Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
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Skeptics and Supporters Debate Costs and Benefits of Consolidation

Dilshanie Perera

The third major community forum on consolidation drew over 100 Princeton residents to Township Hall last week and saw passionate statements of skepticism and support as citizens considered the merger of the two Princetons.

The meeting was one of the first large-scale public forums to be held after the release of the report entitled “Consolidation Options and Impacts for Princeton, N.J.” by the Center for Governmental Research, the consultant working with the Joint Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission.

According to the report, full municipal consolidation would yield $3.321 million in total savings for the Borough and Township. Of this amount, a reduction in the size of the police force from 60 to 51 officers over a period of 3 to 5 years, is projected to save $2.1 million. The remaining savings stem from eliminating staffing and departmental housing and equipment redundancies between the two municipalities in the areas of public works and engineering, the governing body, administration, finance and tax collection, the municipal courts, and tax assessment.

Members of the Consolidation Commission assured those gathered that the goal of the process of combining municipalities was to both create efficiencies and also maintain or improve the quality of services provided to the towns today.

Council member Barbara Trelstad noted that there may be further cost reductions that accrue from consolidation that cannot be anticipated at present.

Township Mayor Chad Goerner pointed out that other savings would have to come about as a result of changes at the state level, but that the commission’s work was to “look holistically at the qualitative and quantitative aspects of consolidation.”

Committee Member Bernie Miller noted that out of a combined operating budget of $62.3 million, a $3.3 million reduction could be considered a “good job,” representing a nearly 5.3 percent reduction in the budget.

Resident Phyllis Teitelbaum expressed concern that full municipal consolidation would not yield decreased property taxes and advocated instead for increased shared services. Council member Roger Martindell also noted his disappointment that further savings had not been achieved and encouraged the commission to be more aggressive in its search for reducing costs.

Resident Peter Marks worried that the larger consolidated municipality would be “much more impersonal.”

Residents considered the general feeling of each of the towns and the changes that may stem from consolidation in that vein. Staffing levels in the conjoined Princeton and streamlining versus maintaining services were also debated.

Noting that “we are all one community,” resident Dan Preston refuted the idea that the Borough and Township have distinct mentalities or are incommensurate. “I consider myself a resident of the Princeton community,” he said.

Another public meeting of the Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission took place on Tuesday after Town Topics press time. A report on that meeting will be available in next week’s issue.

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