Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 18
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
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Public Input Sought on Consolidation Details

Dilshanie Perera

The Joint Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission is gearing up to present recommendations to the public at its town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 11. While discussions and data gathering are ongoing, next week’s meeting will detail an options report, specific recommendations, and allow time for the public to provide input and feedback.

At last week’s meeting, the subcommittees of the commission each provided perspective on their subject area, which focuses on a specific aspect of consolidation or shared services.

The group providing an analysis of the respective public works departments in the Borough and the Township suggested that they “can’t consider a consolidated engineering department outside of a consolidated [public works] department,” according to commission member Valerie Haynes.

The conjoining of the two municipal departments could yield a savings of approximately $400,000 per year, without the reduction of staff, and while continuing to maintain the current level of service.

The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) consultant Joe Stefko noted that while the cost-savings is important, there also may be the potential for operating efficiencies. For example, the Sewer Operating Committee currently contracts out some inspection services, which can total $200,000 per year. Under a consolidated departmental model, those services would likely be performed in house.

Overlap and consolidation of certain services between public works, engineering, the maintenance component of the recreation department, and the sewer operating committee are all currently being analyzed.

Ms. Haynes explained that housing public works facilities is being considered as well. A simple solution to having equipment last longer, in some cases even twice as long, is to protect it from the weather, she added.

As for the police subcommittee, commission member Bill Metro said that the group looked at 10 to 11 models in determining how best to combine the departments, as well as analyzing the character and type of each one’s response.

Mr. Metro said that a “transitional approach” is recommended, where the optimum number of personnel would be achieved over five years. If the police forces were combined, 60 officers would be on staff. The subcommittee suggests that the target number be 51 officers within five years. Having one police dispatch center is another streamlining measure.

The police subcommittee is suggesting that the departments combine as is without any staff reductions initially in order to “maintain the level of supervision and guidance” and to “maintain various functions,” Mr. Metro observed. Evidence, police reports, weaponry, and the like would need to be combined in order to “function as one.”

Mr. Stefko tentatively suggested that the total savings to the municipalities could amount to $2.1 million per year within five years.

With the full consolidation subcommittee tasked with determining the form of government the conjoined Princeton should operate under, Bernie Miller said that their recommendation is a Borough form of government, which allows for the direct election of the Mayor and access to professional staff by elected officials.

Mr. Miller explained that a ward form of government was considered, but that the demarcation of the wards would not occur until after the referendum was passed. A ward commission would be appointed by the Mercer County Board of Elections, which would determine and have the final approvals regarding the shape of each ward.

“In effect, it’s asking the electorate to approve something without having them understand what they were approving,” Mr. Miller cautioned, adding that instead, the subcommittee was also looking into advisory planning districts.

As for finances, the state’s Department of Community Affairs is still in the process of analyzing the final numbers, but commission member and Township Mayor Chad Goerner noted that municipal debt, and the initial fiscal impact on the average taxpayer were all being considered.

Tentatively, without adjustments over the first five years of full municipal consolidation, there would be slight savings in the Township, and the Borough would remain neutral. An equalization process is under consideration so that each municipality would see slight savings. Financial variables “depend on what actions the governing body takes,” Mr. Goerner said.

Meetings between the community engagement subcommittee and various groups, neighbors, and nonprofits within Princeton are ongoing.

More details will be presented to the public at the town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Township Hall. A vote to move forward with a recommendation for either consolidation or shared services or neither is scheduled for May 25. Visit cgr.org/princeton for more information.

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