Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 12
 
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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Borough Council Eyes Joint Agency Budgets, Plans For Overall Cuts

Dilshanie Perera

The latest Borough Council special session on the budget last Tuesday saw a debate over how best to trim expenses from joint agencies in order to save some of the $300,000 necessary for a zero-cent tax increase. After a presentation by Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi, the discussion focused on the joint Human Services Commission as a site for cuts.

In the new draft proposal, all joint agencies will see a five percent reduction in their operating budgets, with the exception of the Suzanne Patterson Center (SPC), which manages part of the Senior Resource Center, and the Human Services Commission (HSC). Under the proposed plan, the Crosstown senior transportation program would be reassigned to the SPC, the budget of which would be increased by $27,500 to accommodate a part-time employee for the program.

According to a memo released by Mr. Bruschi and Township Administrator James Pascale that elaborated upon last Thursday’s meeting between the joint Finance Committees, the joint agencies that will see a reduction include: animal control, Corner House, the environmental commission, the fire department and facilities, the first aid squad, the health department, the library, the planning board, the recreation department, sewers, and solid waste.

Both municipalities met yesterday (after Town Topics press time) in an open public meeting at Borough Hall to discuss the recommendations and proposals of the finance committees regarding the jointly held agencies. A detailed report about the meeting will be featured in next week’s issue of Town Topics.

The fate of the Human Services Commission was a key item discussed at last Tuesday’s Council meeting, with suggestions that the welfare program, summer youth employment program, and the Crosstown transportation program be reassigned to the County, Corner House, and the SPC, respectively. The suggested shift would have effectively dismantled the commission in all but name.

But the meeting of both municipalities’ finance committees saw a compromise in the plan. They suggested that the HSC budget be lowered to $206,861, down $28,738 from last year. According to the memo, the new proposed budget would include the full funding of the director and one part-time employee through June 1. Beginning May 1, the part-time employee’s position would transition over to the SPC to take over administering the Crosstown program, and would remain unfunded at Human Services.

Both the Borough and Township liaisons to Human Services will review the commission’s agenda, and the programs necessary to achieve its goals. The study is expected to be complete in 60 to 90 days, during which time all current programs will remain at the Human Services Commission until the final recommendations are made and municipal action is taken.

Members of Borough Council debated the merits of reassigning services provided by the HSC at last Tuesday’s meeting.

Noting that the economic crisis began affecting low-income households as early as 2007, Council member Kevin Wilkes said that the HSC has seen an increase in its caseload since that time. He mentioned that while there is a three-week waiting period for processing welfare applications in the state, the Princeton HSC can provide the service within 72 hours. “I don’t think it’s fair to say the services are identical; clearly it costs us,” he said.

“So far in this budget, what we have done has impacted employees and services that if Princeton Borough doesn’t provide, no one else will,” Council President Andrew Koontz remarked regarding the HSC, adding that “this is one service that if we don’t provide, it will still be provided elsewhere. That weighs a lot on my consideration on how we should handle the budget for this agency.”

Council member Roger Martindell wondered whether the Borough was getting $117,000 of value (its approximate contribution last year) in the HSC’s programs, especially because the organization no longer has Spanish-speaking employees, and “civil rights have never been delivered by this municipality in a cogent, thoughtful, and effective way.”

“I don’t think it’s time to continue the program the way it’s been continued for the last several years,” Mr. Martindell said, adding “in this particular economic climate, we should rethink every opportunity as to how we deliver services.”

Mayor Mildred Trotman advocated against drastically changing the functioning of the HSC, saying that the “most vulnerable” segment of Princeton’s population would be affected the most.

In other budgetary news, Mr. Bruschi reported that the current draft budget presented last Tuesday represented a $750,000 reduction over last year’s operating budget, and a decrease of $32,000 in salaries from their 2007 levels. The workforce has been reduced by 10 percent, with 15 of 140 Borough positions either left vacant, or cut. He observed that the reduction in operating expenses in the Borough is 1.8 million in total.

Even with the changes, the Borough would still need to trim the budget by $300,000 to achieve the desired zero-cent increase. Mr. Wilkes suggested that one police position that opened because of a resignation be unfunded, bringing the total staff to 31 officers, and saving the Borough approximately $100,000. He also recommended delaying the purchase of three new police vehicles until next year.

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