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Township Budget Remains 'In Flux'

Matthew Hersh

Property taxes in Princeton Township will rise in 2004, but not by as much as once expected.

The Township continues to wrestle with elevated costs including medical insurance and retirement benefits, as well as costs associated with the new library and the preservation of open space. But, once projected as a six cent increase, the property tax rate has been trimmed down to five cents, according to Township Chief Financial Officer John Clawson.

One cent in the 2004 budget is equivalent to about $235,000, he added.

Mr. Clawson said Gov. James McGreevey's initiative to increase unrestricted aid to municipalities was an instrumental facilitator in the reduction in the projected property tax increase. State aid to the Township for 2004 is $2,060,219, an increase of $46,821 from last year.

The financial officer said the Township also benefitted from its reserve in uncollected taxes.

Accordingly, the average Township homeowner, whose property is valued at $415,111, will potentially pay $2,573.69 in municipal tax, or approximately 62 cents to every $100. That figure is an increase of about $226 over last year's $2,348.

While no final budget is expected until after the governing body meets with Borough counterparts to discuss joint operations, the budget estimate, which currently stands at approximately $30.2 million, remains "in flux," according to Mr. Clawson. The figure is approximately $2.7 million higher than the 2003 operating budget.

Princeton Township Committee convened Monday in continued discussions to work out the municipality's spending budget for 2004.

One point of urgency for the Committee was to address the rise in medical insurance costs, which are expected to increase by 12 percent to $149,000. Township Administrator James Pascale said this increase is tantamount with similar increases over the past three years.

Other increases were attributed to debt service connected to the new municipal complex, road repairs, salaries, and benefits, a $600,000 increase in the Township's share of the Princeton Public Library, and $56,000 into the Police and Fire retirement system.

The Committee also addressed occupational duties and salaries for Township employees as well. Currently, Greg O'Neil serves as both the Township arborist and open space manager. The Committee entertained the idea of splitting the duties and hiring a new arborist altogether, refocusing Mr. O'Neil's responsibilities.

Deputy Mayor Bill Enslin stressed the importance of having one person who would commit a full work-week to open space in light of recent land acquisitions in the Township.

"There's a lot of work needed to be done to get [the parks] where they need to be," he said. "We need to have available people and resources to do it."

Mayor Marchand agreed, underlining the importance of devoting more time to open space.

"We've picked up a lot of the expense for these parks," she said, adding that residents from municipalities outside the Township also use the parks.

The Committee also discussed installing a system allowing residents to pay their taxes with a credit card. While the $5,000 endeavour would provide no financial benefit to the Township, Mayor Phyllis Marchand stressed the importance of providing such customer service to residents.

Committeeman Bill Hearon, who works with a company that evaluates credit transactions, estimated the cost absorbed by the Township would be approximately three percent of every $10,000. He questioned whether now is the right time for the Township to incur the cost

Committeewoman Casey Hegener agreed saying the current financial crunch should deter the Township from providing the service.

"How important is [the service] when we are over-budget?" she said.

The Committee also addressed the issue of acting as the sole employee benefits provider to its full-time tax assessor Neal Snyder. Mr. Snyder, who holds the same position within the Borough on a part-time status, should receive half his benefits from the Borough, according to Committee members.

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