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Borough Council Readies Final Budget With Amendment

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough Council voted for a spending increase in its 2005 budget last week to reflect costs required by municipalities under New Jersey's recently mobilized storm water regulations. Even with the $81,000 increase, the budget remains $230 less than the 2004 operating budget, and maintains the five-cent tax increase first proposed by Council on March 1.

Stemming from the Borough-Township joint budget hearing examining expenditures for dual-municipal departments and agencies, Council will increase spending by the $81,000, largely for landfill charges for the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee. Some additional funding for the prosecutor's office and other minor costs make up for the difference, said Robert Bruschi, Borough administrator, at Council's May 3 session.

The $81,000 increase was offset, Mr. Bruschi added, with the aid of a $70,000 grant for homeland security from the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security.

As such, this year's budget, which was slated for passage at Council's May 11 hearing, will total a shade under $22 million ‹ a budget that aims to use $1.3 million of a $1.7 million surplus. The final Council budget vote occurred after Town Topics went to press.

The outcome, Mr. Bruschi said, meets Council's goal of being able to increase the surplus of 1 percent for this fiscal year. By the end of the year, he added, the Borough "should be" about 60 percent toward meeting the final goal of getting 5 percent of the budget surplus.

The Borough Finance Committee met prior to the May 3 Council session to endorse the amendment, albeit not unanimously, according to Councilman Roger Martindell, who said he was "happy" with the amendment.

"It goes most of the way to fulfilling our pledge to keep taxes at the same rate they were last year," he said.

However, in keeping with his sentiments conveyed throughout the budgetary cycle, Mr. Martindell expressed displeasure with the overall budget, namely, the use of income from an -endowment for the Princeton Public Library.

At an April 26 meeting examining the Library budget, Library Director Leslie Burger said there was no income being used from the endowment to help finance the library. Mr. Martindell said monies should be appropriated from the fund, estimated to be at about $2 million, and that the municipalities should not have to bond expenses to finance books and music.

"I may ultimately vote against the budget for that relatively narrow reason," he said.

Mr. Martindell joined most of his colleagues to approve the $81,000 amendment, however. Councilman David Goldfarb did not agree with his colleagues.

"I will not vote to adopt a budget that includes a tax increase of four cents," said Mr. Goldfarb, who cast the lone dissenting vote. "I don't think it's necessary to do that in order to achieve more of our goals ‹ including rebuilding the surplus."

Mr. Goldfarb added that the Borough was "far exceeding" its projected revenues in several categories, including construction fees, another source of surplus.

"There's every reason to think that our surplus is going to generate a level that is significantly higher than we talked about when we introduced the budget about a month ago and there's no need to stockpile more by asking our taxpayers for anymore than what is absolutely necessary." In this case, Mr. Goldfarb said, the increase "is not necessary."

Councilwoman Peggy Karcher disagreed, however, saying that while the Borough had some additional money to hold the surplus steady, it does not open windows for the municipality to lower the tax rate.

In other business, Council unanimously voted to increase annual liquor license fees for plenary retail consumption and distribution licenses. The annual fee for business owners holding a plenary retail consumption license will rise $400 to $2,400, the maximum rate for 2005, followed by another $100 increase in 2006.

The code also raises club license fees to $188, up from $150, with those rates remaining the same for 2006.

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