Of the three candidates vying for two three-year terms on Princeton Council in the November 5 election, two С Democrats Patrick Simon and Jenny Crumiller С are current members of the governing body. The third, Republican Fausta Rodriguez Wertz, is a newcomer to local politics.
In recent conversations via e-mail and in person, the incumbents outlined their accomplishments and shared their aspirations for the future. Ms. Rodriguez Wertz, a resident of Princeton since 1977, spoke of her community involvement in both professional and volunteer capacities. Raised in Puerto Rico, if elected she would be the first Latina to serve on a Princeton governing body. She edits a blog about issues affecting the United States and Latin America.
“As far as I can tell, there has never been a Hispanic member of Borough Council or Township Committee and now Princeton Council,” she said during an interview at her home. “But I’m concerned that there should be participation for any immigrant, not just Hispanics. I’m also concerned about taxes, which are so high that they are driving people away from Princeton. And it’s not just people who have lived in town. There are a large number of Hispanics in town who work here, and they won’t be able to stay.”
Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said spending and taxes are the most critical issues for Princeton. She is worried about the town’s debt. “I voted for consolidation, being an optimist,” she said. “But consolidation issues have not been concluded. There is a $135 million debt. And the Master Plan hasn’t been updated.” She also thinks more attention should be paid to traffic problems in town. “Recently, I saw six trucks double-parked on Nassau Street,” she said. “There is no one addressing that problem right now, and it needs to be dealt with.”
She praised Princeton’s police department for its recent efforts to reach out to the local Hispanic community. “The police want the kids to feel they can come to them,” she said. “They seem to be very interested in neworking with the community.”
A recent vote to file less comprehensive minutes of Council meetings does not sit well with Ms. Rodriguez Wertz. “I’m not happy about the minutes being reduced. I’m very big on transparency,” she said. Regarding town/gown relationships, she said it is important to prevent an adversarial relationship. “Princeton looks the way it does because of the University,” she said. “And the University gains from Princeton being such an interesting and diverse community.”
Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said she agrees with the opinion of conflict of interest attorney Ed Schmierer that Mayor Liz Lempert should be permitted to participate in negotiations with Princeton University over payments in lieu of taxes. But Ms. Lempert has decided to recuse herself from those discussions [see story on page one].
Ms. Crumiller, who serves on the Zoning Amendment Review and Master Plan subcomittees, wrote in an e-mail that she is looking forward to working on revising the Master Plan and land use ordinances. “I hope to advocate for neighborhoods and to work to protect the character and especially the scale of neighborhoods in our land use ordinances going forward,” she said. “I’m also going to be working on the committee that will be forming Advisory Planning Districts, which were promised as extra protection for neighborhoods after consolidation.”
Ms. Crumiller served on Borough Council for two-and-a-half years before being elected to Princeton Council last year. Along with two other members of Council, she has recently been reviewing general municipal ordinances.
“Familiarity with operations and knowing how government works is invaluable in this work,” she said. “I hope I can continue!”
Mr. Simon said he is satisfied with the way consolidation of the former Borough and Township has proceeded so far. “This year we have successfully implemented consolidation, and due to careful management of personnel and operating costs, we were able to implement a cut in the municipal property tax rate,” he said in an e-mail. “In doing so we have continued the careful fiscal management of recent Democratic municipal governments from both former municipalities.”
He added that Princeton Borough had not raised municipal property tax rates for four years prior to consolidation, while the Township had not raised them for two years. “We set the municipal property tax in Princeton’s budget this year three quarters of a million dollars lower than the combined municipal property tax budgeted five years ago, and we did that while extending an important municipal service, residential garbage pickup, into the former township. The municipal property tax has shrunk as a proportion of the overall property tax in recent years as well, and in 2013, the municipal portion is only 22 percent of Princeton’s total property tax bill. The rest goes to the county and to the schools.”
Mr. Simon chaired the Emergency Preparedness Task Force this past spring, and currently serves on the local Emergency Management Committee. “This fall we approved the first basic Emergency Operation Plan covering all of Princeton, and by the end of the year we expect to complete 15 plan annexes covering various aspects of emergency management in detail, including shelters and comfort centers, alerts and emergency communications, hazardous materials events, and emergency medical,” he said.
His first year on Council has been enjoyable, Mr. Simon said. “I chose to run again simply to have the opportunity, if the voters in Princeton approve, to continue to work on these and other important issues for the community.”