Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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Cost of Extended Parking Meter Hours May Prove to Exceed Additional Income

MIRIAM L. YEVICK
Pelham Street

Could an Obscure State Government Board Decide Borough-Township Consolidation?

KEN FIELDS
Linden Lane

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Thanks Its Record-A-Thon Supporters

MICHELLE IOSELEVICH
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
Mapleton Road

Arts Council Thanks Artists, Guests, and Volunteers at Successful Benefit

JENIAH “KOOKIE” JOHNSON
Director of Community Relations
Arts Council of Princeton

University Payments in Lieu of Taxes Remain Focus of Tax Fairness Debate

(Four letters)


Cost of Extended Parking Meter Hours May Prove to Exceed Additional Income

To the Editor:

I understand that the Borough Council intends to extend the parking meter collection hours from 7 to 8 p.m. It might behoove the Council members, especially in view of the many initial false estimates of the cost to the taxpayer of the garage and other construction, to consider the additional overtime pay of ticket dispensers against the revenue collected by them during this near nighttime hour.

It is more likely that drivers — especially students taking their evening meal and patrons of performances or concerts — will take advantage of the free after-hour University parking lots, lowering the potential take.

MIRIAM L. YEVICK
Pelham Street

Could an Obscure State Government Board Decide Borough-Township Consolidation?

To the Editor:

Perhaps the most intriguing fact to emerge from the informational meeting on consolidation held at the Township Municipal Complex on April 27 is that the Princetons could consolidate without any public referendum on the matter ever being held. According to N.J. Division of Local Government Services Deputy Director Marc Pfeiffer, a new state law now allows our local governing bodies to petition an obscure office in Trenton called The Local Finance Board to request that a consolidation committee be formed. Should this committee then issue a favorable report, Borough Council and Township Committee could then petition this same Board to consolidate.

As far as I can tell, this Local Finance Board has little to do with finance and is not local to anywhere in particular, being staffed by eight apparatchiks no two of whom have mailing addresses within the same zip code, although two are located in New York City.

And so the fate of the Princetons may be decided. There is plenty of historical precedent for this kind of thing. My German is a little rusty, but I seem to remember that in 1938 Vienna, a popular saying was “Ein Volk, Ein Stadt, Ein Mayor,” yes?

KEN FIELDS
Linden Lane

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Thanks Its Record-A-Thon Supporters

To the Editor:

The staff and volunteers of the New Jersey Unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community during our Record-A-Thon celebration in April. Our volunteers kept our recording booths full for six days to complete educational texts for our members who cannot effectively read standard print because they are blind or have a visual impairment or dyslexia.

We are particularly grateful to our sponsors: Bloomberg, The Lipper Family Charitable Foundation and MB Charity, and the other donors who even during these difficult financial times helped us surpass our fundraising goals for the event.

We would also like to publicly thank the local businesses that donated food or gifts to keep our army of volunteers fed and happy during the event: Outback Steakhouse of Hamilton, Whole Foods of Princeton, McCaffrey’s, Hoagie Haven, The Bent Spoon, Barnes & Noble, KMH Massage of Ewing, The Hyatt Place of Princeton, Camillo’s, McCarter Theatre, Nassau Inn, Obal Garden, The Hyatt Regency Princeton, Panera Bread of Princeton, Chevy’s of Lawrenceville, Adventure Aquarium of Camden, Business Bistro of Princeton, Olives of Princeton, Chambers Walk Café of Lawrenceville, Wegmans of Princeton, TGI Fridays of Princeton, Valentino’s of Princeton, Hampton Inn, and Chili’s of Princeton.

Without the continued support of our volunteers and the local business community we would not be able to work toward our vision for all people to have equal access to the printed word.

MICHELLE IOSELEVICH
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
Mapleton Road

Arts Council Thanks Artists, Guests, and Volunteers at Successful Benefit

To the Editor:

On behalf of the staff of the Arts Council of Princeton, I would like to thank each one of the close to 450 guests who attended the Arts Council of Princeton’s spring benefit, Pinot to Picasso: Vintage 2009. The event was a fabulous success, raising approximately $54,000 to support the Anne Reeves Artist–in-residence program.

Congratulations and thank you to our inspired founding director and honorary chair, Anne Reeves. A resounding applause goes out to the talented Pinot to Picasso event committee, led by chairwoman Dawn McClatchy. The committee’s creative talent and upbeat approach to volunteering was truly inspirational. Bravo! Also deserving of applause are the 87 artists who contributed original artwork to the Tombola, a lively Art Draw and the evening’s highlight. The salon style Tombola gallery was a wonderful sight, as were the happy faces of the lucky winners.

JENIAH “KOOKIE” JOHNSON
Director of Community Relations
Arts Council of Princeton

University Payments in Lieu of Taxes Remain Focus of Tax Fairness Debate

To the Editor:

After Princeton Citizens for Tax Fairness presented the case for fairer payments in lieu of taxes from Princeton University, University spokespersons responded with familiar arguments. If we can refute these arguments one by one, perhaps the University will stop repeating them.

Let’s start with two claims. First, University representatives say that Princeton Borough enjoys Mercer County’s lowest property tax rate, proving that the University benefits the Borough financially. Second, the University must benefit all Princetonians because home values in Princeton are higher than in most New Jersey communities.

But are low tax rates and elevated house prices beneficial? Does lowest tax rate mean low total property taxes? In round numbers, the Borough needs $25,000,000 in residential property taxes annually (about half of which goes to schools and a quarter to the County). On average, that’s $12,500 from each of the Borough’s 2,000 homeowners.

