Tax Increases and University Relations Identified as Top Borough Issues in New Year
Forming a stronger bond with Borough merchants and Princeton University, finding a solution to the volatile tax rate that may increase significantly again in 2005, and finding a way to maintain affordable housing in the Borough for the long-run, were the main issues discussed by Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill at the Borough's reorganization meeting on Sunday.
Mayor O'Neill called the first half of 2004, "an extended sigh of relief," with the opening of both the new Princeton Public Library and the Spring Street garage. However, he also offered words of concern for the University Medical Center at Princeton, which may move out of town in the near future, leaving a space open without a planned replacement.
The relationship between the Borough and the University, as well as what the Borough feels is an insufficient contribution from the institution, was also discussed by the mayor.
"The University's voluntary contributions have been seen as a gift and not as an obligation. What is lacking is a real sense of partnership between the Borough and the University," said Mayor O'Neill, quoting a letter he sent to University President Shirley Tilghman last August.
The mayor also addressed issues of affordable housing in the municipality. Some of the Borough's units are now approaching the 20-year mark, and upkeep is needed on them. He also pointed out that thanks to the new regulations published by the Council on Affordable Housing in December, almost any public or private construction in town will obligate the developer to build affordable housing units in the future.
Along with approving committee appointments and addressing community issues that both mayor and Council would like to see examined in the coming year, Council members Roger Martindell and Andrew Koontz were sworn into three-year terms. It will be the sixth term for Mr. Martindell, who has served a consecutive 15 years. For Mr. Koontz, the "new blood" on Council, this will be his first full term, after serving out the last year of Mayor O'Neill's unexpired term. Mr. Koontz took the opportunity to address his colleagues on the Council and Borough residents on the most important issues he sees for the coming year, the primary one being the residents' concerns with the $21.94 million budget last year that 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 in the near future.
"We should continue on the fiscal course we set last year and remain committed to holding the line on property taxes," said Mr. Koontz.
Mayor O'Neill reminded residents that 2004 wasn't the first year that the budget contained a double-digit increase, and tax hikes in 2003 were largely ignored by residents because the Borough spent down reserves to cover the revenue shortfall. Now, there are almost no reserves left, he said.
Revitalization of Parks
The issue which proved to be of the utmost concern to Mr. Koontz is the need to revitalize and beautify Borough parks.
"[Our parks] have suffered over many years from a lack of resources, and from a lack of community input and vision," he said.
The newly-appointed Councilman asked that the Borough form a task force to come up with a "to-do" list for the upkeep of the parks, as well as examining whether the Borough should establish a trust fund that could accept tax-deductible donations for park maintenance and improvements. He listed Harrison Street Park, the pocket park on Pine Street, Potts Playground, and Mary Moss Park as areas in need of revitalization.
Mr. Koontz asked that his proposal be placed on the Borough agenda for discussion in early 2005.
Councilwoman Mildred Trotman was nominated by Councilwoman Peggy Karcher to serve again this year as Council president. Ms. Karcher said that Ms. Trotman has an "uncommon grace and ability to be highly organized, as well as a special way of addressing the issues of the time" in the mayor's absence.
Ms. Trotman was unanimously voted into the position. "I am very appreciative of your vote of confidence in me," she said, adding that she intends to be productive in her position and responsive to residents and their concerns.
Michael J. Herbert, Esq., was also appointed to serve his nineteenth year as the Borough's attorney.
Councilman David Goldfarb thanked Mr. Herbert for his efforts this past year in resolving the lawsuit filed by the Concerned Citizens of Princeton against the downtown redevelopment project.
"Not only have we been able to proceed with our project as planned, we are now able to provide an example for other municipalities in similar situations," said Mr. Goldfarb.