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Borough Council Looks at Potential Cuts To Decrease Budget Costs for 2004-05

Candace Braun

Borough Council is exploring several options for decreasing its budget in 2004 and 2005, including deferring the hiring of Borough staff for any current vacancies, merging the Borough and Township Police dispatch services, and increasing the hours that parking meters will be in operation in the Borough.

At the budget hearing on May 27, Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi presented a total of $86,361 in budget reductions, and a total of $571,835 in revenue enhancements that could be potentially put into action to alleviate the budget. He reminded residents that a vast majority of this money cannot be realized until the end of 2005, because of the time it takes to implement program cuts and increase fees.

The budget vote, which was intended for the May 27 meeting, was delayed until late June, because the Borough is waiting to hear about potential state aid it may receive for 2004.

Extending parking meter hours to 9 p.m. on weekdays, with added hours from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, could greatly increase parking revenues in the Borough, said Mr. Bruschi. He calculated that adding just one additional hour to parking meters on weekdays would bring in an additional $100,000 in revenue.

Mr. Martindell asked why Council would not consider changing the hourly rates of parking meters, as well.

Mr. Bruschi said that due to the recent opening of the parking garage on Spring Street, Council should wait to change the rates downtown, particularly since it would mean resetting all the meters in town.

"I think we should get some time under our belt before we make some significant increases [in parking fees]," said Mr. Bruschi.

The Borough is also looking to increase parking permit costs by $10 or $20 per month, depending on the location in the Borough. This would bring the Borough $15,840 more in revenue.

Increasing parking ticket fees from $25 to $30 would also bring in an additional $120,000 in revenue to the Borough each year. Mr. Martindell said he was in favor of this change, as it would encourage more residents to park in the garage to avoid parking tickets.

Council requested that ordinances be drafted for all potential parking revenue increases. Council will vote on each change once the ordinances are put on the agenda.

Cutting Expenditures

Several expenditure reductions were also suggested at the meeting, including reducing the administrative fleet by one-third, yielding a $2,500 savings for 2004; eliminating a non-department head at the Annual League of Municipalities meeting, yielding a savings of approximately $3,000; and cutting the Shade Tree Commission's budget in half for 2004, yielding a savings of $3,500.

Other suggested expenditure reductions that could significantly reduce the Borough's budget include reviewing the Human Services Commission, and potentially closing the Borough's office and using the Mercer County office as the main location. Cutting the program would save the Borough $134,000 a year.

Councilman Roger Martindell suggested keeping some sort of contact in the Borough, possibly in Borough Hall, for those who need immediate assistance from the commission.

Councilwoman Mildred Trotman said the idea needs to be carefully examined before taking action.

"We are talking about what's going to happen in the future with some of our most vulnerable residents," she said.

Councilman Andrew Koontz agreed that the commission was important for Princeton, but also argued that the Mercer County office could provide many more services for residents.

While some residents have suggested merging Borough and Township Police Departments, the Borough is currently looking at a smaller step, which would entail merging dispatch services, which includes 24-hour police desk coverage. Mr. Martindell said that currently the Borough pays $400,000 annually for these services.

Eliminating the clerical support position in the Public Works Department, and deferring the filling of any current vacancies in the Borough staff would also yield a $77,000 savings in this year's budget.

Mr. Martindell told Council that he still intends to vote against the 14-cent tax hike for 2004, and hopes that some of the changes Council is looking to make will mean a change in the tax rate for this year.

"This is the time to achieve some savings. This is the time to give the taxpayers some relief," he said.

However because the Borough is currently intending to take $700,000 from its revenues to help alleviate this year's budget, Mayor Joe O'Neill advised against making significant cuts to taxes.

"If we [cut taxes], we will have no reserves for 2005," he said.

Mr. Bruschi added that many of the anticipated revenues are just that; anticipated monies that have not been realized in the past, and therefore impossible to predict in exact amounts. He also reminded Council of the many decisions it will face in the upcoming year to keep taxes down.

"[Next year] you're going to be faced with some significant decisions ... There could be whole departments gone, huge program changes...There's going to be drastic decisions to make," he said.

Council will continue its public hearing on the 2004 budget at its June 9 meeting.

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