Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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Losses of Revenue from State Threaten Township’s Goal of “Zero Tax Increase”

BERNARD P. MILLER, Mayor
CHAD GOERNER, Deputy Mayor
LANCE LIVERMAN, Committeeman
SUE NEMETH, Committeewoman
LIZ LEMPERT, Committeewoman

Planning Board Members Should Honor Master Plan’s Environmental Conditions

SARAH HOLLISTER
Ridgeview Road

Age-Restricted Housing Measure Earns Environmental Organization’s Gratitude

JANE BUTTARS
DANIEL A. HARRIS
People for Princeton Ridge, Inc.

“Reverse Robin Hood Revaluation” Seen as Assessment Appeal Deadline Nears

DAN PRESTON
Moore Street

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Thanks Record-A-Thon Contributors

KATHERINE BENINCASA
New Jersey Studio
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic

Town Topics’ Mercer Street Building Was Former Crossley Inc. Field Office

HELEN M. CROSSLEY
Battle Road

Women’s College Club Extends Thanks to Its Scholarship Benefit Benefactors

ALOHA HOLLOWAY
Bordentown


Losses of Revenue from State Threaten Township’s Goal of “Zero Tax Increase”

To the Editor:

For the past several months Princeton Township Committee and staff have been working on our municipal budget for the Township fiscal year ending 31 December 2010. Our goal has been a zero percent municipal property tax increase. To achieve this and to maintain the services that we believe are essential to the wellbeing and safety of our community, we reviewed all possible discretionary expenditures and had either reduced them or deferred them entirely. Taking advantage of our AAA bond rating, we refinanced our debt at favorable terms, reducing our interest payments. Finally, as our largest controllable expenditure is personnel costs, we made the difficult decision to freeze salaries for all personnel. With these steps we found that we could achieve a zero percent property tax increase and still maintain sufficient reserves to sustain our AAA bond rating.

However, all of these efforts were impacted by Governor Christie’s recent budget announcement.

On Friday, March 19, we were advised by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs that Princeton Township’s share of municipal aid had been cut by nearly $450,000 for the State fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010. Based upon our experience last year, our budget planning had anticipated a reduction in one component of state aid that was specifically intended for property tax relief by about $122,000. We were astounded to find that another component of what the governor calls “state aid,” which in reality is a franchise tax paid by utilities such as PSEG and Verizon for the use of the municipal right-of-way that is collected by the state on behalf of the municipalities, had been reduced by approximately $328,000. This is money that at one time was paid directly to the municipalities by the utilities. At the request of the utilities, the state became the collection agency for this franchise tax, and the state in turn distributed the receipts to the municipalities. Although these funds have been historically designated for use by the municipalities, under the existing law the state can unilaterally reduce these funds to municipalities.

Those who heard the governor’s budget address heard him use the word “steal” when he described how the legislature in past years borrowed against public workers pension funds to cover operating deficits. Unfortunately, by grabbing the franchise tax receipts paid by the utilities for the use of our municipal right-of-way to help close his state budget gap, the governor has shifted a large part of his budget problem on to the municipalities, and on to the people who pay the property taxes.

The $450,000 loss of state aid represents about a 1.8 cent tax increase for the Princeton Township municipal property tax. In reality, this probably means a one to two cent tax increase, instead of a zero tax increase this year. While we promise that we will leave no stone unturned in our quest for a zero municipal tax increase, this action by the governor compounds the difficulty of getting to zero without drastically affecting the long-term fiscal or service delivery integrity of Princeton Township.

To those who are as concerned as we are about this action by Governor Christie to divert the utility franchise tax to help solve the state’s fiscal problems, we ask that you make your thoughts known to our elected State Assemblyman Reid Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, State Senator Shirley Turner, and directly to the governor. Perhaps if our voices are loud enough, our governor will focus on long-term, structural reforms to the state’s financial woes and hesitate before further reducing the utility franchise tax payments in the state’s next fiscal year.

BERNARD P. MILLER, Mayor
CHAD GOERNER, Deputy Mayor
LANCE LIVERMAN, Committeeman
SUE NEMETH, Committeewoman
LIZ LEMPERT, Committeewoman

Planning Board Members Should Honor Master Plan’s Environmental Conditions

To the Editor:

I was encouraged to learn at the Princeton Regional Planning Board meeting on April 8 that the Westerly Road Church has agreed to surface its parking lot spaces with pervious material. This is a step forward in the direction of environmental responsibility to the delicate habitat of the Princeton Ridge.

