borough Continues Cutting To Avoid Increase in Taxes
Borough Council gave serious attention to the 2005 budget expenditures at its meeting on Tuesday, December 14.
After being subjected to many complaints from residents regarding the $21.94 million budget this year, which raised taxes 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of land, Council adopted a resolution in the spring promising residents it would make an effort not to increase taxes again in 2005.
Facing obstacles such as contracted salary increases, pension increases, and increases in insurance costs, the Borough looked to make reductions wherever possible to keep the budget at or close to where it stands for 2004. This included switching to state health insurance for its employees after its insurance plan increased by 20 percent over the past few years, said Bob Bruschi, Borough administrator.
In addition, the Borough made reductions in nearly all of its departmental expense budgets this year, leaving vacancies unfilled as employees left the company. At one point the Borough had 11 vacancies out of the 141 total employees. After reviewing the vacancies and deciding that some needed to be filled, the Borough still has approximately seven open spots, said Mr. Bruschi.
He added that the Borough is expecting some vacancies in the police department as some officers are due to retire, and at that point the Borough could decide not to replace them. Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said that Council would have to carefully consider the importance of keeping all 34 officers before deciding not to replace any of them. The police department should be consulted on how that would impact public safety, she said.
Acknowledging that the Borough's efforts to avoid increasing taxes have caused a strain on various departments, Mr. Bruschi said that the actions that have been taken have been necessary to keep costs down, and the Borough will have to make conscious decisions in the months ahead on how important it is to fully maintain departments such as the police. "We have tapped the expense portion of our budget pretty hard over the last four years," he said. "We don't have a lot of flexibility."
Mr. Bruschi alluded to the possibility of a nine-cent tax hike in 2005, which wasn't met with enthusiasm by Council.
"I'm confidant I wouldn't support anything close to a nine-cent increase," said Councilman David Goldfarb.
Cuts need to be made in other areas so that another tax increase can be avoided, said Councilman Roger Martindell, who has consistently asked Council to consider increasing parking meter hours or fees to increase the Borough's revenue.
Creating a solid, long-term agreement on payments in lieu of taxes from Princeton University could help the Borough with its financial burden, said Mr. Bruschi, adding that he foresees a potential increase of 3.5 percent in taxes for 2006.
Some members of the public thanked the Borough for taking taxes seriously this year and looking ahead to what expenses they'll face in the new year.
"In my 15 years [as a resident] I haven't seen a more substantive discussion of the budget. I thank you for that," said Alan Hegedus, an Armour Road resident and chair of the Princeton Regional School Board's finance committee.
In related news, the Borough decided it will not build a bus shelter for the new downtown plaza on Witherspoon Street. Under discussion since the downtown redevelopment project was first planned, a bus shelter should not be installed until traffic patterns in the area are observed and the necessity is determined, said some Council members.
Mr. Bruschi suggested that those waiting for a bus could wait inside the foyer of the new Princeton Public Library, which is large and open so that riders can watch for buses.
A "false alarm" may take on additional significance after Council unanimously adopted an ordinance last Tuesday which will fine those residents who have had more than two false fire alarms with their security system in a 12-month period.
The ordinance applies to automated fire alarm systems monitored by an alarm company. Beginning January 14, a $100 fine will be enforced for every false fire alarm that takes place at the same residence beyond the two allotted in one year's time.
It also imposes a $35 annual fire alarm registration fee, and a $50 administrative fee for each false alarm at the same residence.