Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 20
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Borough Hall Revisits Budget Cuts, Preparing for State-Mandated Cap

Matthew Hersh

Borough Hall finessed its proposed $24.2 million 2007 municipal budget last Tuesday by removing roughly $100,000 in expenditures, looking toward conserving a surplus that will be visited when the municipality faces a four percent, state mandated, budgetary cap in 2008.

The move follows last week's proposal to reduce the proposed tax levy one point, to four cents per $100 assessed value, resulting in an overall 98-cent levy.

That increase is down about a cent-and-a-half as compared to initial projections that date back as early as December of last year. At the new level, the average Borough house assessed at $348,413, will be subject to $3,414 in municipal taxes this year.

Responding to a line-by-line memo submitted by Councilman David Goldfarb to Council members and Borough administrator Robert Bruschi, last Tuesday's workshop session served as an effective window on how the Borough plans to handle future limitations on annual budgetary increases.

"We're all going to share some of the pain," said Mr. Bruschi, in addressing the budget squeeze. "But we gave you a budget that we think was good."

It appears as though the Borough, as indicated at its May 1 session, will factor in parking increases as a way, in part, to offset the reduction in the proposed tax increase. In a May 4 memo to Council, Borough engineer Carl Peters proposed an average parking increase of 25 percent for all of the metered zones in the municipal parking system, as well as "similar" increases in the Spring Street Garage rates. Mr. Peters cites a seven-year drought in parking levies, as well as a 10 percent discount related to the Park Smart Card, leaving, if approved, an actual increase of 23.5 percent, or 3.1 percent per year since 2000.

In addition, Mr. Peters pointed to a sales tax change last year that placed a 7 percent levy on municipal parking garages.

Borough Council is also keeping its eyes on what could represent a significant increase in taxes if the municipality is instructed to pay $300,000 in back taxes to the Cottage Club — a private eating club for Princeton University students on Prospect Avenue.

The Borough is awaiting a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court over a contested appeal for historic designation by the Cottage Club, which currently does not hold historic site certification from the state. If the courts rule in the club's favor, it would be considered tax-exempt, possibly retroactive to 2001 when the club first contested its historic status and tax assessment. Buildings with that type of historic certification are tax-exempt, as long as the site is readily open to the public for a minimum of 12 days annually.

The back taxes, which would have to be paid by the Borough in one year, could translate into as much as a seven-cent municipal tax increase.

The court ruling is expected to be handed down shortly.

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