Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 43
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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Township, Borough Approve Consolidation Commission

Ellen Gilbert

Members of Township Committee and Borough Council voted unanimously on Monday night to approve the formation of a joint commission to study sharing additional services and/or full municipal consolidation. This is a required first step for any municipalities wishing to avail themselves of the state’s programs and subsidies supporting municipal consolidation.

Members of Borough Council sat alongside Township Committee members for what was billed as a “special joint work session” in the main meeting room of the Princeton Township municipal building. The unanimous vote came after nearly three hours of negotiations and “wordsmithing” by both Council and Committee members.

Council member David Goldfarb expressed displeasure with the positive spin on consolidation implied by language in the original proposal, and Council member Andrew Koontz was concerned about whether questions regarding shared services should come up for a public referendum. Noting that “police unions are powerful” and “have access to money,” Mr. Goldfarb suggested that “they may feel that their personal interests are better served by having two different police departments, and they may work toward defeating a referendum on joint services.”

It was agreed that language suggesting the desirability of consolidation be removed from the resolution. The necessity for a public referendum on shared services was left open. The question of consolidation, if endorsed by the commission, will come before voters in the two municipalities in the November 2011 election.

Borough Council member Peggy Karcher expressed approval of the non-Presidential election year for the vote, noting that questions regarding consolidation and/or shared services “should not be decided by students who are only here for four years,” and who typically turn out in force for Presidential elections.

In response to Council member Roger Martindell’s question about whether focusing on the larger question of consolidation would “suck the wind out of efforts to take more practical steps in the weeks and months ahead,” it was agreed that short-term efforts at shared services, such as combining the Township’s and Borough’s assessors’ offices and traffic courts, could proceed in the meantime.

Mr. Goldfarb observed that “everyone who was involved in the last referendum 13 years ago believes that the process was very damaging to the community. It was clear to me that the relationship with the Township Committee deteriorated after the proposal was rejected.” He worried that another rejection “might set back any efforts at joint services.” Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner responded by citing the “great working relationship between both bodies during the last 18 months,” noting that one of the “key aspects” of the proposal was that “it brings in an independent consultant, to take away some of the emotional issues of the past.”

“Something else is going on — it’s being defeated before we even begin,” commented Township Committee member Lance Liverman at one point. “This isn’t the actual vote to consolidate the two Princetons; this is fact-finding.” Members of both the Township Committee and Borough Council lauded the “fact finding” description and returned to it several times during the rest of the evening.

Citing efforts to engage in local emergency planning, Township resident and physician Laura Kahn opened comments from the audience by saying that it was “virtually impossible to make any meaningful plans with two municipalities; it is inefficient, expensive, and dangerous. Natural disasters do not recognize political borders. Chaos and confusion result.” Princeton Community Housing Executive Director Sandra Persichetti concurred, noting how difficult it is to have to deal with two municipalities.

Former Borough Council member Wendy Benchley allowed that “wordsmithing is necessary,” but “now you have a resolution that you all can agree on. I’m really pleased.”

Just before the vote was taken, Mr. Koontz, a teacher of film and television, sounded a wistful note at the apparent outcome of the meeting. Among the horror movie clichés named by his students in response to a recent question he posed to them was the specter of “the bad guy who refuses to die.” While “consolidation is not as horrific,” Mr. Koontz observed, “it remains ‘the issue that refuses to die.’” He wondered if it just could be that “the Borough, a community of 15,000 people, is the right size, and the Borough Council is the right governing body for it.”

Flu Vaccine

Prior to the evening’s key agenda item, the two governing bodies heard an update from Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi about the H1N1 flu vaccine supplies. He reported that there are currently only 200 doses of the flu vaccine available in Princeton, but pointed out that New Jersey is reporting significantly fewer cases of the flu than elsewhere in the country. He noted that parents are being asked to be present next week when high school students are inoculated, and counseled that people be “patient” in the face of the uncertainty regarding the time of arrival and quantities of more doses of the vaccine.

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