Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 24
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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Commission Fine-Tunes Consolidation Report, Approval Due Next Week

Ellen Gilbert

At its meeting last week, the Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission did a page-by-page review of the 19-page report they recently released, detailing and recommending the consolidation of the two Princetons.

“I don’t want to get into wordsmithing,” said Chair Anton Lahnston, adding, however, that he did want the authors of each section to describe the rationales they used.

In addition to Mr. Lahnston, members of the Commission include Township Mayor Chad Goerner; Borough Councilman David Goldfarb; Valerie Haynes; William Metro; Township Committeeman Bernie Miller; Carol Golden; Valerie Haynes, Ryan Lilienthal; Eugene McCarthy; Patrick Simon; and Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman.

While no action was taken at the meeting, the clock is ticking on action regarding consolidation and/or joint services. After incorporating last week’s suggestions, the Commission is expected to approve a final document at a meeting on Wednesday, June 22, at 7 p.m. in Township Hall. Next up will be consideration by the two governing bodies. With their approval, the question of whether the two Princetons should merge will be on the November 8 Election Day ballot.

The most contentious discussion at the meeting occurred when Mr. Goldfarb suggested that, in addition to its recommendations regarding consolidation and shared services, the report should articulate reasons against consolidation. “One would have to look long and hard at this report to find anything against consolidation,” observed Mr. Goldarb. “Yet in the last election, the Borough voted overwhelmingly not to do it.”

Noting that the Commission had voted 9 to 1 for the report (Mr. Goldfarb was the single dissenting vote), Mr. Goerner argued against revisiting negative considerations. Numerous neighborhood and stakeholder meetings, he suggested, had resulted in feedback that had already been addressed by the Commission. “I would not support a watered-down document that goes against everything we’ve done,” he added.

Mr. Lilienthal, a lawyer, supported Mr. Goldfarb by saying that in defending a case, it’s good practice to identifying potential loopholes before the opposition does.

“I came into this with an open mind,” argued Ms. Golden. “Now it’s time to advocate for what we learned.”

Other questions at last week’s meeting included handling of 911 dispatch calls under consolidation (it will be combined at one central point), and the composition of a proposed transition team to be appointed in January, 2012.

Mr. Goldfarb suggested the appointment of a manager who would oversee the consolidation process. Mr. Lahnston did not think this would be necessary, and Township Administrator Jim Pascale, also present at the meeting, concurred, saying that both municipalities should be involved. He cited the already existing presence of administration, “guidance,” and involved citizens. “We have everything,” he commented.

Suggestions about prospective locations of offices under consolidation included housing the single Tax Assessor in the Township building, where there will be available clerical support. Borough Hall will, however, continue to house some agencies.

In addition to the Commission’s report, other relevant documents to the consolidation question include a report from the State Department of Community Affairs and another, from the Center for Governmental Research, detailing the tax implications of consolidation. Mr. McCarthy distributed copies of this last report to Commission members at last week’s meeting.

Borough resident Carla Wragge was the only audience member to speak during the public comments section of the meeting, expressing doubt about the efficacy of consolidation. “Since it’s been voted before and the Borough is consistently against it, why not put it to rest?”

Details of the Commission’s work are available at www.cgr.org/princeton.

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