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Borough Council Discusses Its Budget Goals for 2005

Candace Braun

Keeping the budget down, investigating the possibility of consolidating police departments with the Township, and creating a special improvement district (SID) downtown were main topics of concern discussed by Borough Council when it outlined its goals for 2005 at its meeting on Tuesday, February 8.

Finding a budget that is workable for both the Borough's staff departments and the Borough's taxpayers emerged as Council's main goal to work on during the next year. Currently, the Borough Police Department has a staff of 32 officers, down two from its previous staffing. In addition, six Borough staff positions that have become vacant over the past year have been left unfilled.

However, these immediate cuts to staff are only temporary solutions to the bigger problem, an ever-growing tax rate in the Borough, said Mayor O'Neill: "Those are things we can't do every year or we won't have a staff."

A $21.94 million budget last year raised taxes 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of land. While the Borough has promised to try and keep taxes down in 2005, a potential nine-cent increase is looming. Councilman Roger Martindell said that the Borough should chose a number for its 2005 budget and find a way to keep it there, despite unforeseen costs.

"I think there should be a bottom line number that we're working on," he said.

The rest of Council pushed for other issues at the meeting, including the need for pursuing a dialogue with Princeton University about additional monetary support, finding ways to address issues shared by Township and Borough, and exploring other avenues for parking relief downtown, including the possibility of a jitney system.

The creation of a SID or similar measure to deal with issues such as road clean-up was listed by most Council members as a top priority for 2005.

"If it's a good idea, we ought to do it," said Councilman David Goldfarb, suggesting that the Borough should do it regardless of whether or not it is deemed necessary. Business in town is not being fully developed because no one except Palmer Square Management is pushing for it, he added.

A SID was also brought to the table during recent Council discussions on snow removal in the Borough. If there were a SID, all downtown businesses would have a specific company that would come out and make sure all the walkways were efficiently cleaned up, some Council members said.

"We're missing Š certain things that would make this a more special town," said Councilman Andrew Koontz. "We can do it through fines, or we can do it through a SID."

Councilwoman Wendy Benchley disagreed, relaying that after attending some of Princeton Future's monthly Community-Based Retail Initiative meetings, she believes merchants are coming up with their own ideas to fix problems in town, and that forcing a SID on the Central Business District would only create negative feelings.

Mayor O'Neill noted that businesses and non-profit organizations such as churches and the University would have to be notified before a discussion on implementing a SID could even begin. The Borough would also have to specify the rationale for a SID before it could be used to tax residents for services, said Borough Attorney Michael Herbert.

Shared Issues

How to openly discuss various issues that affect the entire Princeton community was also debated by Council. Mr. Goldfarb suggested meeting with Township Committee on a quarterly basis to talk about general issues that are of concern to both entities, including consolidating police departments.

Council President Mildred Trotman agreed that there are "certainly a lot of joint issues to discuss."

On the recent reports of gang violence in the Borough, Council concluded that the issue is best left to the Princeton Regional Schools and the Borough and Township Police Departments, as they are the most informed and have been handling the problem thus far.

On the subject of creating a jitney in the Borough to alleviate parking problems, Mayor O'Neill said that it would cost upwards of $1 million per year for the Borough to have its own service. He said he feels the best solution to the parking problem in town is to piggyback on someone else's system, either the public bus system or the University's.

Council was scheduled to meet with the Borough's clerk/administration, health, and fire/housing departments on Tuesday night to hear a presentation about each department's individual operations. The presentation was to be followed by a discussion between each department and Council on its monetary needs.

The next department conference is scheduled for Tuesday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m., when Council will meet with public works, the finance department, and the Sewer Operating Committee. The final conference will be held on Thursday, February 24, at 7:30 p.m., when Council will meet with the police and engineering departments.

Another budget discussion will follow the conclusion of these conferences.

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