Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 40
 
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
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On Revaluation and Misinformation: Working Together to Lessen Impact

Peter Wolanin
Spruce Street

Township Officials Should Realize Homes Should Not Fund Short-Term Expenditures

Bill Kister
Princeton-Kingston Rd

Local Representatives Unfairly Blamed, Misrepresented on Revaluation Morass

Ann Summer
Cedar Lane

Rush Holt Cited for Analytical Capabilities, Support for Vets, Medicare, Einstein’s Alley

Jack Tomlinson
Lovers Lane

Human Services Commission Thanks Back Packs/School Supplies Donors

Anastasia R. Mann,
Chair
Cynthia Mendez,
Executive Director

Koontz’s Opponent for Freeholder Disputes His Campaign’s Claims

Jim Castelize
Clamer Rd., Ewing

Words of Support for Andrew Koontz for Post of Mercer County Freeholder

Anton Lahnston
Elm Road

Supporter Credits Lempert’s Skills, Environmental, Open Space Work

Daniel A. Harris
Dodds Lane

Holt’s “Rocket Scientist” Claim “Harmless,” but Not Allegations About His Opponent

Tom Meagher
Willow Road, Lawrenceville

“Give the Gift of Health” Campaign Will Help Support HiTOPS Services

Elizabeth Walters
Mt. Lucas Drive

Some Facts About the BRT Flaws and the University’s Expectations

Anne Waldron Neumann
Alexander Street

Calling On the Princeton Community to Help Victims of Floods in Pakistan

Adnan Shamsi
William Paterson Court


On Revaluation and Misinformation: Working Together to Lessen Impact

To the editor,

The recent revaluation resulted in a shift in the tax burden such that many people with smaller, modest homes received sharp and unexpected increases. The disproportionate impact on lower income and older, long-time residents, seems like an insult to our values of fairness and inclusiveness, and the reaction of the community is a testament to the compassion and ideals of Princeton residents. I have seen the members of the governing bodies of both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township working all summer and continuing to work researching and pursuing every option to help alleviate the situation, but fundamentally property taxes are regressive and are set regardless of a home owner’s ability to pay. We must work together to lessen the impact of the revaluation, but for the long term we must also reduce our reliance on them to fund the schools, parks, library, social services, and other things that make Princeton a wonderful place to live.

There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the process of the revaluation. Some basic facts are necessary to understand the current situation:

The revaluation process is legally structured to prevent municipal officials from controlling it or modifying the result: The reason for this is obviously to keep the process fair and prevent favoring certain residents over others based on connections.

Princeton’s revaluation was required by New Jersey state law and ordered by the county board of taxation, which oversees and conducts all property tax assessments: Municipal governments do not have the power to refuse to do a revaluation. 

By state law, property must be assessed according to its current market value: If you could sell your house for the assessed value, then your revaluation is accurate.

Certain locations and types of houses are in demand, which means a smaller house can be worth more than a bigger house in another location: For example, a house on the corner of a busy intersection will often sell for less than a house a few doors down from the intersection.

Looking at home sales from the past year it appears that the revaluation meets the expected threshold of accuracy because most houses are selling for a price quite close to their assessment. The reality is that the shift is a result of market forces which have created more demand for modest properties, especially within walking distance of downtown.

There are no easy answers to the trend we’re experiencing, in which previously affordable neighborhoods have become more sought-after, and their market values rise significantly. There may be ways of addressing this trend through affordable housing programs and zoning restrictions, but no solution is simple or without significant consequences that are certain to hurt some residents as we try to help others. 

Peter Wolanin
Spruce Street

Township Officials Should Realize Homes Should Not Fund Short-Term Expenditures

To the Editor, 

I am troubled by the political response (Town Topics, September 8) Comitteewoman Lempert has taken to the revaluation disaster which she and her Township colleagues officially sanctioned. Ms. Lempert addresses the “symptoms” of the Township’s fiscal demise not the “disease” itself. Her proposed “re-do” reassessment will only reallocate the tax burden to those who she thinks are more capable of affording additional taxes. This approach is simply kicking the can down the road. Our Township Officials should realize our tax pie is just too big for all residents. A home does not produce current income. A home consumes income. A home as a long term, illiquid asset should not be used to fund short term public expenditures.