But that agreement is not enough to put the developer in compliance with the goals of the Princeton Community Master Plan of 1996, nor with the Master Plan’s updates of 2001 and 2007. All of these documents insist on the environmentally sensitive nature of the Princeton Ridge and urge “guiding growth away” from the Ridge, and, if that proves impossible, urging builders to “cluster” their developments as much as possible. The concept of the “cluster,” present in Princeton community municipal documents as early as 1983, means shrinking the building footprint as much as possible; it also means building up, not out.

Unfortunately, the proposed developer still intends to spread out (as the sprawl of the parking lot shows), and the developer’s architect exhibited only begrudging interest in building up. This recalcitrance will have to change.

The Planning Board has an obligation to honor its own Community Master Plan, and to do so by directing the developer to revise his plans to come into conformity with the goals of environmental preservation for the Princeton Ridge set forth in many public documents. I am sure that Princeton’s planners and proponents on the Planning Board did not intend the Master Plan to be treated hypocritically through permitted violations. It is the Planning Board’s responsibility — at the upcoming hearing on May 20 — to ensure that the developer respects his obligation to Princeton’s communal goals by presenting new designs that follow principles set forth over a quarter-century ago.

SARAH HOLLISTER
Ridgeview Road

Age-Restricted Housing Measure Earns Environmental Organization’s Gratitude

To the Editor:

On May 10 Princeton Township passed the RSC-2 Ordinance, permitting age-restricted housing on the Lowe Tract on the Princeton Ridge.

People for Princeton Ridge, Inc. (PPR), which has struggled for two years to achieve an environmentally responsible framework for any such development, believes that this ordinance is as sound as it is possible to get at this time. Construction of clustered age-restricted housing, using four stories instead of three, with all parking underground (using the existing slope), will be limited to less than four contiguous acres; the remaining 17 acres will be permanently preserved forest, to become part of the projected Princeton Ridge Preserve along with the adjacent Ricciardi Tract and additional acreage to be purchased by the D&R Greenway. Nonstructural stormwater management measures are to be state-of-the-art, minimally invasive.

PPR wishes to thank the dozens of individuals who, during the past two years of negotiations with Township Committee, volunteered their professional assistance and expertise — geologists and architects, arborists, hydrologists, specialists in municipal land-use law, and loyal advisors. They have helped make the resulting ordinance one that is genuinely the product of community collaboration. We remain deeply grateful also to the hundreds, indeed thousands, of citizens who became the group Save Princeton Ridge (our parent organization) in the winter of 2007. To close and loyal advisors, PPR’s debt is enormous.

PPR also thanks Township staff for abetting an understanding of Township codes. No acceptable ordinance would have been possible, of course, without the willingness of Township Committee members to recognize that improvements to the original were necessary.

Some of the lessons of this ordinance and its context are plain. Foresight in municipal land-use decisions is both elusive and increasingly mandated as the natural resources of our community dwindle; the claims of the environment and those of communal social needs do not need to be opposed if disputing participants seek guidance in sound ecological science. The course of debate has involved a (sometimes steep) learning curve. The preserved forest will thus properly become for the next generation, as it should have been for ours, a source of educational understanding about the intersections of appropriate zoning, environmental constraints, and the paths to Princeton’s sustainable future.

JANE BUTTARS
DANIEL A. HARRIS
People for Princeton Ridge, Inc.

“Reverse Robin Hood Revaluation” Seen as Assessment Appeal Deadline Nears

To the Editor:

The revaluation of properties in Princeton will likely create the largest reverse Robin Hood transfer of tax burdens in our community’s history. Overall, larger more developed properties in high-end neighborhoods are likely to see tax cuts. Meanwhile, many owners of modest properties will see tax increases on the order of 25, 50 or even 100 percent.

A quick rule of thumb: On average, assessments will roughly double, and tax rates will therefore be cut in half. If your new assessment is less than double your old assessment, that’s good news; your taxes will likely drop. If your new assessment is more than double the old one, watch out.

Among the hardest-hit areas will be the John Witherspoon district, which includes sections in both the Borough and Township. Many properties there are receiving new assessments that are three to four times the old ones, which will result in tax increases on the order of 50 to 100 percent. This could be a fatal blow to a culturally and historically critical neighborhood, which has suffered many other burdens throughout our community’s history.

