Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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Preliminary Budget Talks Suggest Possible Zero Increase for Borough

Dilshanie Perera

Kicking off the first of what promises to be several talks about the 2010 municipal budget, Administrator Bob Bruschi presented the state of the Borough’s operating budget to Council at the open public meeting last week.

Tasked with putting together a budget that contains no tax increase, as well as no increase in spending, Mr. Bruschi estimated that the former goal is achievable, even though expenditures have been calculated to increase. The gap between the proposed $25,407,114 for this year’s draft budget, and the finalized version from the previous year is $759,739, or 3 percent, he noted.

“I am comfortable where the 2010 draft is,” Mr. Bruschi acknowledged, emphasizing that the zero tax increase is “attainable because of what we did last year,” as he cited the “tough decisions” that were made and the “severe trimming” that happened in 2009.

Cautioning that “you’re not necessarily in control of your own destiny with the budget,” Mr. Bruschi said that 42 percent of the municipal budget, or over $10 million, is tied to fixed costs like debt service, insurance, pension, social security, and payments to the sewer authority.

Governor Chris Christie’s recent decision to freeze spending could put in jeopardy $200,000 of the projected $1,267,000 coming to the municipality in state aid based on last year’s contribution.

Other major sources of Borough revenue are: $1.5 million from the surplus, just under $1.5 million for parking, $1.1 million from the court, over $1 million from the University as a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) contribution, $700,000 in construction fees, and other miscellaneous revenue. Taxes comprise $10.3 million, or 41 percent of the revenue obtained by the municipality.

Members of Borough Council asked about possibilities of collaborating with other municipalities regarding police dispatch, and other more competitive sources of benefits beyond those provided by the state. Mr. Bruschi noted that the state plan has “traditionally been a good plan for the Borough,” but that he would look into private providers as well.

Talk about benefits will likely surface again when the Borough enters into contract negotiations with the four labor unions to which some municipal employees belong.

“I do believe the private market operates more efficiently in accommodating the management of benefits …. I feel we need to define it in a quantitative way,” Councilman Kevin Wilkes noted.

“The problem is that we provide benefits that are extraordinarily generous,” Borough Councilman David Goldfarb said. “We’re subsidizing employers out there in the world for spouses married to Borough employees.”

Roger Martindell called for keeping overall financial goals in mind when approaching the budget, so as to avoid becoming mired.

Keeping Borough salaries flat this year would result in the lowest base salary budget in four years, weighing in at $8,127,689. Regarding health benefits, Mr. Bruschi noted that if 1.5 percent could be offset by employee salaries, the Borough could cut the cost of rising health benefits almost in half if annualized. Police would not be part of this legislation. Additional shared services between the Borough and Township would also need to be considered.

“Many programs are not required by the State, but they’re the programs that make Princeton Princeton,” Mr. Bruschi said. Next steps include evaluating joint budgets, determining how much State aid would be coming in, and reviewing various budgets to prioritize possible reductions in order to achieve no increase in budgetary spending.

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