Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 35
 
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
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2010 Budget May See Input From Advisory Group, Pending Talks

Dilshanie Perera

As a result of the discussion at last week’s Borough Council meeting, the Borough’s Finance Committee will meet with citizens comprising an ad hoc advisory committee to determine how taxpayers with business knowledge may get involved in the budgetary process.

The ad hoc group, which includes local merchants and residents, began assembling during the 2009 budget process.

In a recent memo to Council, the group said that “our committee feels we share many of the same goals as the Council, and would like to meet with you in the near future to discuss how we may work together in achieving a stronger, fiscally sound, efficient, responsible government, and informed citizenry.”

“I congratulate, and welcome your interest in the somewhat arcane business of municipal finance,” Council member Roger Martindell told the assembled group of merchants and residents who comprise the current ad hoc advisory body. “Transparency … breeds confidence, and as a political matter, that is beneficial to everybody.”

He added that he wanted the dialogue between the groups to “move in the direction of better financial management,” and to assess cutting expenses, and increasing revenues, while “explaining it in a way that is palatable, transparent, and viable.”

Council member David Goldfarb, who is also the chair of the Finance Committee, approved of making the budget process “much more open and participatory,” saying that the members of the Finance Committee would be happy to meet with the organization.

Currently, the Borough’s Finance Committee is comprised of Mr. Goldfarb, Mr. Martindell, and Council member Margaret Karcher, whose seat is currently being filled by Council member Kevin Wilkes.

Stakeholders involved in the ad hoc committee include Jo Butler, Mark Censits, Jenny Crumiller, Alan Hegedus, Bill Howard, Henry Landau, Jack Morrison, and Hank Siegel.

The group’s mission is “to assist in finding efficiencies and clarity in cost, methods, and process of budgeting in our local government,” with the goals of reducing spending by 10 percent, and offering “clarity, transparency, and accessibility” to the process of determining the municipal budget.

“We need to ensure that whatever committee we come up with is representative of all segments of our community,” Council President Andrew Koontz cautioned, saying that people with talent and expertise in budgetary matters would be encouraged to get involved.

Ms. Crumiller invited members of the public with business or financial expertise to contact members of the ad hoc committee to become involved in the process, saying that part of their vision was to have an open applications process, with the entire town being invited to participate.

Mayor Mildred Trotman emphasized that the municipality did not know how or whether the relationship between the Finance Committee and the ad hoc group would be formalized, saying that they “have not drawn any kind of conclusion yet.”

“Our intent is to be an advisory board, and to work in tandem” with the municipality, Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Landau cited the Borough’s healthcare costs and phone bill as two areas in which they could achieve significant savings. “It bothers me the most as a businessman that things go along at a snail’s pace,” since “the longer we wait, the more money we waste,” he said.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi explained that while the terms and conditions of health benefits are negotiable in contracts with unions, the process of negotiation is long.

Assuring those present that “we have spent significant time trying to find out what the trends are in government,” Mr. Bruschi said “we are on the front end of the curve, not the back end.”

Mr. Goldfarb noted that Borough employees, including members of the police department, have very broad coverage under their plans, adding that it is “difficult to provide substantially less to other unions and non-unionized employees,” if the police have excellent benefits.

Responding to Mr. Landau’s question asking how the Borough’s phone bill went up last year when “everybody else’s phone bill has gone down 40 percent,” Mr. Bruschi said they did switch providers in April, and that the new data would be available soon.

The meeting between the ad hoc advisory committee and the Borough’s Finance Committee will take place this month.

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