Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 18
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
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Borough Passes 2011 Budget Unanimously, Ponders Revaluation

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council passed the 2011 budget unanimously at its public meeting last week. The budget weighs in at $25.7 million dollars and represents a zero percent tax increase.

Administrator Robert Bruschi noted the amendments to the budget document that were introduced and passed prior to the final adoption. The changes scale back the budget from the initially proposed amount of nearly $26 million to the current number. “This is the earliest we’ve [passed the budget] in six years, maybe even seven or eight,” Mr. Bruschi said.

Council member David Goldfarb cautioned that “this will be the last year with a zero increase unless there is a significant reduction in spending or an increase in revenue.” Jo Butler noted her “reservation in spending capital surplus,” particularly given the renegotiation of Princeton University’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) coming up later this year.

Township resident and member of the Revaluation Commission Michael Reilly presented the report and findings to Council, noting that though some adjustments “resulted in real financial hardship” for residents, “this result in and of itself, while unfortunate, does not indicate that the revaluation was flawed.”

Mr. Reilly added that the commission found there were “many judgement calls at all stages of the revaluation process” but that the coefficient of deviation contained a “good level of uniformity.”

The adjustment of a large number of properties by Tax Assessor Neal Snyder was deemed positive, “because it demonstrates the willingness for the tax assessor to make adjustments,” said Mr. Reilly, who characterized the 14-year gap between last year and the previous reassessment as what resulted in the redistribution and tax change. “Overall, the revaluation appears reasonable and doesn’t warrant [redoing],” he added.

Council member Roger Martindell suggested that the town take a close look at tax-exempt properties, specifically those of Princeton University. David Goldfarb agreed with his suggestion, adding to Mr. Snyder that “if you determine a property is not exempt and you are challenged … we’ll back you up.”

Resident and member of the Princeton Fair Tax Revaluation group Dale Meade urged “continued attention” in the “aftermath” of the revaluation, noting that the assessment company Appraisal Systems Incorporated (ASI) was late in delivering its product to the towns and that there were “flaws in the execution of the contract.”

An explanation of how ASI determined the land values in each neighborhood was requested by Mr. Meade, who called the valuation at the “core of the problem of the shift in the [tax] burden.” He added that the fair tax group has tried to replicate ASI’s methodology using the data from the revaluation, but has yet been unsuccessful.

“The compliance plan is an important first step … but it is not enough,” Mr. Meade said, calling for a closer look at all the properties in the Borough and Township and either conducting another reassessment or a “major redo.”

Mr. Meade and Jim Firestone, also of the Fair Tax group, pointed out their many requests for the data and calculations under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and Mr. Goldfarb and Mr. Bruschi promised a look into obtaining the numbers.

Council member Jenny Crumiller urged a targeted implementing of the compliance plan, wherein Mr. Snyder would look at every property. “That would give us some comfort, somehow.”

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