Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 3
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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Borough, Township, School Board, and University Prepare to Talk

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution last week requesting a meeting with Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman to begin a dialogue about the educational institution’s financial contribution to the community.

With a goal of “achieving fairness and equity with Princeton University and the tax-paying residents and businesses of the Borough of Princeton in providing the financial resources for the services and infrastructure that make our town a desirable place in which to learn and to live,” the resolution sets in motion what promises to be a series of discussions between municipal and educational leaders.

The decision follows Township Committee’s passage of a similar resolution and precedes the School Board’s January 26 meeting, where the issue of approaching the University regarding its contribution will come to vote.

Council member Roger Martindell called the move a “responsible first step” in “a more public discussion with Princeton University,” given that “the tax impact on Borough taxpayers is a very difficult burden at present.”

In 2006, Princeton University agreed to pay the Borough $1 million per year, with increases based on percentage increase in the municipal portion of real estate taxes, and the net increase in total square footage of tax exempt space from the previous year. The annual contribution is a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes. The agreement was renewed last year for another three-year term, expiring December 31, 2011.

The University’s payment to the Borough in 2008 was $1,176,730, an increase of $84,130 from the previous year.

Borough resident Anton Lahnston expressed his approval of the Borough’s choice, but urged Council members to make the impending dialogue with University officials one that is “truly collaborative,” and that “looks for common ground.”

“Real dialogue has empathy in it,” Mr. Lahnston said, emphasizing that a productive discussion is “not based in contention, conflict, or confrontation,” but rather in “deep listening” and “understanding of others.”

University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget agreed with Mr. Lahnston, saying “I think he’s really hit at the heart of where we should be focusing: finding a common ground. I’m sure President Tilghman would be happy to meet to have a frank, full, and honest conversation.”

On the effects of the economic crisis, Ms. Appelget noted that “there are a lot of people in this town that are hurting, and they’re on the other side of Nassau Street as well.”

Resident Francesca Benson said that her property of a third of an acre costs her more than $16,000 per year in property taxes, calling the amount a “huge burden,” and asking Council to do their best to provide relief to local residents.

“The process needs to involve the public,” Council member David Goldfarb admitted, observing that he is pleased that discussions are on the horizon.

“It is important that we acknowledge that the University does do a lot,” Council member Jenny Crumiller said. “I am very grateful for what the University does for our town, and for their financial contribution.”

Mayor Mildred Trotman said it is likely that she, Township Mayor Bernie Miller, and School Board President Alan Hegedus would send a letter to Ms. Tilghman requesting a meeting after the School Board makes its formal decision later this month.

Council President Andrew Koontz called the resolution “very positive to the extent that Borough Council has been able to work with the School Board, and particularly Township Committee. We’ve come a long way … I hope it continues with this effort and other efforts.”

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