Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 43
 
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
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Borough Council Candidates Address Issues

Dilshanie Perera

Two Republicans are facing off against two Democrats in the upcoming election for Borough Council. Incumbent Roger Martindell and newcomer Jo Butler represent the Democratic Party, while Peter Marks and Roland Foster Miller are the Republican candidates.

Each candidate elaborated upon what they consider are the key issues facing voters in the Borough during this election cycle. Revaluation, consolidation, public transportation, taxes, and the Borough’s budget were all mentioned as issues of crucial focus for the well being of the municipality. Below, the candidates elaborate on their views.

Jo Butler

“I think a lot of people continue to be focused on revaluation, as well they should. It’s something that will have a dramatic impact on our community without some measures on behalf of Council,” Ms. Butler noted. “The impact of the revaluation is tough on seniors; every increase will be particularly painful for them.”

A founding member of the Citizens Financial Advocacy Taskforce that is working with the municipality in analyzing Borough spending, Ms. Butler explained that the group met with the Borough’s Police Chief and Captain and the Mercer County Executive to look at achieving municipal savings and spur efficiency through consolidating police dispatch at the county level.

Predicting that residents may be more amenable to considering consolidation of the Borough and the Township or shared services because of the economic climate, Ms. Butler said that she is “optimistic that we’re going to have the information we need to make a key decision.”

“I have every confidence that our town is being well-managed, but these budgets are not easy to understand. My background in finance gives me a leg up in understanding how budgets are built,” Ms. Butler said.

On the subject of Princeton University, she said there is no reason to be “adversarial” but that perhaps the institution could do more in attending to the communities it is located in.

Improving services through the use of technology where most efficient is another source of interest for Ms. Butler.

Peter Marks

“We’re told frequently that revaluation is the issue, that through the failings of ASI the tax burden was placed upon some of the homeowners who are relatively less able to afford it...that’s a diversion. The appraisal process is necessarily subjective. It’s not a science and it’s easy to pick apart any appraisal,” Mr. Marks said. The “shock of having no interim adjustments” in the past 14 years since the last appraisal was likely something that contributed to the numbers.

Mr. Marks did cite the anomalies and great discrepancies within neighborhoods as “inexplicable and indefensible,” noting that they could have been corrected by the tax assessor.

“The real issue is spending at the Borough. It is out of control,” Mr. Marks remarked, noting that County and School Board spending are also of concern, but those budgets are outside the purview of the Borough. “Things have gotten to the point where people have to trade off whether they maintain their houses or pay their taxes.”

Scaling back the compensation packages of municipal employees, including pension and healthcare benefits, is the “most obvious” place to begin trimming spending, he suggested. Union negotiations are another area of focus. “I think the pensions need to be converted from defined benefit to defined contribution.”

With a background in financial analysis, Mr. Marks advocated for greater accessibility and transparency regarding budget documents, and making them easier for citizens to understand where monies are going. “It is my job to let them know what the situation is. We need to disclose where the money is being collected and being spent in a way that people can make informed decisions.”

As for development in town, Mr. Marks called the “pursuit of ratables,” or the creation of taxable properties, “a losing game,” since “obviously the revenues go up, but so do the associated costs.” The preservation of green space in the Borough is another key issue, he said.

Roger Martindell

“Maintaining the status quo is not on my agenda,” declared Mr. Martindell.

An advocate for shared services among local municipalities and at the county level, he cited the need for a “more rational transportation system in town,” “protecting neighborhoods,” and “meeting our infrastructure needs.”

The tone of government is an area of concern for Mr. Martindell. “We need to be a lot more active in delivering services to our constitutents. We need to be much more aggressive in providing those services with a tone of respect and caring, where the customer is right. The customer in this case is the homeowner and taxpayer of Princeton.”

As the member of Borough Council who drafted three recently-passed resolutions pertaining to addressing citizens’ concerns regarding revaluation and cost savings, Mr. Martindell said that if the residents “want to know” what had occurred in the process, “we will assist them in reaching that understanding.”

“A lot of this is just being more responsive to the needs of our constituents and being smarter on how to spend money,” he said.

“While Borough Hall has a lot to do to improve customer relations, I don’t see any fundamental programs that were put in place in Borough Hall that are flawed. They could be done smarter, or could be done more cheaply, but they are services that are essential in the Borough that people count on, want, and deserve.”

“I believe in speaking truth to power,” Mr. Martindell emphasized. “The truth that I would speak if reelected is to make Borough Hall more responsive to our residents by changing the attitudes.”

Roland Foster Miller

“I’ve got to say that the central issue is revaluation,” Mr. Miller acknowledged. “That the Borough is appointing a new group to study the revaluation is probably a step in the right direction, but it’s not far enough, and too little too late.”

“They throw a commission at everything in this Borough, and oftentimes it costs the taxpayers more money,” Mr. Miller lamented.

A real source of concern is the fact that some people are being forced out of their homes as a result of the new tax assessment, Mr. Miller noted.

The Borough’s budget is another source of concern for Mr. Miller. “Borough Council seems to be extremely proud of the fact that it’s maintained a zero percent increase in taxes. Is that really enough? Why not look at cutting taxes?”

“There are ways to do that. Our municipal employees don’t contribute to insurance and pensions in the same way folks in the private sector do,” Mr. Miller said.

On the issue of consolidation, Mr. Miller characterized the Borough and Township as “distinctly different,” with “distinct needs.” He pointed out that larger departments usually result in bigger administrative costs, and was wary of claims saying that consolidation would automatically result in cost-savings.

An advocate for preserving the Dinky, Mr. Miller said that looking for efficiencies and cost-savings in transportation was of importance.

Mr. Miller, a former editor of the New York Times, is running for office because “I would like to contribute to the public service.”

For more information, visit the candidates’ websites or the local party websites at jobutler.com, rolandfoster miller.com, princetondems.org, and princetongop.org.

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