June 12, 2013

Council Passes Budget, Names Schmierer Conflict of Interest Attorney

Princeton’s municipal attorney Edwin Schmierer was chosen to be its conflict of interest lawyer at a meeting of Princeton Council on Monday night. The other key item on the agenda was the 2013 municipal budget, the first since consolidation. It was passed by a vote of 5-1, with the only negative vote coming from Council president Bernie Miller, who said he had reservations about the two-cent decrease in the municipal tax rate.

“I’m not voting against the budget because it’s bad. It’s actually quite good,” he said. “But I don’t think we have sufficient experience with how our finances are going to end up after our first year of operation.”

Council member Jo Butler said that while she shared Mr. Miller’s concerns, she decided to vote in favor of the $61 million budget, which originally called for a one-cent decrease in the tax rate. After the State of New Jersey agreed to reimburse Princeton for more than $464,000 in consolidation costs, finances for the town looked better and the rate was changed.

The final budget also includes funds for potential pay raises for members of Council and Mayor Liz Lempert. Her salary could rise from $15,000 to $17,500, while Council members would move from $7,500 in annual pay to $10,000. Mr. Miller’s salary as president would go up to $12,500. Council still needs to vote on the pay raises.

Before the meeting, Ms. Lempert said the municipal tax rate would mean a reduction of approximately $135 per household. “I think this is a first for Princeton,” she said, adding that services are being increased.

Mr. Schmeirer’s appointment as conflict of interest attorney was praised by some members of the public, including former Township Committee member Sue Nemeth. “I have nothing but the highest regard for Mr. Schmeirer and his associates,” she said. Mr. Schmeirer was recommended to Council by its personnel committee, which voted 2-1 in his favor, Mayor Lempert said before the meeting. Ms. Lempert, Jo Butler and Lance Liverman were on the committee, but Ms. Lempert would not say which members voted for or against the appointment.

It was last month that the Council passed a conflict of interest policy after considerable debate on whether members with ties to Princeton University should recuse themselves from voting on University-related matters. Ms. Lempert’s husband is a professor of psychology at the University. Other members of the governing body have connections to the University as well. The issue has been raised particularly in respect to the University’s payment in lieu of taxes, and development.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Ann Yashuhara of Not In Our Town and Daniel Harris, Alexi Assmus, and Kate Warren of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods expressed concerns about the revised development plan by the developer AvalonBay for the old Princeton Hospital site. Much of their complaints centered around the distribution of affordable housing units, saying they were unfairly distributed throughout the proposed rental complex.