To make the math easy, suppose the average Borough house is worth $625,000 (it was $682,554 in 2006). Then $12,500 means a 2 percent effective tax rate (the percentage of market value rather than assessment). If our homes were worth just half as much — $312,500 — we’d still have to pay $12,500, or 4 percent.

So tax rates matter less than total tax. That $12,500, the Newark Star-Ledger calculates, puts Princeton Borough in the 98th percentile of all New Jersey communities for property tax paid per homeowner.

And are our taxes high because Borough Hall wastes money? No, the Star-Ledger puts the Borough in New Jersey’s 51st percentile, virtually average, in per capita municipal spending.

From 51st percentile per capita to 98th total: why this discrepancy? First, those 2,000 homeowners are only one seventh of a total Borough population of 14,000, of whom 6,000 are students. If all Borough homeowners were married, it’s as though each couple supported municipal services for five children, three of them young adults.

Second, the University isn’t taxed on educational property. If it had paid tax on all its property in 2006 — about $35 million to Borough and Township, or $28 million more than it actually paid — Borough taxes would have dropped 24 percent, and Township taxes 15 percent.

So, yes, Princetonians have low tax rates and high house prices. But remember, if you’re a Borough homeowner, those 51st and 98th percentiles. Remember your five children, three of them adopted. And remember that you involuntarily contribute 24 percent of your property taxes to your adopted children’s enormously wealthy university.

Then remember to sign our petition at www.petitiononline.com/PCDO2008/petition.html.

ANNE WALDRON NEUMANN
Member, Princeton Citizens for Tax Fairness

To the Editor:

Bob Rodgers’s letter (Town Topics, May 6) arguing for a sort of “stress test” by which he means the University should only pay a tax proportionate to its burden on public schools and municipal services has a certain logic and raises some interesting questions. Taken to its logical conclusion, does it mean that those of us who have no children and have imposed no burden on the school system should pay no tax, or perhaps a much smaller percentage? I am all in favor, but I presume the counter-argument will be that we all benefit from being a part of this community and, as such, must support it as part of the common good. 

MICHAEL E. MORANDI
Battle Road



To the Editor:

Regarding Bob Rodgers’s letter concerning the effect of Princeton University’s tax exempt status on local taxpayers (Town Topics, May 6), he’s quite right that tax-burdened “townies” need not jeer University representatives at public meetings to urge that the University should contribute more to the annual general operating budgets of Princeton Borough and Township.

But I respectfully disagree with Mr. Rodgers, a University alumnus, insofar as he claims that the cost of municipal services to the University community can be somehow quantified so that the negotiations between the Princeton municipal governments and the University concerning payments in lieu of taxes might be based on such quantification.

Some services may be susceptible to per capita cost analysis, or other means to assign cost, but most are not.

For example, the Princeton municipalities maintain an expensive fire department to prevent and fight fires, and expensive police departments to prevent and fight crime, that may never happen. Local taxpayers might like to have the option to opt out of local taxes based on their own risk/reward analysis concerning the possible effect of fire and crime on them individually at any given time. But in a civil society, we don’t give individual members of our community the option to make such risk/reward analyses. Instead, for the protection of us all, we operate municipal fire and police departments funded through taxes set by elected community representatives, and those taxes are not optional.

Why should the Princeton University community be treated any differently than our other local taxpayers? If the University can count on our fire department (which it does) and if the University can count on our police departments (which it does), why is it not paying local taxes like the rest of us?

Indeed, the University’s failure to pay local taxes costs every Borough resident approximately 25 percent, and every Township resident approximately 14 percent, of his or her annual property tax bill, according to the undisputed analysis of the Princeton Citizens for Tax Fairness.

Put another way, Princeton taxpayers contribute a substantial percentage of their tax bills to Princeton University every year so that the University community might avail itself of the municipally financed fire and police departments. Were the University a fledgling institution providing essential services to its host community, local taxpayers might agree to make that contribution.

Speaking for myself, and assuming I felt sufficiently flush to voluntarily make annual contributions to any non-governmental institution amounting to 25 percent of my local tax bill, I would rather make annual contributions to institutions other than Princeton University, which is hardly “fledgling” (owning half the land in Princeton Borough and enjoying a multi-billion dollar endowment), and which is a wonderful institution but provides me with zero “essential services.”

Under our present system of governance, I don’t have that option. Why should the University?

ROGER MARTINDELL
Prospect Avenue



To the Editor: 

In his recent letter, Bob Rodgers suggests that the continuing discussion of the University’s financial contribution to the community would benefit from a careful look at “the numbers.” We agree, which is why we commissioned an independent firm to collect and analyze the available data. The report is available online at www.princeton.edu/community.

Mr. Rodgers asked specifically about the relationship between the number of students from University housing who are enrolled in the public schools and the University’s contribution to the school budget. The report found that the number of school children living in University-owned housing was 85. The estimated cost of educating those children was $1.36 million. The amount the University paid in school taxes was $3.42 million, or more than $2 million more than the estimated cost.

Similarly, the report found that the combination of University taxes, fees, and voluntary contributions more than offsets the costs of services provided to the University by the community, and it identified services the University provides to the community at no cost, such as the nearly 4 miles of local roads that the University maintains for community use.

KRISTIN S. APPELGET
Director, Community and Regional Affairs
Princeton University

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