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Vol. LXV, No. 44
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
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Township and Borough Engage One Last Time In Discussions For and Against Consolidation

Ellen Gilbert

With Election Day less than two weeks away, Township Committee and Borough Council members met together last week for a final session on the question of consolidation.

Elected officials and audience members reiterated arguments pro and con after Consolidation Commission Chair Anton Lahnston began the meeting by attempting to address some of the questions about the Commission’s analysis that have come up in recent weeks. He cited the “frantic months when deadlines were very tight,” as a potential cause for a “lack of clarity” in the original report, and noted the “continuing education process that the Commission has been involved in” as its members carried out consolidation-related research both before and after making their recommendation in favor of joining the two municipalities.

Center for Governmental Research Consultant Joe Stefko stepped up to defend the Commission’s figure of $3.16 million in projected savings if consolidation occurs. Mr. Stefko described how a “baseline review” of municipal services served as a foundation for the Commission, which then identified “new options in each service category.” Working through subcommittees, he said, the Commission eventually arrived at “the sum of calculated efficiencies of services.” Final recommendations, he noted, were based on ensuring adequate staffing levels and achieving better fiscal results under each option.

“This isn’t Fox News,” said Township Mayor Chad Goerner in response to Borough Councilman David Goldfarb’s suggestion that the Commission underestimated transition costs in order to make its report “look better for State.” Mr. Goldfarb and Mr. Goerner were both Commission members who participated in subcommittee information-gathering.

Variables that came up for additional scrutiny at last week’s meeting included whether or not adding Township-wide solid waste pickup would result in cost efficiencies; open space tax equalization; how to handle the library tax; leaf and brush pickup plans; reconciling the difference in cash flow between the Borough and the more conservative Township, and differences among the municipalities’ ratables.

“I personally see no good reasons for consolidation,” observed Borough resident Phyllis Teitelbaum as members of the audience were given an opportunity to speak. She acknowledged that “thoughtful, honest people can come to different conclusions,” and referencing, perhaps, Mr. Goldfarb’s earlier comment, added, “They’re not making things up.” Addressing undecided voters, however, Ms. Teitelbaum noted things she believed would be lost to consolidation. “You will lose money; taxes will go up; and you will lose police services. With two Township votes for every Borough vote, she added, Borough residents would lose representation on the School, Recreation, and other municipal boards.

Princeton is becoming less affordable by the day,” countered Township resident Henry Singer. Describing “misplaced complacency,” he urged undecided voters to “vote for consolidation in order to preserve Princeton.”

Princeton Community Housing Executive Director Sandra Persichetti described problems associated with having two governments in the case of the Harriet Bryan House, an affordable housing unit that straddles both municipalities. Building costs were higher as a result of having to work with two different sets of offices, she reported; residents needed different orientations; and the building was not as efficiently constructed as it could have been. When a resident fell on one side of the building, a call for help precipitated a conversation about which municipality she was in. “Discussing leaf and trash pick up is so much minutiae when we’re talking about the lives of residents,” Ms. Persichetti said.

As a former member of the Princeton Health Commission, physician Laura Kahn cited the combined purview of that agency as a key to the success of efforts to vaccinate area residents during the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic. “There’s no way as many people could have been vaccinated” if the Health Commission hadn’t been a single entity, she observed.

Borough resident Claire Jacobus expressed dismay at the level of bad feeling this latest effort to consolidate has generated, and Mr. Goerner may have had that same concern in mind when, earlier in the meeting, he described a recent talk he had with a Littlebrook Elementary School fifth grade class. Asked to define “consolidation,” one student suggested that it had to do with “putting an arm around a friend and saying it’ll be okay.” However it goes, observed Mr. Goerner, we need to work together in the future.

In the days since the joint meeting, the Township Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Local 387, issued a statement opposing consolidation. (See article on page 1 and Bernie Miller’s response in today’s Mailbox.)

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