Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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Princetons Spar Over Human Services, Approve Pool

Dilshanie Perera

In a tense, sometimes contentious joint municipal agency budget meeting between Borough Council and Township Committee last week all recommended budgets were passed unanimously, with the exception of that of the Human Services Department, which was passed 4-2 in the Borough and unanimously in the Township. The tension came during a conversation about whether the Borough should divest from Human Services in its entirety. The governing bodies also gave their approvals for capital expenditures, which will include the new pool complex at Community Park.

Overall, the budgets weighed in at a total of $8,349,094, down $166,000 from last year, with no salary increases for non-union staff. Approved capital expenditures will cost the two Princetons $6,935,000, and are subject to future ordinances passed in each municipality.

The first signs of discontent became evident early in the evening due to confusion regarding the salary agreement. The Township had put into place a non-union salary freeze, while the Borough had employees contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries to defray health benefit costs, while receiving a 1.5 percent raise, for a net increase of zero.

“We may implement it differently, but at the end of the year, the bottom line is the same,” Mr. Bruschi said.

The major disagreement between the municipalities concerned the issue of funding the Human Services Department, which has a budget of $142,418, down $29,174 from last year.

Jenny Crumiller, Andrew Koontz, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes of the Borough all voted to continue funding Human Services, while David Goldfarb and Roger Martindell voted against it.

The Borough’s finance committee had non-unanimously proposed to fund the department through the end of 2010 and terminate its joint funding obligation with the Township in a year’s time.

Mr. Martindell said that spending $41,000 this year on Human Services would necessitate staff cuts in other departments, and that he wanted to see “a commitment to reorganize the program.”

“I don’t support this idea,” Ms. Crumiller noted, adding that the department “serves our most vulnerable population. It has one employee and is a safety net.”

Ms. Trelstad suggested that the program could be restructured over the course of the year. “There is a will to provide these services and we need to do it. Let’s set a time limit and come up with solutions.”

Mr. Goldfarb called for the termination of Borough funding, characterizing the program as “not cost-effective.”

Township Committee members expressed their disappointment with certain members of Borough Council. Lance Liverman said that “the last thing we want in our community is to turn our backs on the less fortunate,” noting that other service providing agencies like those of the County and State could not handle overflow from Princeton as they are “just as burdened.”

“The number of people served by Human Services keeps growing,” added Liz Lempert. “We are at an all-time high for people receiving general assistance welfare, which is five times higher than when the department was founded 10 years ago.

“And we’ve seen our numbers rise. The County is completely overwhelmed… We have already made significant cuts to this department. A lot of us have high hopes for what this department could be, but it is not fair to expect a one-person department to provide the level of service of multiple employees,” Ms. Lempert said.

“We need you to be clear,” she emphasized, addressing the Borough. “If we lose half the funding, we need to figure out how we’re going to fund it for the Township. It is not fair to string us along.”

Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner agreed, noting that “I would not welcome a ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too’ approach. Either you terminate, or you don’t.”

Mr. Martindell of the Borough countered that discontinuing service provision isn’t the goal, but that he doesn’t support the program “as it currently exists.”

“I’m not committed to the same old way we’ve been plodding along all these years. We need to recommit ourselves to make it a better program. Talk about it another decade? I don’t think so,” Mr. Martindell said.

Emphasizing that a deadline for improvements is “significantly different than a resolution to terminate an interlocal services agreement,” Mr. Goerner warned that the found certain Borough Council members’ commitments “dubious at best.”

“A deadline is fine with us; we all recognize that we need improvements,” he added, regarding the department.

Ms. Lempert commented that “one of the problems [Human Services] has been facing is that it has been operating with an axe hanging over its head for a year, while the demand is going up and the workload is going up.”

Human Services Director Cynthia Mendez said that since the department was reorganized last year and with funding reduced, “the service that has declined has been service provision to the Latino community, since I don’t speak Spanish.” Bilingual employees who had previously been in the department were either cut or shifted to other departments last year.

Co-chair of the Human Services Commission Anastasia Mann decried the fact that the Borough was considering terminating funding for the department. “I don’t think this is fundamentally a fiscal question; I think it’s fundamentally an ideological question.”

“My own view of the budget is that we need to feel confident every dollar spent is spent wisely. That has never been true with Human Services,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

The motion that passed in the Borough was one proposed by Mr. Wilkes that approved the Human Services budget as proposed, and ensured “ongoing discussions throughout the year and the commitment to improving department programs with the Township.”

Pool Complex

The discussion about the $6.1 million new pool complex overseen by the Recreation Department spurred considerably much less debate between the municipalities. At least $1 million of the total is pledged from the recently created Princeton Parks and Recreation Foundation, with any monies raised between $1 million and $2 million to go toward offsetting the Recreation Board’s fees, thereby keeping memberships and prices low, and assuring greater access, suggested Recreation Director Jack Roberts, who characterized the community pool as “the action arm for human services,” and a central summer gathering place for residents of all backgrounds.

The finance committees decided not to fund the Recreation Department’s request to install a new Community Park South restroom facility estimated at $200,000, or to contribute $12,000 for a master plan study for an indoor community and recreation center for this budget year.

Joint agency and departmental budgets passed include Animal Control, Corner House, the Environmental Commission, the Fire Department, Fire Facilities, the First Aid and Rescue Squad, the Health Department, the Human Services Department, the Princeton Public Library, the Planning Board, the Recreation Department, Sewers, Solid Waste, and the Suzanne Patterson Center.

Other joint capital expenditure requests approved by both governing bodies include monies for improvements at the Suzanne Patterson Center, Library, and Fire Department, as well as for the Sewer Operating Committee, and Recreation Department.

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