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Princeton Future Debates Potential Of SID, Jitney System

Candace Braun

The question of whether or not a Special Improvement District (SID) has received enough support from Borough residents, merchants, and non-profit institutions to justify further discussion of its feasibility was debated by members of Princeton Future's Community-Based Neighborhood Retail Initiative (CBNR) last week.

Due to the snowstorm that brought as much as six inches to some areas the previous evening, only one Borough merchant was present at the February 25 meeting to voice his views on the matter. Barry Weisfeld, owner of the Princeton Record Exchange, said that he thought a SID-funded jitney would enhance the town and bring in more business than any other SID-funded projects, such as an organized system for snow-shoveling and garbage pick-up.

However, Borough Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said she feels that a jitney should be separately funded, since it would be difficult to convince some merchants that a jitney would benefit their businesses as much as the other SID services.

The funding of two jitneys, running between 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., from the dinky station to the Princeton Shopping Center, would amount to approximately $300,000, said Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi. This would exclude annual costs and the cost of purchasing the vehicles, he added.

Pam Hersh, director of community and state affairs at Princeton University, also emphasized the need to separate the funds for a jitney and a SID, and reminded everyone that the University's voluntary donations to the Borough would not necessarily be approved for a SID, but would more than likely be okayed for a jitney.

"Other college towns run jitneys without SIDs getting involved at all," she said, adding that along with helping residents, it would also benefit students, as the campus jitney does now. "We are committed internally to a jitney. Its very expensive, but we've done well with it."

She also said that she felt the University Medical Center at Princeton would contribute to a jitney, since it could help transport patients from town to their facility, whether it remains in the Borough or moves elsewhere.

Ms. Benchley said she would get in touch with a contact in Maplewood, where a jitney has already been put in place. She added that establishing the right cost for the jitney from the start is key, pointing out that Maplewood started by charging 25 cents but received complaints when the charge was upped to 50 cents.

A community survey asking who would use a jitney and how often it should run should be the next step for deciding if the town should implement one, said Mr. Bruschi.

In regards to a SID, Mr. Bruschi emphasized the need for Borough merchants to decide if they have a serious interest in one, since Borough Council is looking to hold a public meeting to discuss its potential in Princeton as soon as it believes enough residents want to be involved.

He added that to begin the process of bringing a SID to Princeton, a board would have to be appointed to create a budget, which would then have to be presented and approved by Borough Council.

The Borough administrator said he would draw up an example budget for a SID, using a sample area of businesses in town with sample costs for each one. The budget will be presented at the next CBNR meeting, on April 8.

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