July 3, 2012

Dudeck Named Chief, Open Space Tax Approved

An eventful joint meeting of Princeton Borough Council and Township Committee last Tuesday included the announcement of Princeton Borough Police Chief David Dudeck as the new chief for the consolidated Princeton, a unanimous vote to put the open space referendum on the November ballot, and recommendations by several sub-committees of the Transition Task Force facilitating Princeton’s transformation to a consolidated community. There was also discussion about continuing efforts to oppose the move of the Dinky station.

Among the recommendations was a move by Corner House and TV 30 from the Valley Road School building to the lower level of what is now Borough Hall. Corner House, a counseling agency for young people, would be located in the western half, while the television station known as Princeton Community Television would be on the other side. The TV station would pay rent, while Corner House, which is a municipal agency, would not.

The Transition Task Force’s facilities committee made the recommendation, which needs approval by the full task force and the governing bodies before it can be put into action. Township Committee member Bernie Miller made the presentation, following it up with a report of recommendations that Princeton’s planning, zoning, historic preservation and engineering offices be located at the Township Municipal Building on Witherspoon Street.

Councilman Roger Martindell commented that there will be two municipal buildings after consolidation, instead of one. “If we had a Borough Hall and a Township Hall before consolidation and we will have both after consolidation, it would appear on the surface that there is no shrinkage of the footprint of the municipality after consolidation,” he said. “Is that a concern?”

Councilman Kevin Wilkes said that if the Valley Road School is emptied of Corner House and TV 30, that will make it easier for the Princeton Regional Schools to decide what to do with the aging building, which has been the subject of much debate by those who want to save it and those who favor demolition.

“It does actually show a reduction of a building,” he said to Mr. Martindell. “It doesn’t happen to be this building [Borough Hall] or Township Hall. But we’ve eliminated the two reasons that 369 Witherspoon is being propped up to keep Corner House and TV 30 going. This allows us to let the future of that building come to the fore …. It would actually save money and shrink us from three buildings to two.”

Mr. Miller also proposed the centralization of sewer operations, using projections to show the different functions of current stations on John Street, River Road, Harrison Street, and Valley Road. The initial cost would be $42,000. “This is absolutely necessary in order to maintain continuity of service and the level of service in 2013,” he said. “Our facilities are out of date and not ADA-compliant. They are in the dark age of facilities.”

The selection of Mr. Dudeck as chief of police for the united Princetons was made after a unanimous recommendation by the joint personnel selection committee of the task force, assisted by a facilitator. “We should be really, really happy as a community that we have the talent we have,” said Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi of others who applied for the job. “The two other candidates brought a lot to the table. We are clearly set up well in the police department to handle succession planning with all the talented and dedicated individuals we have working for us.”

Mr. Dudeck, who was not present at the meeting but will be asked to appear at the next joint gathering of the governing bodies, has been on the Borough force for 29 years. He has been its chief since 2009. Township officers who applied for the job were Acting Chief Chris Morgan and Lieutenant Robert Toole.

The joint governing bodies’ unanimous approval of the open space referendum means that when voters go to the polls in November, they will be asked to approve an open space tax of 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value. If voted in, the referendum would mean a small increase for Borough voters, who currently pay one cent per $100. Township voters would see a decrease, since they now pay two cents. The open space fund are used to maintain parks and recreation facilities in the Borough, and property purchases, maintenance, and debt service in the Township.

Stressing that he was not representing the task force, of which he is a member, Jim Levine offered an alternate suggestion to have a tax of two cents instead of 1.7 cents. “My concern is that there is money being spent for open space that is out of the operating budget,” he said. “I’m fully supportive of the open space tax, just with two cents.”

Consolidation Commission member Patrick Simon said raising the rate to two cents might lessen the chance for the open space referendum to be voted in. “For those who are not as enthusiastic, the perception could be that the commission made a promise, and we are spending more,” he said. “It could be perceived poorly.”

Wendy Mager of Friends of Princeton Open Space expressed support for the 1.7 cents rate. “While it is difficult to make a case that one particular number is right, it is clear that there is quite a bit of land in the master plan that we’d still like to preserve, particularly for open space,” she said. “People are very interested in increasing the number of trails in our parks.”

In discussion of Princeton University’s plan to move the Dinky terminus 460 feet south and abandoning the transit easement on the track, it was announced that a recent request made to NJ Transit for a public hearing on the issue had been rejected. NJ Transit said, in response to a letter dated June 11, that it was not obligated to hold a hearing because service was not being eliminated.

“I would like to appeal that decision,” said Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller. “It’s inappropriate for government to make such a momentous decision that affects our citizens and transfers a huge value from the public sector to the private sector without a public hearing …. The hearing is being described as being insignificant, when it’s not.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler agreed. “I’d like to see us proceed,” she said. “People think we can do something about this. This is NJ Transit. They should come and be responsive to the citizens. I would like to press them on this.”

Anita Garoniak, president of the citizens group Save the Dinky, presented a letter to Borough Council urging them not to take no for an answer.

Ms. Crumiller noted that the Council’s efforts to get an opinion from the state attorney general have been unsuccessful, and suggested they try again. “If there truly is an attorney general’s opinion, why not have a look at it?,” she asked. The Council requested an opinion from the special transit attorney as to whether the station move and abandonment of the easement requires a special hearing.

Later last week, Save the Dinky filed an appeal from a Department of Environmental Protection ruling authorizing NJ Transit to relinquish historic site protection for the station. Earlier this year, the state Historic Sites Council found that the 1984 contract of sale between Princeton University and NJ Transit was valid, and that it included the right of way and easement as long as the University pays the expenses related to moving the station. The University wants to move the station to make way for its $300 million arts and transit development. Plans include turning the station buildings into a restaurant and cafe.