Vol. LXV, No. 8
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Center for Governmental Research (CGR), the consultant for the Consolidation and Joint Services Study Commission, has put the Municipal Services and Financial Overview or baseline report on its website. Last weeks public meeting served to highlight key areas of the 164-page document while garnering public input.
Lead CGR consultant Joseph Stefko called the first round of data gathering the clinical, objective phase, in which the consultants tabulated all the departmental, staffing, ordinance, and financial information of the two municipalities in order to build a knowledge base.
Before we derive conclusions, we have to know what we have today, in a very empirical way, Mr. Stefko added, noting that the data weve collected so far provide a strong objective foundation for moving forward.
Borough and Township resources are elucidated; liabilities, assets, and debts are compared; governance structures are explained, and how individual departments are administered is also discussed in the report along with tax rates, history, staff sizes, and budgets.
Prior to the public meeting, Mr. Stefko reported that the document had been viewed about 3,800 times and had been downloaded onto personal computers almost 400 times. That high level of engagement is a real testament to this community, he said.
The overview lays the foundation for future analysis by thoroughly documenting differences between the municipalities that may result in different levels of expectations regarding services.
Joint services and other shared amenities are also highlighted. We never enter a community at the beginning of a conversation, Mr. Stefko said of CGRs involvement. There is a history that predates our involvement. There is more of a history of working together and municipal cooperation in Princeton than weve seen in other communities.
Departments already consolidated include: Health, Recreation, the Sewer Operating Committee. The School District is an autonomous consolidated provider of services as well.
While the tax base of the two municipalities is different, their overall debt ratio is nearly identical, according to Mr. Stefko, who calculated it as 1.70 in the Township and 1.71 in the Borough. The debt ratio is determined by taking the current debt and looking at it as a percentage of the total taxable base.
Municipal police departments are typically the biggest cost sector in communities, and in the 2010 budgets for the Borough and Township, the total cost of the police departments was slightly more than $7 million, with an additional $800,000 budgeted for dispatch.
Dispatches occur as a result of people dialing 911, and also include officer-initiated activities, Mr. Stefko explained. In the breakdown of use of the services between the two departments, they are very similar between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., but the Boroughs demand increases from 6 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. while the Townships service demand decreases during that time frame.
The combined total for the two Public Works Departments is $3.6 million. While they operate out of two different facilities, Mr. Stefko noted the great deal of collaboration between the respective agencies. The Township has just over 100 road miles it is responsible for, while the Borough has 21 miles in a denser area, for example.
Weve built our knowledge base, and can now pivot to look at options, Mr. Stefko said. Developing the options and analyzing their service impacts and cost impacts is the next step for the consultants and commission. Some questions they seek to answer include, Are there efficiency opportunities in collaborating here or consolidating there? What is the structural impact of consolidation? What would be the impact for taxpayers? What is most fiscally prudent and most fair?
We will be looking at each municipal service through a series of lenses, Mr. Stefko explained. Well start with a small amount of change and then build from there. This will give the commission and community a sense of the relative impacts of going down each path.
Township Mayor Chad Goerner noted that under the new local option law, implementation of any changes could be phased in over a fixed amount of time, and neighborhoods concerned with their characters changing could form advisory planning districts to provide input on any reworking.
The ability to continue current ordinances based on geographical area, with a review every five years, is another part of the state law. Weve gained a lot of added flexibility, Mr. Goerner admitted of the difference between now and the last time consolidation was up for referendum in 1996.
Members of the public highlighted areas in which the commission could look further, with William Wolfe noting that the School Board and Recreation Department may be able to better collaborate with respect to using athletic and play spaces.
Scott Sellers encouraged the body to examine more closely the commercial and tax-exempt areas of town, alluding to the downtown and University, respectively, while Sheldon Sturges urged a look into the future at revenue and new ratables that would be collected from the new residences being built in the Borough.
The next part of the process involves talking to stakeholders, looking at options, and having pretty detailed conversations about what is achievable, most appropriate, and implementable, Mr. Stefko said. From there, the consultants and commission will be developing an options report. In June or July the governing bodies would likely review the plan and recommendations, and if consolidation is the recommendation, the question would be put to voters on the ballot in November.
The full text of the municipal report and more information about future meetings can be found at cgr.org/princeton.
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