Vol. LXIV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Incumbent Democrats Lance Liverman spoke of his humanist values and Liz Lempert radiated equanimity, while Republican challengers Douglas Miles was the financial pragmatist and Stuart Duncan provided the comic relief at Monday evenings forum for the four Township Committee candidates.
Im not running for anything, joked Mr. Duncan. At my age, Im just striding.
Sponsored by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area, the hour-long Q&A (Question and Answer) session was broadcast on Channel 30. League moderator Barbara Trought, who hails from Medford (so I cannot vote in Princeton Township and Im impartial), asked a series of questions that had been submitted by residents and sorted to provide a range of topics for the candidates, who were seated in alphabetical order by last name.
Lets meet and greet the 900 pound gorilla in the room, which at the moment gives small money to the Borough and none to the Township, said Mr. Duncan, referring to Princeton University in response to the first question, which was about potential spending cuts or revenue options. Abruptly turning to the subject of revaluation, he noted that there is a tremendous amount of confusion about it. I dont have a problem with the revaluation itself; I have a problem with the communication of it.
This year we were very successful in making a lot of budget cuts, said Ms. Lempert in her response. We go through the budget each year, sharpening our pencils, to see what we can cut. She cited salary freezes, job furloughs, negotiations with the University for a shared contribution, and working on consolidation as ongoing efforts that would hopefully lead to improved fiscal health.
Mr. Liverman pointed to the work of the Citizens Finance Committee, which is looking at current budget concerns as well as long term goals for bringing in more revenue.
We have to be very careful in the pursuit of ratables, countered Mr. Miles. Were driving costs up. He pointed to the nearby Township of Montgomery as an example of a successful operation running on less money. We need more efficiency, he added.
Budgetary concerns were referred to once again when the candidates answered a question about consolidation and the need to study it one more time with another consultant.
Given the economic situation, its focused everyones attention on seeing if we can find efficiencies wherever they may lie including what more we can share with the Borough, said Ms. Lempert. She noted that things are different this time around, as a result of new state laws that give us a lot more flexibility.
I think everyone up here will agree that its impossible to combine two major corporations without looking at the facts and the figures, observed Mr. Liverman. He cited the importance of being transparent so that voters can be as well informed as we are.
Merging two governments could be daunting and might not bring economic gains, observed Mr. Miles. Pointing to the efficacy of shared services, however, he noted that they must include the consolidation of the Police Departments. Judiciary and police must be boiled down to one entity, otherwise were fooling ourselves.
I dont think we need a commission, asserted Mr. Duncan, noting that he has lived in both the Borough and the Township during his 60 years in Princeton. The time to have done this was in 1977, he suggested. If I were in the Borough now Id be dead against it. If the University was part of the discussion, maybe the two could be brought together.
Responding to a subsequent question regarding shared services, Mr. Liverman said that while the two entities already enjoy several shared services, he is a little hesitant to merge the Police and Public Works Departments without studying the outcome. Its more important to have overall consolidation than do it piecemeal.
Consolidation is about controlling costs, said Mr. Miles. He noted that current labor contracts especially their retirement aspects have gotten out of control. He suggested that residents are paying higher taxes and not getting anything more for their money, and that renegotiating labor contracts would result in tremendous multi-year savings.
I dont think bigger government is ever any cheaper, said Mr. Duncan. I agree with Doug; it would be hard to combine the two Police Departments. Theres no one on either force who wants to be merged out.
The Consolidation Commission will come out with a plan thats not obvious to any of us here, said Ms. Lempert. Expressing concern about focusing on police consolidation alone, she said that she worried about the chain of command, and reductions in service.
Mr. Liverman noted the importance of taking contracts very seriously. When we say we want to change contracts it sends a bad signal. He pointed to the importance of negotiating with each department, and responding in good faith, using consensus building.
Not surprisingly, a question regarding revaluation elicited varying responses from the candidates. Both Ms. Lempert and Mr. Liverman said that while Township Committee did not anticipate the outcome of the process, they were moving quickly to work on solutions.
Real estate people knew it was going to be an accordion effect, said Mr. Duncan. Some people are moving out of state to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas.
In response to Mr. Miless suggestion that a pilot effort should have preceded the actual revaluation, Mr. Liverman pointed out that since revaluation was under the purview of the County, initiating a local level poll would have been inappropriate.
Asked about the use of new technology to communicate with constituents, Ms. Lempert described herself as a child of the internet who loves Facebook, cell phones, and any way of being in touch. Both she and Mr. Liverman cited the Townships new emergency call system as a good use of technology that was very useful during several severe storms last year.
Calling for a broader, bolder application of technology, Mr. Miles suggested that online postings should include not just the minutes of municipal meetings, but the additional comments from members of the audience, as an assist to seniors and others who might not be able to leave their homes to attend meetings.
I cringe when I hear my opponent talk about wi-fi for the entire Township, added Mr. Miles, referring to an earlier comment by Mr. Liverman about expressions of interest in having wi-fi for the entire community. There we go spending money. Government does not need to be a communications giant, said Mr. Miles, although Mr. Liverman had acknowledged that at this point the cost was probably too steep.
Look at my age, quipped Mr. Duncan. To me, a laptop is dinner. Whatever happened to the telephone tree that told us that school was closed?
I recently spent an hour with Kathy Monzo, said Mr. Miles referring to the Townships Chief Financial Officer. I was very surprised to see the consistent use of state grants going 100 percent to a program called Corner House. Its very noble, he said of the non-profit, but government shouldnt be in that business. The costs approach $2 million a year.
Thats totally incorrect, responded Mr. Liverman. We do not subsidize or pay for Corner House. Noting that he has been on the Corner House Board since its creation, Mr. Liverman explained that the joint agency is a public and private foundation, for which grant money from the state comes into the Township earmarked for Corner House, one of the best agencies we have.
Summing it up
Im running for this office because people have come to me in my ten years here and shared comments and frustrations, like the fact that for 17 years there have been never-ending increases, said Mr. Miles. Suggesting that visitors to the Township Municipal complex may have observed workers who are not very busy, he cited the importance of asking tough questions about how were going to spend money in his concluding comments.
Im not here to add a new chapter to my resume, observed Mr. Liverman Ive been here for six years and can continue to work hard for Princeton. Im socially progressive and financially conservative, but Im not running on one issue. Mr. Liverman cited hard work, responsibility, honesty, and fairness as the keys to success.
One of the key questions here is what kind of town do we want? said Ms. Lempert in her concluding comments. Its easy to say, lets just cut across the board, but this is exactly the time when we need to stand up for our values. Lets cut, but lets do it responsibly, added the two-year veteran of Township Committee.
Weve been under the one party system for much too long, said Mr. Duncan.
To learn more about candidates, visit Mr. Miless website at www.vote4miles.org; Mr. Duncans at www.vote4miles.org; Ms. Lemperts at www.lizlempert.com; and Mr. Livermans at www.lanceliverman.com.
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