Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 20
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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Zero-Cent Tax Increase Introduced by Council for 2009 Borough Budget

Dilshanie Perera

After months-long deliberations, Borough Council voted to formally introduce the 2009 municipal budget at last Tuesday’s meeting. As proposed, this year’s budget totals $24,647,374 and involves no tax increase from the previous year.

While Council members David Goldfarb, Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes all voted in favor of the introduction, Council President Andrew Koontz voted against it. Margaret Karcher was absent.

The public hearing of the 2009 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Borough Hall.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi reported that the current budget is almost $700,000 less than that of 2008, and is “directly reflective of the two goals assigned to the staff,” namely a zero-cent tax increase and keeping the Borough’s overall salaries constant. He added that the amount currently paid in salaries is less than the amount paid in 2007.

“I find this achievement to be fairly remarkable given that we began with a budget that was $1.8 million over last year’s,” Mr. Bruschi said of the process of refining the budget document, which began last November. “We were able to offset the increases by other cuts,” he explained.

Characterizing the document as thrifty but “livable,” Mr. Bruschi noted that the major changes in the operating budget involved the restructuring of the Human Services Commission, the reduction of residential garbage collection to once a week, an overall reduction in operating budgets by five percent (with the exception of the Senior Resource Center), and the beginning of non-union municipal employee contributions to health benefits in July.

As for the capital budget, Mr. Bruschi said it was still “in flux,” but with adequate surplus. Adding that “there is work remaining to ensure that the programs and funding will match up with the Borough’s debt management plan,” he noted that the staff is confident that they will determine the best course of action.

Changes in how the Borough earns revenue had to be made to offset the “significant shortfalls” in construction fees, the hotel and motel tax, and reductions in state aid, Mr. Bruschi observed, adding that in order to be prepared for 2010 expenses, staff would present a document previewing what is to come prior to the 2009 budget’s public hearing.

Mr. Bruschi advised that Council consider moving toward consolidation, or at least combining services that are already duplicated between the two municipalities.

Responding to a question from Council, Mr. Bruschi reported that about five Borough employees had been laid off as a result of the cutbacks, and that the remaining positions that were eliminated were vacancies that staff chose not to fund.

Mr. Koontz said that he could not support the budget on the grounds that too much was being taken from the surplus to meet this year’s needs, and would be difficult to restore in future years. Furthermore, he added that he was concerned about the vulnerability of the non-union workforce, that he did not support the parking meter fee extension, and that he felt the service reductions were “not sustainable in the long term.”

“Everyone has suffered this year,” Mr. Wilkes said, adding that “we must show some understanding as to the needs of residents.” The increasing tax rate over the past years results in “losing residents in Princeton Borough because it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable to live here,” he remarked.

NHKT Developer Jack Morrison said he was present at the meeting to speak to the “desire for Borough merchants to maintain a viable downtown, and save jobs and businesses.” He added that he was hopeful that merchants might find some alternatives to implementing Sunday parking fees and parking hour extensions by locating other potential ways to reduce expenditures in the 2009 budget.

Mr. Bruschi noted that the administration was certainly amenable to talking to merchants, but that “ultimately it will be Council’s decision.”

“We’re looking for a conversation, and a better line of communication in general,” Mr. Morrison explained.

In the same vein, Jenny Crumiller requested that the Borough’s budget draft be published online for residents to peruse prior to the June 9 meeting. “If it’s public information, why not put it online?” she asked.

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