July 10, 2013

Council Hears About New “Loyalty Card,” Results of Police Survey

Hoping to encourage Princeton residents and visitors to shop local, the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA) has announced a new debit/credit card that can be used at establishments in town and some of the surrounding area. The “One Princeton” card, introduced at a meeting of Princeton Council Monday night, will be officially launched in September, according to PMA president Carly Meyer and member John Marshall, who owns Main Street Bistro in Princeton Shopping Center.

The Council meeting also included a report by Captain Nick Sutter about a town-wide police survey conducted earlier this year.

The refillable debit/credit card and parking smart card will save money for merchants by allowing them to avoid traditional bank fees, which can be as high as three percent. Instead, through an agreement with Heartland Payment Systems, merchants will pay a fixed fee of five cents for each transaction. One percent of that transaction will be donated to a local non-profit, which the cardholder can choose. Should a customer fail to designate a non-profit, the donation would be evenly split among participating organizations.

“We do a heck of a lot of credit card processing in Princeton, and it’s very expensive for merchants,” Mr. Marshall said. “We want to keep credit card processing fees from going out of town.”

Mr. Marshall said that about $600,000 in those fees currently go to banks outside of Princeton. “This would provide a new funding stream to the local economy,” he said. Ms. Meyer called the card a hybrid, adding that a smart phone version will be part of the plan.

Customers would apply on line for the card, which would be linked to their primary checking accounts. A system of loading fixed cash amounts to the card is also planned. The card will also include a parking chip to allow use at meters, and could be reloaded at local parking garages.

A version of the plan is already in place in San Francisco, Ms. Meyer said after the meeting. But the local card will be unique. “It’s kind of like a local stock market where we’re re-investing in the community,” she said. “Princeton will be kind of a test case.”

The Council was impressed with the idea. Calling it a “loyalty card,” Mayor Liz Lempert said the card would keep money in the community while helping out local non-profit organizations.

Police Survey

Reporting on the police department’s survey, Captain Sutter told the Council that there was “zero” feedback from the local Hispanic community. As a result, the department is launching an outreach program to try and engage those residents and hear their concerns. Earlier in the day, he said the lack of response “spoke volumes” about fears that members of the Hispanic community have about interacting with law enforcement officers. Current policy is that Princeton police enforce local and state laws, but not federal immigration laws.

In an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community, which represents about eight percent of the total Princeton population, the department is meeting with church groups and neighborhood leaders. “We’re looking for more involvement; more feedback,” Mr. Sutter said. “Two of our Spanish-speaking officers with strong contacts in the community have stepped up.”

The survey, which was conducted between February and May, included door-to-door sampling and questionnaires, in English and Spanish, on the internet. There were 394 responses. The most common concerns expressed by participants were maintaining a police presence on foot or on bicycles, traffic enforcement, and speeding, Captain Sutter said.

Following this summer, the department plans to hold community meetings in each of the five sectors of Princeton that were polled, starting with a big meeting that may be held at Princeton Public Library, Captain Sutter added. Another survey and a re-evaluation period will follow.