April 3, 2013

Council Considers Budget, Construction Update

A proposed 2013 budget that demonstrates the savings of consolidation and a timeline for construction of Princeton University’s $300 million Arts and Transit project were the main topics of Princeton Council’s meeting on Monday, April 1.

The $61 million budget introduced to Council, which comes with a tax rate decrease of just under one percent, will be up for discussion at a public hearing on May 28. Construction for the University’s expansion project is about to enter its first phase, and could possibly be completed by the summer of 2017, Council members were told.

The proposed budget for the newly consolidated Princeton is $3 million less than the former Princeton Borough and Princeton Township budgets combined for 2012, administrator Bob Bruschi told the Council. “In my 30 years in local government, I have never seen a more team-developed budget,” he said, praising the public servants and private citizens who worked on it.

Mr. Bruschi added that the town is paying less money in 2013 than it was in 2009. Both Princeton Borough and Township paid approximately 47 cents per $100 of assessed property value last year. The new rate, thanks to consolidation, is 46.3 cents. Additional savings include $1.3 million on wages and salaries, $56,012 by having one governing body instead of two, nearly $500,000 on the conjoined police force, and $255,926 in a trimmed administration. The total staff size has gone from 287 to 261.

Major increases come from the extension of trash collection, negotiations with three labor unions, and a reserve for uncollected taxes to cover increases in school and county tax levels. An emergency appropriation of $500,000 for storm expenses is “hopefully a one-time thing,” Mr. Bruschi said. “Every municipality is looking at something like that.”

Service levels will be maintained or increased, and future levels will remain stable. “We are a very, very healthy financial community,” Mr. Bruschi concluded. “Both communities came into this very, very healthy fiscally.”

The fence posts are in place and fencing is about to be installed along the portion of Alexander Street where construction of Princeton University’s Arts & Transit development is about to begin. The first phase should be completed by mid-June, University vice-president and secretary Bob Durkee said in a presentation to Council.

“The first part will be the most disruptive. The sooner we can get through it, the better,” he said. “It is likely to get modified as we go forward, but we’ve tried to anticipate as well as we can the steps necessary to minimize disruption to move it along as quickly as we can.”

The sidewalk will be closed and parking spaces will not be accessible along the east side of Alexander Street, while temporary sidewalks will be installed on the opposite side. Demolition will begin from south to north. New crosswalks will be installed at two locations.

There will be no impact on traffic during the initial phase, but the second phase will have an effect on the already busy street for about six weeks. Mr. Durkee said that the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place will be closed for underground utility work during this time. A temporary traffic light will be installed or a patrol officer will be in place during this phase, Mr. Durkee added.

The timeline calls for Alexander Street to reopen in mid-July. Until mid-September, underground utility work will continue. “By this time, demolition should be completed except for the Wawa, which will stay open till the day it opens in its new location,” Mr. Durkee said.

The Arts & Transit plan calls for construction of a new Wawa market and a new Dinky train station. The current Dinky station will become a restaurant and cafe operated by the Momo brothers, who run five area eateries. There was no mention at the meeting of the houses along Alexander Street that the University has offered to anyone willing to move them to a new location. The houses will be demolished if there are no takers by the end of this month.

From mid-September to late October, a new commuter parking lot will be completed. A temporary Dinky train station will be opened at the south end of the lot, approximately 750 feet from where the new station, which is 460 feet south of the current terminus, will be. For this reason, the University is proposing to run an express bus between Princeton and Princeton Junction, with an additional stop at the temporary station. “It’s a hike,” Mr. Durkee said. “If you’re walking, it’s a long walk.”

Tiger Transit buses, which are free, will also be available. Those taking the express buses will need to show a valid train ticket.

Work begins on a new roundabout in October, and continues until February 2014. During this time, Alexander Street from University Place to College Road will be closed, and a 24-foot temporary bypass will be created. “This is probably the time when it will be the most complicated for folks,” Mr. Durkee said. The roundabout is targeted to open in February 2014. “During this time, you’ll begin to see the final shape of the project,” Mr. Durkee said. The temporary Dinky location will still be in use.

The new station, Wawa market, transit plaza, and the road to the parking garage should be open by July 2014. “By now, the project has shrunk to the perimeter around the arts buildings,” Mr. Durkee said. He added that he is not sure when the restaurant and cafe will be ready to open. “It’s up to the operators to decide when they’re ready. We think the arts buildings will be open by the summer of 2017,” he said of the four buildings that make up the new arts campus.

Council member Jo Butler asked if the University would consider opening up the West Drive during the construction period to alleviate traffic problems. “We wouldn’t stand in the way,” Mr. Durkee said.

Signage will be posted around the project to direct people to the University’s website for the project, which is www.princeton.edu/artsandtransit.

In other business, Council approved a $50,000 cap on costs related to the developer AvalonBay’s suit of the Planning Board over the its rejection of the developer’s proposal to build an apartment complex at the site of the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street. AvalonBay is also suing the town. At the conclusion of the meeting, Council met in closed session to discuss the litigation and the status of Princeton Police chief David Dudeck. Mr. Dudeck has not been at work since being accused of misconduct last month.