This crisis requires an urgent response, as individuals and as a community. As individuals, the deadline to appeal the new assessment is May 14. While the form seems complex, information about “comparable sales” and “requested assessment” may be marked “to be determined,” provided you supply that information at least 7 days before your actual appeal hearing. It is critical that you file on or before May 14 to preserve your rights. For forms and official information, stop by the tax assessor’s office at Township or Borough Hall.

We also need to act collectively. The reassessment was conducted during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The crisis originated in the housing and financial sectors, and almost certainly distorted the local housing market as the bubble burst and Federal authorities responded. Moreover, the methods employed by the company hired to do the reassessment may also have contributed to over-valuing modest properties and neighborhoods and under-valuing fancier ones. This will require further investigation as citizens with, I hope, the assistance of our governing bodies.

Whether it’s possible to stop the new assessments from taking effect this fall is an open question but doubtful. A more likely course is that the assessments can be updated annually, at least for some neighborhoods, via a “maintenance” plan that takes into account changing market conditions — if our local governments choose to request this from the County. But this may not have its full benefit if the methods used in the assessment formulas are faulty.

Longer term, the injustice of relying so heavily on property taxes to fund public needs must be addressed on a statewide basis. Princeton has a history of leading the way on many progressive causes, and I urge my fellow citizens to join this effort.

DAN PRESTON
Moore Street

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Thanks Record-A-Thon Contributors

To the Editor:

The volunteers, staff, and board of the New Jersey studio of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic thank the greater Princeton community for its support of our recent Record-A-Thon event, during which our volunteers gave even more time to record textbooks and other educational materials for our members.

In particular, we’d like to thank Starbucks of Nassau Street, The Bent Spoon of Princeton, Muscle Maker Grill in Forrestal Village, Wegmans, TGI Fridays, Panera Bread, and McCaffrey’s for their generous donations of food that kept our volunteers nourished during their long hours at the recording studio.

Our members rely on RFB&D volunteers to record the texts they need to succeed in school, on the job, and in life. Since its inception in 1957, the New Jersey studio has been the beneficiary of the support of volunteers and the institutions and businesses of the greater Princeton community. For that we are always grateful.

KATHERINE BENINCASA
New Jersey Studio
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic

Town Topics’ Mercer Street Building Was Former Crossley Inc. Field Office

To the Editor:

Your very interesting story on Town Topics’ former home at 4 Mercer Street triggered many memories for me. I remember the building first as an attractive restaurant named “Martha’s Kitchen,” run, I think, by Robert Benham in the late 1930s. By the early 1940s the major tenant was my father, Archibald M. Crossley, who, along with George Gallup and Elmo Roper, was a major founder of public opinion polling. (You ran a front-page story on him in June 1950.)

Although the main commercial office of Crossley Inc. was located in the McGraw-Hill building in New York City, we rented the working space at 4 Mercer Street from the University for several years, using it as headquarters for field operations. In 1946 we sublet the first floor offices to Don Stuart and Dan Coyle for their promising new paper. However, we kept our records in the basement storage area for some time, as our company name changed to ArchCross Associates (I still have the ACA sign from the front window).

Records of our operation are now archived at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. History moves on, as Town Topics has reported so well for 65 years. I congratulate the University for restoring that great space.

HELEN M. CROSSLEY
Battle Road

Women’s College Club Extends Thanks to Its Scholarship Benefit Benefactors

To the Editor:

As Benefit chairperson of the Women’s College Club of Princeton, I wish to thank the many area merchants who generously contributed merchandise or services to the silent auction held at our annual Scholarship Benefit Luncheon on April 26 at the Present Day Club. Because of the support of the business community and our members, we are able each year to award college scholarships to outstanding young women in our local secondary schools.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the following merchants for their donations:

Peterson’s Nursery, Jordans of Princeton, Nassau Inn, Windrows, Chambers Walk in Lawrenceville, Rocky Hill Inn, Zorba’s Brother, Winberries Restaurant, Avanti Restaurant in Pennington, Cranbury Station Gallery, Acacia in Lawrenceville, Fedora’s Café in Lawrenceville, McCaffrey’s, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Passage To India in Lawrenceville, Amalfi’s in Pennington, Forest Jewelers, KC Prime Steakhouse in Lawrence, Pennington Market, and Blue Bottle Café in Hopewell.

Our thanks, as well, to Old Sturbridge Village, Old Sturbridge, Mass.; to the club members who contributed gift baskets to the auction; and to those members who worked so diligently to make the Benefit a success.

ALOHA HOLLOWAY
Bordentown

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