Unfortunately, property taxation in New Jersey is the process under which we live, so it behooves Ms. Lempert and her colleagues to be as respectful and prudent as possible of their constituents’ most important asset, their homes. They have encumbered these assets with an unconscionable level of tax liability that will further decrease home values and equity and negatively impact the vitality and diversity of Princeton (ironically, the very reason Ms. Lempert joined the Township Committee) in at least three obvious ways:

1) As residents are asked to pay more taxes, the depletion of their liquid assets and current income to pay taxes makes residents less able to maintain their homes, and thus their homes deteriorate and decline in market value, and hence source less tax revenue on a home by home basis. This loss of equity also reduces residents’ future wealth and diminishes their opportunity to downsize and stay in Princeton through retirement. And the quality of life deteriorates as people have less discretionary income to enjoy Princeton. 

2) As taxes rise, a prospective buyer will be willing to pay less for a home than they would have if the municipality had effectively managed its expenditures. Prospective first time, or lower income buyers will choose to live elsewhere, thus also causing home values to fall as the supply of buyers diminishes and further negatively impacting the diversity of Princeton.  

3) Under our current leadership, the Township budget compounds years of excess that is now part of the budget baseline. If this process continues, the Township’s AAA rating will disappear, thus driving up borrowing costs and requiring even higher taxes. As our current officials continue to raise taxes to support a “vibrant and diverse” community, only the wealthy will be able to afford Princeton. Ms. Lempert’s objective is being torn asunder by the Committee’s spending policies and their policies of spending more are driving the less able to afford (and even more able) out of town. This is not an irony, it’s a direct result of fiscal mismanagement.

Ten years of irresponsible growth in public expenditures created our current problem, not the reassessment. Residents of all ages and income levels are outraged by our Public Officials’ unabashed willingness to reach deeper and deeper into their constituents’ pockets.

Bill Kister
Princeton-Kingston Rd

Local Representatives Unfairly Blamed, Misrepresented on Revaluation Morass

To the Editor,

Recent letters in the Town Topics have misrepresented the facts of the current reevaluation morass, inaccurately blaming and misquoting our local representatives. At each of the meetings I have attended, committee members have spoken up to acknowledge the unfairness of the revaluation results and to explain what they are doing to address it. 

The letters confuse responsibility for the process with responsibility for dealing with the results. In fact, our local officials have no authority to approve or reject the revaluation. The County required it, and the formula and process was dictated by the State. The Princetons hired ASI, which reported directly to the Tax Assessor, who reported directly to the County. When the results became known, our local Committee and Council members began actively working to come up with solutions allowed within the law. They can (and have) made recommendations to the tax assessor, but he is not legally obligated to follow those recommendations.

Contrary to what has been written in previous letters, our elected officials are taking responsibility for finding solutions. In particular, Liz Lempert has been doing what counts. She has led the efforts to mail out property cards to ensure accuracy, to encourage more frequent evaluations to avoid future steep hikes, and to reach out to local non-profits to help find relief. She has also met with state officials to seek their assistance.

Ann Summer
Cedar Lane

Rush Holt Cited for Analytical Capabilities, Support for Vets, Medicare, Einstein’s Alley

To the Editor,

Over the 12 years that Rush Holt has been the Congressman for the 12th district of New Jersey, I have come to realize that he is a near perfect fit to my vision of an ideal congressman. He is focused on doing his best to represent ALL of the people in his district. He is not beholden to any particular group of supporters, or companies, or organizations. I have the sense that he approaches each issue as a scientist, which he is, by trying to understand what action will do the best job for all his constituents and for the country. I also have the sense that other members of Congress respect his analytical capabilities, and look to him to help them understand the complex problems facing them. Let me mention just a few of his efforts. He has been actively supporting veterans by forcing the Defense Department to provide support and vital services as they re-enter civilian life. He has supported measures to increase security at our ports and borders. He is active in efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He is a supporter of Einstein’s Alley, an organization devoted to encouraging the establishment of entrepreneurial companies in his district. He voted to strengthen Medicare and close the prescription drug donut hole. He has supported increases in the minimum wage and equal pay for equal work.

From my understanding of the positions of Holt’s opponent in this year’s election, Scott Sipprelle is determined to undo many of the things that Holt has supported that benefit large numbers of people in the 12th district.

Jack Tomlinson
Lovers Lane

Human Services Commission Thanks Back Packs/School Supplies Donors

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Princeton Human Services Commission and the local youth that we serve, we would like to thank the donors to the 1st Annual Back Packs/School Supplies Drive. We believe that every child should start the school year with fresh notebooks, pointy pencils, and a bag to tote them around in. That is why we turned to the community for help, focusing our efforts on children entering grades K-5. The response from the community was nothing short of amazing.

