Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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Township Approves Budget; Emphasizes Planning for Future

Ellen Gilbert

At its Monday evening meeting Township Committee unanimously approved the 2010 budget, totaling $35,941,625.

The budget entails a 0.78 cent increase, the smallest dollars-and-cents increase in over 25 years, and the smallest percentage increase in 14 years. For the average home newly-assessed at $837,350, this means an increase of $65.32 a year.

Township Administrator Jim Pascale and Chief Financial Officer Kathy Monzo repeated many of the highlights that they had included in their budget introduction presentation on April 12. They noted that since that time, copies of the budget have been available online on the Township’s website, and in print at both the Princeton Public Library and Township Clerk’s office.

The loss of $450,000 in state aid and cuts to the school district were again cited as reasons necessitating a tax increase. Efforts to counterbalance the loss included instituting a salary freeze for all nonunion employees and asking Public Works and the Police Department, both non-union agencies, to forego raises. Mr. Pascale reported that Public Works employees opted for a raise and, as a result, they will be furloughed, with shortened summer work hours that will translate into the same salaries they received last year, despite the increase. The Police have not yet made their decision.

Councilwoman Sue Nemeth thanked Township staff for accepting the salary freeze “with grace,” and said that she wanted to assure the public that other revenue sources are being sought. Committeeman Lance Liverman thanked Mr. Pascale and Ms. Monzo for their financial prudence over the years.

Both Ms. Monzo and Citizens Finance Advisory Committee Chair Scott Sillars noted the importance of long-term financial planning, particularly in the face of uncertainty about funds from Trenton.

“The Township has taken solid steps to reduce costs and maintain the ‘fund balance’ in a difficult environment,” reported Mr. Sillars in a work session that followed the budget approval. He described the fund balance as the Township’s “financial cushion,” available to offset either anticipated or unanticipated expenses. While the fund balance enhances taxing and budgeting flexibility, Mr. Sillars said, its complexity and the fact that it is governed by State regulations makes it difficult to project. It is also an important factor in bond ratings, and accounts for the Township’s current triple-A Standard and Poor’s rating.

Princeton’s current fund balance, however, “is low by triple-A standards,” said Mr. Sillars. Challenges for the coming year, he suggested, include long-term prioritization of capital spending; the “snow plow effect” of sequential pay increases as a result of union contracts; further State aid “raids,” and the prospect of tighter caps.

Created in 2008, the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee consists of five members whom Mr. Sillars described as “a diverse group with backgrounds in corporate finance or municipal budgets.” They are “most well known,” he suggested, for the budget summaries they have published in the last two years, though other major projects include a Princeton University fair share analysis; a review of Township financial performance examining operating budgets and their impact on the fund balance; and the development of planning tools to analyze and project the fund balance. capital spending, and debt service trends.

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