Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 27
 
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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“A Difficult Situation”: PU Absent From PCDO’s Fair Share Discussion

Ellen Gilbert

At a recent membership meeting, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) voted unanimously to endorse a resolution calling for a petition drive in the community with the object of asking Princeton University to pay its fair share in support of the annual operating expenses of the community. The University claims that it was left out of the discussion.

The resolution, which is available at www.princetondems.org/docs/pcdoflyer.pdf, was prepared by the PCDO Local Issues Committee that was formed in late 2006 as an ad hoc committee and contains members from both the Borough and the Township. According to a press release, the committee had “examined this question, calculating how much more property tax Princeton’s residents and businesses pay because of Princeton’s nonprofits — particularly Princeton University, our largest and wealthiest tax-exempt institution.”

University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget said that she could not comment on the resolution, since she had not seen it. In a recent telephone interview, she said that she and Vice-President Robert Durkee had “been approached over a month ago” to attend the June 22 PCDO meeting. Both had scheduling conflicts, and asked that the date of the meeting be changed. They were told that this wasn’t possible, “so it’s difficult to respond since we weren’t there.”

Ms. Appelget did say that the University is “the biggest taxpayer in Princeton” and has been a “significant contributor” over many years to area organizations like the public library, the Arts Council, and the school system. “We would be happy to engage in conversation with the community,” she added.

David Goldfarb of PCDO’s Local Issues Committee agreed, saying that they “would be happy to sit down with her at a PCDO meeting or any other venue. It’s difficult to schedule these things. The University can present its case through paid media and other costly avenues. We needed to go ahead.” Mr. Goldfarb noted that it is a “difficult situation,” with the University’s financial arrangement with the Township and the Borough under negotiation this year. Given the university’s resources, he added, “it’s also a spectacularly unique situation.”

To date, the County Executive and all six members of Borough council have signed the petition. “This initiative arose out of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization. But as the PCDO itself recognizes, this is a bipartisan, community-wide issue and so all persons of all views are urged to address the issue. The issue goes to the very heart of the ability of the two Princetons to survive,” commented Council member Roger Martindell.

“All members of the Princeton community should join in discussing what the non-profit sector can contribute to the annual operating budgets of the municipalities,” he continued. “The dialog should be in the open, community-wide, explicit, rational, courteous, with the long-term interests of the towns in mind. The issue is too important to be left to back-room negotiations by politicians bearing gifts from Nassau Hall on an ad hoc basis at each election.”

In its June 22 presentation, representatives of the Local Issues Committee, including Mr. Goldfarb, Mr. Martindell, and Sue Nemeth, said that in examining the issue they “quickly came to a consensus that not only has the cost of living in Princeton, and particularly the cost of taxes, become a major issue among its citizenry, but that the community is financially at a critical juncture. Of particular concern is whether people who work in Princeton can afford to live here, and also whether, as members of the community age in place, they can afford to pay the taxes to stay in their homes.” Also of concern was whether “families in the middle class too are under such pressure that they also are being driven out of the town that they currently call home.”

The committee said that it was able to develop an economic model that examines the shifts in tax burden among property owners both taxable and tax exempt, concluding that “if Princeton University paid property taxes as do other taxpayers, property taxes would be reduced by 24 percent to Borough taxpayers and by 15 percent to Township taxpayers.”

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