Thanks to the generosity of the Princeton community, 35 youngsters from economically disadvantaged families received backpacks filled with school supplies. So generous was the outpouring that we were able to donate more than 20 book bags, lunch bags, and school supplies to students who participate in the Princeton Young Achievers’ After School Program. Without community-minded folks all across Princeton for helping us to help others, we could not do our work.

Anastasia R. Mann,
Chair
Cynthia Mendez,
Executive Director

Koontz’s Opponent for Freeholder Disputes His Campaign’s Claims

To the Editor,

Andrew Koontz says in his campaign materials that he held the line on taxes in Princeton Borough. In fact, Koontz was the only Councilman to vote against the flat budget (Borough Council minutes 5/12/09), stating that by not raising taxes and by not maxing out the 4 percent cap, as it will allow for less dollars in the next budget, Council is doing itself a disservice. He also stated that since all other taxes are going up, Princeton Borough’s taxes should also be increased. 

We cannot afford to elect an official who thinks we should just increase taxes because it allows us to have more money in the budget whether we need it or not. We need strong leaders who are willing to make drastic decisions regarding spending in order to help lower taxes in Mercer County. Andrew Koontz is not this leader. His track record in Princeton Borough shows us that he is part of the Democratic Spending Machine. 

Russ Wojtenko and I promise to work to cut spending and lower taxes in Mercer County once elected. We will work to reign in the cost of government and will vote against any budget higher than the current one. We will ask the tough questions necessary to cut the budget while holding the line on government services. On November 2, make the right decision for Mercer County, vote Wojtenko and Castelize, Freeholder. 

Jim Castelize
Clamer Rd., Ewing

Words of Support for Andrew Koontz for Post of Mercer County Freeholder

To the Editor,

I am writing as an enthusiastic supporter of Councilman Andrew Koontz for the position of Mercer County Freeholder. As a resident of Princeton Borough, I have had the opportunity to observe his work as a Princeton Borough Councilman for over six years. During that time, I have been especially impressed with his work, first and foremost his commitment to improving parks and recreation for our community. At the same time he has consistently fought any budget increases in the Borough. He is also a strong advocate for shared services between Princeton Township and Borough in order to create greater government effectiveness. He is a unique combination of a staunch team player — as a Councilman and as a member of our community — as well as a practical and independent thinker. As a Mercer County Freeholder, he will bring a wealth of practical experience in local government along with solid integrity, and skills as a collaborator to work as a member of the Board of Freeholders for everyone in all of Mercer County.

Anton Lahnston
Elm Road

Supporter Credits Lempert’s Skills, Environmental, Open Space Work

To the Editor,

I’m writing to urge Princeton Township citizens to re-elect Liz Lempert to Township Committee on November 2. Liz has shown intelligence, courage, and forthrightness during her first term: all of us need her skills to represent us again.

Liz’s environmental contributions to the community have been exceptionally valuable. After much consultation with regional environmental organizations to create public-private partnerships, she initiated the Township Resolution endorsing the Princeton Ridge Preserve — not simply an additional 66 acres of open space for education and recreation (connecting with Herrontown Woods) but an important environmental buffer to minimize the effects of downstream flooding along Harry’s Brook by leaving trees in place to control erosion. This new open space will also help keep Princeton’s water clean.

Liz has been active in redrafting the Township’s stormwater ordinance to control impervious coverage, thereby reducing the negative economic consequences of flooding for property-owners and taxpayers. As a member of the Pedestrian and Bike Committee, Liz now works for the protection of walkers and bikers and for reduction of car-use (less pollution). Committed to Sustainable Princeton, she understands the connection between environmental protections and the economic health of our community and knows that preventive measures directed towards sustainability will eliminate or reduce unnecessary costs for infrastructure.

Liz believes in equity for all groups in our diverse community. In recent months, she has been at the forefront of Township Committee efforts to mitigate the skewed effects of the tax revaluation that was mandated by Mercer County and approved by the NJ Division of Taxation. No charge of indifference to the effects of taxes on our population could possibly be laid at her feet with any credibility.

Liz is committed to a flourishing sustainability for human beings as well as the environment of which we are part. Her understanding of urban planning and land-use decisions (which affect the future for decades) is truly admirable.

Daniel A. Harris
Dodds Lane

Holt’s “Rocket Scientist” Claim “Harmless,” but Not Allegations About His Opponent

To the Editor:

I’ve met Rush Holt and had thought him a decent guy. I had never faulted him for falsely touting himself as a rocket scientist as I considered it a harmless exaggeration. However, false statements Rush has been making about his opponent for Congress, e.g., that he is against women receiving equal pay for equal work, are demeaning to the office Rush holds.

