Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 44
 
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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Before Consolidation, Candidates Say Princeton Has Other Pressing Issues

Matthew Hersh

The specter of municipal consolidation was front and center Monday as candidates for Princeton Borough and Township governments made their appeals to prospective voters, but unlike other Borough-Township consolidation campaigns, the consensus appeared to be that if the towns were to merge, the effort would have to be resident-based, rather than government sanctioned.

The issue was the centerpiece of a candidates forum sponsored by the Princeton Area League of Women Voters and Town Topics. Although the event attracted over 50 residents to Township Hall Monday night, it left the consolidation issue unresolved.

“It’s easy for me to come up here and say ‘let’s consolidate,’ but that would be misleading. I would support it if I saw a groundswell of support,” said Lance Liverman, a Democrat running for reelection to Princeton Township Committee. Mr. Liverman was one of four Township and three Borough candidates taking part in the forum.

Others took a more hard-line approach: “When it comes to saving money, consolidation is not substitute for effective governance,” said Cindy Randazzo, a Republican running in the Township.

Mr. Liverman and Democratic Mayor Phyllis Marchand seek reelection in the Township race against Ms. Randazzo and Republican Esther Mills, who, like Ms. Mills, said “opinions unheard and needs unmet” should be addressed before consolidation.

In the Borough, Democratic incumbents Andrew Koontz and Roger Martindell appeared alongside Republican challenger Linda Sipprelle. Republican Joseph Codega, a Princeton University student, has not been present this campaign cycle, though did deliver a statement from his campaign manager that emphasized his “unique position to improve the relationship between the Borough and Princeton University.”

Mr. Martindell said the lack of community response regarding uniting the Princetons did not necessarily sound the death knell for consolidation, but added, “I won’t hold my breath, even though consolidating makes a lot of sense.” The Democrat added that a more immediate means of cost savings would be to unit the two Princeton municipal police forces. Having two separate departments, Mr. Martindell said, “is absurd and it doesn’t make sense.”

But Ms. Marchand maintained her longtime opposition to uniting the police forces without a consolidated Princeton. “I would not endorse one police department under two governments,” she said, adding that while she has “always supported” consolidation, she agreed with Mr. Liverman’s assertion that “the effort should not be coming from the elected officials, but the constituents.”

Law enforcement was central to Monday’s forum, with all candidates in virtual lockstep in opposition to the New Jersey Attorney General directive instructing all state and municipal law enforcement to question immigration status upon arrest, though Ms. Sipprelle did appear to take more of a middle ground, citing the Newark school yard shootings that effectively prompted the directive: “It was a shocking event, and that’s why the attorney general took the measure, but we have to be cognizant of the feelings and rights of all citizens.”

Candidates offered some insight into personal interests when asked about addressing the needs of Princeton youth, particularly at-risk youth. Mr. Liverman, who has built much of his first term on Committee focusing on youth needs, said “Youth are the community’s greatest asset, and the worst thing we can do is not include them in our planning.” He pointed to the role of organizations like Corner House.

Ms. Randazzo spoke of being a “soccer mom” and mentioned the role the Recreation Department plays in providing facilities for sports and activities. However, she sided with Ms. Sipprelle and Ms. Mills in terming that costs related to a current master plan study by the Recreation Department “unnecessary,” worrying that “we could be spending a lot of money on things that just don’t work.”

Mr. Koontz, whose efforts on behalf of parks rehabilitation were central to his first term, touted the Princetons’ efforts, pointing to pending projects like the planned skate park at Hilltop Park. Mr. Martindell suggested that the towns should encourage youth not involved in organized sports to do more volunteering in the community’s woods and trails.

According to Mr. Koontz, the Borough and Township should create joint dispatch police services. Urging against police department cuts, Ms. Sipprelle said that savings could be obtained through general “belt-tightening.”

In the Township, Ms. Randazzo took a more holistic approach, focusing on “prioritizing across the board,” as well as potentially increasing volunteer levels for otherwise staffed municipal posts. Ms. Mills agreed, arguing for “zero-based budgeting.”

Ms. Marchand, said there were some budgetary increases that are beyond municipal control, but that recent cuts in spending, such as reductions on the police force, in administration, and in municipal court, have made possible some budgetary breathing room. Mr. Liverman defended the Township’s spending, saying “it’s easy to say you’re going to slash here and there. Realistically, we have been extremely stringent in how we spend line-by-line.”

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Election Day is Tuesday, November 5. See Town Topics’ November 6 edition for full election results.

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