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The Finance Committee Eyes Reduced 2004 Tax Hike for Borough Residents

Candace Braun

In light of the Borough's sharply higher budget seen for 2004, finance committee members have changed their estimates to reflect a reduced increase for taxpayers of 14 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of municipal land, compared to the original estimate of 20 cents.

This means that for the average Borough resident, living on a $340,000 property, an increase of $476 in taxes can be expected, which is down from the previously predicted $700.

The tax hike was reduced after the finance committee found ways to increase revenues by taking money from asset accounts, said Roger Martindell, finance chairman.

"We made some assumptions about future revenues," he said. "These were prudent decisions."

Compared to the 2003 budget of $19.4 million, the projected increase of 14 cents is still much higher than the previous year, when it increased by four cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The proposed operating budget will still remain close to $22 million, said Mr. Martindell. However, Council is hoping to receive more funding from the state so that taxpayers won't have to contribute as much. The Borough is looking to introduce the budget quickly, regardless of the final budget estimates, so that they can apply for state aid.

Additional state aid is offered to fiscally-strapped towns like Princeton Borough, said Mr. Martindell.

"We're hoping that the state will come in and contribute at least two or three more cents," he said.

The finance committee decided taxpayers shouldn't be responsible for more than a 14-cent increase in taxes for 2004, said the Councilman, which is why it dropped from the originally predicted 20-cent increase.

"That doesn't mean we'll adopt a 14 cent budget," said Mr. Martindell. "We hope to get it down further than that."

Mr. Martindell said ideally the committee would like to see less than a 10-cent increase in taxes, however at this point they have not found a way to make this possible.

Many factors have contributed to the Borough's debt, including several long term capital projects and a decrease in parking revenue with the close of the Spring Street Park-and-Shop lot during construction of the new garage. The Borough has lost approximately $300,000 since the garage closed in June 2002.

Ways to offset those costs are being examined by the Borough, including possibly increasing the rates at the new garage in a few months after reviewing the amount of revenue it is bringing in. Council approved parking rates at the last Council meeting, which are similar to the former Park-and-Shop lot, with the exception of now charging 25 cents for every two hours parked on Sundays and holidays. Previously there was no charge on these days.

The new library, which is now expected to open April 8, rather than April 1, will also bring new expenses to the Borough. An annual increase of $247,000 in costs to the Borough are expected after the library opens. This money will pay for the additional staff and services at the new facility.

Other costs include debt service, which will increase by $890,000 this year, and health insurance for Borough employees, which is up $550,000 this year. The Borough is currently looking to change to a state health plan, said Mr. Martindell.

Borough taxpayers can also anticipate an increase of 10 cents per $100 of assessed value in school taxes, as the Princeton Regional School Board recently voted to introduce its $62.1 million budget for the 2004-05 school year. Residents will have the opportunity to vote on this tax hike at the school election on April 20.

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