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Borough, Township Face Tax Hikes for 2004

Candace Braun

Borough Projects $22 Million Budget

The average Borough resident can expect an increase of approximately $700 in property taxes for 2004, according to preliminary estimates made by the Borough's finance committee while deciding on the 2004 operating budget.

"This is not unexpected, but it's a staggering increase in property taxes for the Borough," said Roger Martindell, Borough councilman and member of the finance committee.

A stagnant tax base, several long-term capital projects, a decrease in parking revenue, and having approximately half of Borough properties granted tax-exempt status have all contributed to the Borough's financial woes, he said.

The finance committee is looking towards an operating budget of $22 million for 2004, compared to $19.4 million in 2003.

Mr. Martindell attributed the increase to several ongoing and recent financial burdens in the Borough, including the closing of the Spring Street Park-and-Shop lot this past year while the new garage was being built. The first half of the garage closed in December 2001, and the entire garage closed in June 2002.

The Borough has lost approximately $300,000 in parking revenue since the garage's closing, said Mr. Martindell.

The entire downtown redevelopment project, costing $13.7 million, has had a substantial contribution to the Borough's debt, along with the new $18.7 million library, which will bring a $247,000 annual increase in costs to the Borough. This money will go towards the operation of the new library, which is larger than the previous facility, and will require more staff and more services, said Mr. Martindell.

Debt service will also increase by $890,000 in 2004, said the councilman. This has increased due to long-term capital projects, including road repairs, the downtown redevelopment project, and other small Borough projects.

"The saddest news is that this is a long-term structural problem," said Mr. Martindell. He said increases such as this will continue to rise under the Borough's current structure and circumstances.

Mr. Martindell said he intends to propose to Council some solutions to the Borough's financial burdens, including increasing parking revenues in town, and increasing sewer rates for Borough institutions, namely Princeton University and the University Medical Center at Princeton.

"We need to shift the cost of operations to those institutions ... to relieve the homeowner of some tax burdens," said Mr. Martindell.

Changing to a two-year budget cycle rather than the Borough's current one-year cycle was also suggested by the councilman.

"The problem of planning one year at a time is not seeing the effect [the budget] will have on the following year," said Mr. Martindell.

Changing the health insurance plan for Borough employees should also help the Borough see an eventual decrease in payments, he said. This year's health insurance is $550,000 more than the previous year, which should decrease if the Borough enrolls in the state health system.

Over time, the Borough should see a $50,000 decrease in health insurance costs annually if they change over, Mr. Martindell said.

Council members Mr. Martindell, Peggy Karcher, and David Goldfarb make up the Borough's finance committee. The Borough's operating budget for 2004, which has yet to be viewed by Council, will be discussed at a meeting of Borough Council on a date yet to be determined.

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