April 24, 2013

Council Gets Preview of New Budget, Votes to Introduce Kiosk Ordinance

A progress report on the town’s first proposed budget since consolidation was delivered at a meeting of Princeton Council Monday evening. Scott Sillars of the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee told the Council that more work needs to be done on the budget before a public hearing on May 28, but he wanted to show what has been done so far. The Council will discuss the budget again at its next meeting on May 13.

There has been some confusion about just how much savings the new budget provides. Originally, local officials quoted a figure of $3 million, but $2.3 million of that is not actual savings. The difference has to do with duplication in shared services by the former Borough and Township. The new budget reflects savings of $750,000 from consolidation, in salaries and benefits, Mr. Sillars said. 

These savings more than offset the expanded trash service, he reported. Though surpluses, which need further review, appear in the balance, property tax bills will increase due to school and county portions of the budget. “People’s taxes are going to go up even though we are doing a good job at holding the line slightly,” he said.

In other business, the Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would allow the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce to lease and renovate the kiosk on the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon streets. The kiosk, one of two on Nassau Street, has traditionally been a place for public postings. The Chamber wants to renovate both kiosks and provide space for advertising by local businesses as well as municipal information, but would keep the majority of the space on the kiosks for public notices, said Chamber president and CEO Peter Crowley.

“It will remain a place where anyone may speak on equal terms, on any matter, free of charge, free of content control,” he assured Council and members of the public who expressed concern. “The Chamber has no plans to monitor or censor what community groups post, except to take down past and expired notices after the advertised events take place.”

The lease, which is for five years, is to be finalized at the May 13 Council meeting.

The first hour of Monday’s meeting was dominated by comments from the public about AvalonBay’s proposed development of the former Princeton Hospital site, and the natural gas pipeline that the Williams Company wants to build through 1.2 miles of Princeton and 5.3 miles of Montgomery. Sentiments were overwhelmingly negative about the status of both projects, and there was significant concern expressed about a lack of transparency.

“It is going to rip through our neighborhood, and it is very concerning that we can’t get copies of the presentation,” said Candace Preston of the proposed pipeline. Williams representatives have said they won’t release all of the documents about the project because it would compromise security. Princeton municipal engineer Bob Kiser has requested a legal opinion on the issue.

“What happens if we lose the forest?” Ms. Preston continued, adding that a plan is needed that would involve a water specialist. Resident Kip Cherry said the municipality should be thinking about trees, safety, and a full Economic Impact Statement in their consideration of the project, which Williams has yet to formally file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Concerned residents said they are forming a citizens’ group to focus on the impact of the pipeline, should it be approved.

Some members of the public expressed concern about the Planning Board’s consent agreement with AvalonBay that permits the developer to submit a revised design for a 280-unit rental complex at the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street. The Board approved the agreement early this month. Mayor Liz Lempert clarified that the consent order is not a settlement. “What it does do is establish a process whereby AvalonBay could submit a plan back to the Planning Board. We’re trying to get them to hold a public meeting,” she said. “We are in litigation, and this is the most transparent we can be.”