The introduction of the 2014 municipal budget and a proposed plan to relocate the headquarters of Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) dominated the agenda at Princeton Council’s meeting Monday night, March 24. Also at the meeting, Princeton Police Captain Nicholas Sutter urged residents to be vigilant because of several recent burglaries in the town.
With no tax increase and a figure of $59 million, down slightly from last year, the proposed budget was praised by staff and Council members as a positive outcome of consolidation. Last year’s budget of $60.4 million was the first after the former Borough and Township joined forces. Mayor Liz Lempert said the preliminary figure of $59 million is the beginning of a process that could last another month and a half, during which fine-tuning and the addition of such expenses as storm-cleanup could be figured in.
Council has already adopted policies to manage surplus and debt. Dates for workshops on the budget are to be determined, but a public hearing is planned for the April 28 Council meeting.
Sandra Webb, Princeton’s chief financial officer, said the proposed budget maintains or increases service levels. “It’s a conservative budget. Consolidation is working,” she said. “We’re seeing our budgets stabilize and some decreases as well.”
Kathy Monzo, deputy administrator and director of finance for the town, added that there are decreases in reserves and contingencies in the budget, but the surplus is sound. “We still have a healthy reserve so that we’re still financially stable,” she said. “But we did adjust those reserves and we’ll have to monitor the outcomes.”
Utility expenses rose slightly, and there was an increase in informational technology expenses, Ms. Monzo said. A small reduction in health insurance costs, a reduced budget for garbage collection, and the fact that municipal court fees are down slightly all figured into the proposed budget. At 54 percent, taxes represent the biggest source of revenue for the town.
Princeton administrator Bob Bruschi and PFARS president Mark Freda outlined plans for a new headquarters the squad hopes to build at the former public works facility located at the intersection of Valley Road and Route 206. About 25 members of the squad were on hand to show support for the plan, which was warmly received by Council members. The governing body agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will be brought back to the table at one of Council’s meetings next month.
The new building would move PFARS from a cramped facility on Harrison Street that was built in 1963, when rescue vehicles were smaller and capabilities were different. “The current facility is antiquated at best. When the building was constructed, ambulances were Cadillacs that looked like hearses,” Mr. Bruschi said. “The new trucks are totally jammed in. The bays are undersized. The sleeping quarters need updating. The squad has done an amazing job making this building function as long as it has.”
The arrangement would be a land swap, in which PFARS would have a long-term land lease on the former public works site, which is made up of three small lots. The town would continue to own that land. In turn, the municipality would take the land on the Harrison Street property, which also includes two adjacent houses on Clearview Avenue.
The town would clean up the land on which the new headquarters would be built, and would act as the financing entity for PFARS, an arrangement that Mr. Bruschi compared to the building of the parking garage next to Princeton Public Library. Mr. Freda said he anticipates the three buildings at the squad’s current site are worth about $1.5 million.
In the past five weeks, six residential burglaries have taken place in different Princeton neighborhoods. Mr. Sutter said that residents should be especially careful about keeping doors and windows locked and vigilant about any suspicious activity.
“In some cases there was forced entry. In others, they went through open doors and open windows,” Mr. Sutter said. “All of these burglaries happened during the daytime when the homes were unoccupied.”
The burglaries are sporadic and involve mostly jewelry and electronics. More information about the situation will be released by the police department this week.