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Vol. LXIV, No. 52
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
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Pool Funding Stalled as Borough Council Denies Vote This Year

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council did not vote on an ordinance funding the community pool project last week, thereby delaying the approval process until next year. 

Princeton Township approved of the ordinance unanimously in November, appropriating $4,087,000 for the project. The Borough’s contribution to the new pool renovation would have been a maximum of $2,053,500, or one-third of the final cost of the project. 

Council members who did not second the motion to approve the ordinance cited the proposed design of the pool, and the expected cost, as requiring further consideration. Council President Andrew Koontz was the only Borough elected official who spoke in favor of the pool and of setting aside funding for the proposed project. 

Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi reported that the municipality’s Finance Committee had recommended that Council bring the project ordinance back in January and to “make it a priority for next year,” adding that “we really need to build consensus not only in the community, but among Borough Council members.”

Representing the management committee for the Recreation Board, Mike Finkelstein expressed his disapproval with the inaction regarding the ordinance. “I find your actions on Council to be disingenuous. We have acted with extraordinary diligence to vet this process.” 

Mr. Finkelstein characterized the proposed plan as one that meets the “overall needs of our community,” emphasizing that “we’ve done every single thing that you have asked.” He anticipated a construction bid coming in below the estimated $6.1 million, and “maybe even significantly below” that number. “I find your reluctance to pass this ordinance extraordinarily objectionable … we are in danger of losing out on a season.” 

Members of the community spoke out in favor of the pool plan as well. Beth Harrison noted that such a space brings neighbors together and “serves the young and old,” while Joanne Rogers asked Council what would occur in January to change their minds on the issue. 

“As far as I’m concerned, your vote tonight is a vote against public recreation in Princeton,” admonished Township Committee member Sue Nemeth, who is also a municipal liaison to the Recreation Board. “The pool is outdated, out of compliance, and frankly, out of time.”

Ms. Nemeth told Council that by not taking action this year, they have stalled fundraising efforts and movement toward a new pool for perhaps another year. “This is not a frivolous or extravagant project in any way.” 

Mayor Mildred Trotman assured those present that “we all know we need a new pool,” but suggested something be done to decrease the cost of the project. “There are questions out there that still need answers.” 

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said, “I am very committed to breaking ground for the pool in September,” but noted that she had “some concerns” regarding the current designs. “The best decisions are decisions that have been challenged … and the pool will be better for it.” 

“We don’t have unlimited funds,” remarked Councilman David Goldfarb, citing that as his major reservation. He predicted that Council and Committee would look back on the process of pool approval as “extraordinarily difficult and painful,” but noted that “long after we’re gone, [this project] will remain.” 

“I expect to be delighted by the pool. I am not delighted by the current design,” Mr. Goldfarb added. 

Mr. Koontz pointed out to Council that the design of the pool was never up for consideration that evening. “All [the ordinance] would do would be to put the Borough’s funding in place.”

Further emphasizing that the Borough was under no obligation to spend the full amount of money they had authorized, Mr. Koontz observed that while Township Committee was paying two-thirds of the final cost of the project, they nevertheless granted Council the ability to approve the design of the pool when it came time to make that decision, and also allowed for Borough input and approval about the contract with the construction firm. “The Borough has been given multiple opportunities to participate in this project …. My colleagues need to explain their reasons,” he said of Council’s reluctance to vote on the ordinance. 

Councilman Kevin Wilkes stated that many voices had to be managed, and that there were still problems with the design, cost, and allocation of expenditures. 

One contentious element in the design includes a relocation of the buildings at the pool complex, and Mr. Wilkes mentioned that the cost to renovate a structure can be “half of the cost to build anew.” He said that he and Council are seeking to build consensus among the interested parties. 

Citing “really tough economic times,” Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad called for “other ideas out there that need to be vetted,” noting that “if we can save $100,000, then we need to do that.” She advocated for getting “the best design for our community.” 

Mr. Koontz underscored his disappointment by remarking that by delaying the vote, “We put the public and this project in jeopardy.” 

The Borough’s portion of the pool funding will likely be on an upcoming Council agenda in early January. Visit princetonboro.org for information about open public meetings. Also see this week’s Mailbox section for a letter to the editor discussing the stand taken by Mr. Koontz last week.

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