Tom Meagher
Willow Road, Lawrenceville

“Give the Gift of Health” Campaign Will Help Support HiTOPS Services

To the Editor,

As a health care provider at HiTOPS for 22 years, I’m accustomed to having a teenagers smile at me on the street or give me a “don’t act like you know me” glance in church. Once the young woman who bagged my groceries leaned over and whispered, “I need to talk to you about my pills.” My young children didn’t understand how I knew so many teenagers. Now they are grown, as are many of our clients who have moved on through college and into their adult lives. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that HiTOPS has had a hand in the safe passage through adolescence of so many teens and young adults in our community.

Since we opened in 1988, 6,616 adolescents have found their way through our clinic doors, seeking information, health care, crisis intervention and sometimes just an adult to talk to. One Saturday morning a distraught high school student walked out of taking the SAT and into my office. “It was the only place I could think of to go,” he said. Although many parents bring their children to us, others have no idea that their children ever received services. So here is my challenge: ask your adult children who grew up in the greater Princeton area if they or their friends ever received help from HiTOPS. I am confident what the answer will be. Yes, we were there. And the community of adolescents that has followed needs your support.

In these difficult economic times, we have seen an increasing number of teens and young adults who are unable to pay for their services. Together, the HiTOPS Board and staff have launched a “Give the Gift of Health” campaign. If you would like to give a hand to a young person, who may have no other place to get their health care, we invite you to stop in, call us or go to HiTOPS website. It is our firm belief that education, support and access to health services are all critical ingredients for a healthy adolescent.

Elizabeth Walters
Mt. Lucas Drive

Some Facts About the BRT Flaws and the University’s Expectations

To the Editor,

As last Thursday night’s Planning Board meeting proved, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) requires a dedicated right-of-way — that is, a lane all its own — in order to be truly rapid. A “priority” roadway, an ordinary street whose stoplights turn green as the bus approaches, isn’t enough. The lights must also turn green for cars just ahead of the bus. And “cut-outs” — short curb lanes into which the bus pulls when letting off or picking up passengers — actually give priority to cars. The bus pulls aside to let cars pass and waits until they do before pulling out.

So who in their right minds would rush to replace the Dinky with Bus Rapid Transit minus the Rapid? Princeton University would. With the Dinky gone, visitors to the University’s planned arts center could drive to its parking garage across what are now the Dinky tracks. What was remarkable about Thursday night’s meeting was that several hundred Princetonians understood, despite Vice President Durkee’s disclaimers, that Princeton University expects us to yield to its convenience.

Wiser heads than mine can explain why the Dinky is the issue that made the University’s arrogance visible. Why wasn’t it the higher property taxes we pay because the University’s token donation is so miserly?

Compare Princeton with Yale. If Princeton weren’t tax exempt, it would have paid Borough and Township some $40 million more in property taxes in 2009. Yale, which would have paid New Haven $60 million in 2009, recently raised its PILOT to New Haven from $5 million to $7.5 million. Add to this the subsidy Connecticut pays its municipalities to compensate them for any untaxed nonprofits they host: in 2009, Connecticut added $34 million to Yale’s PILOT. Princeton, in contrast, with its massive planned expansion, and its $1.1 million PILOT to the Borough and, currently, nothing to the Township, looks both pinchpenny and avaricious next to Yale. Yes, let’s keep the Dinky till we find something better than BRT minus the R. But let’s also tell the University that we expect more money.

Anne Waldron Neumann
Alexander Street

Calling On the Princeton Community to Help Victims of Floods in Pakistan

To the Editor,

This year was the fifth anniversary of the decimation of New Orleans, brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Now flooding resulting from monsoon rains has engulfed one third of the country of Pakistan, an area equivalent to the entire combined land mass of Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. In U.S. geographic terms, it’s as if the entire state of Florida were now underwater. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon upon visiting the country stated, “the world has never seen such a disaster.”

Princeton is a giving community, having helped raise nearly a quarter million dollars last year during a visit by author humanitarian Greg Mortenson. This month, musician and author Salman Ahmad performs at Princeton Library (October 6), while journalist Ethan Casey (author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip) and humanitarian Todd Shea, founder and Executive Director of Comprehensive Disaster Response Services/SHINE Humanity speak at Princeton University (October 8).

Simple ways for you to be a difference-maker are by making either monetary contributions to a trusted charity like UNICEF ($25 would feed a family for a week, while one payment of $200 would provide life-saving medication for up to 200 children); or by attending one of the events at the Princeton Library or Princeton University, to hear what the speakers have experienced on the ground in Pakistan.

Adnan Shamsi
William Paterson Court

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