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Vol. LXI, No. 48
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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Township Resident Quizzes Library Board, Asks for Progress Report on Parking Issue

Linda Arntzenius

Princeton Township resident Howard Silbersher stepped up to the Board of Trustees of the Princeton Public Library last week to ask about progress on the issue of library parking.

In January, Borough and Township officials announced that a municipal subsidy that had allowed resident library patrons up to two hours of free parking in the Borough-owned Spring Street garage would be cancelled in February because of the finances.

The subsidy’s cost to the municipalities in 2006 was $101,000, of which the Borough covered approximately 33 percent and the Township approximately 66 percent, a proportion determined by respective ratables. It had been argued that the Township should cover the majority of the subsidy since Township residents made more use of the free parking than Borough residents, who can walk rather than drive the shorter distance to the library.

The cancellation has been widely criticized with many residents citing assurances of a period of free parking made by officials when the new library building was being planned.

“Has any progress been made?” asked Mr. Silbersher, adding that he had spoken to a lot of residents. “No one is happy about the loss of the two hours of free parking.”

The Borough and the Township have promised talks on the possibility of restoring the subsidy.

Mr. Silbersher said that he had not received a satisfactory answer to his question as to why the subsidy had been cancelled in the first place. “I have asked [Borough Administrator] Robert W. Bruschi and [Township Administrator] Jim Pascale and the answer is always money but the Township has a budget of $34 million and the library part of that is $70,000. Do the math; it’s a drop in the bucket. Since the library is such an important and positive institution in our town, making access to it difficult is shameful,” he said.

He cited a suggestion made earlier in the year by Borough resident and recent Republican candidate for Borough Council Linda Sipprelle that seniors or residents on fixed incomes should have at least an hour of free parking during off peak hours.

He also suggested that if the two-hour free parking were reinstituted, the library would see an increase in use and in revenues.

The effect of the subsidy’s removal was the topic of a report presented by Library Director Leslie Burger to members of the Board of Trustees in May. Ms. Burger’s report showed a steady decline in the number of patrons visiting the library since the end of the two-hour free parking and a corresponding decrease in revenue from shop and book sales, and DVD rentals.

Responding to Mr. Silbershur’s questions, Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand said that she had requested figures from the Borough so that the potential cost could be analyzed. The last of the figures had arrived that day and the next step was for Township Chief Financial Officer Kathryn Monzo and Administrator Jim Pascale to review the figures, she said.

Mr. Silbersher expressed his opinion that the subsidy represented such a small sum that its cancellation couldn’t simply be a matter of money. He suspected that some sort of a power struggle was going on. “This is a case of someone trying to assert themselves over someone else and Township residents are inconvenienced as a result.”

At the suggestion of a power struggle, Mayor Marchand shook her head in dissent. “That is not true,” she said. “This is an issue, in my opinion, between the library and the Borough, as the owner of the parking garage,” she said. “The Township has no interest in the garage. The Borough owns it and the Borough sets the fees.”

Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman was absent from the meeting.

Members of the board expressed the view that the library was caught in the middle of the parking issue.

Mayor Marchand said that a long term solution was needed. “We cannot continue to negotiate this every year,” she said, adding that the trustees meeting was not the appropriate forum for the discussion.

Board vice president Bob Ginsberg, who said that he was in favor of the two-hour free parking, said that although $70,000 sounded like a small sum, the library had to decrease its book budget by that amount in order to balance the budget. “It’s a lot of money in a budget that’s really, really tight,” he said, suggesting that members of the public express their concerns at meetings of the Borough and Township councils rather than to the library board. “We are waiting for something to happen too,” he said.

Board of Trustees President Katherine McGavern thanked Mr. Silbersher for his comments. “We are all anxious to resolve this,” she said.

The library will hold a special budget meeting of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, December 4, at 5 p.m., in the conference room on the second floor.

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