May 14, 2014

Council Adopts Budget After Lengthy Debate Over Salary Levels

Princeton Council adopted the proposed 2014 budget Tuesday night, but not without heated discussion. The issue under debate was whether to include a line item in the budget for an increase in the salaries of the mayor and governing body.

Patrick Simon argued that adding the line item would not be fair since the pay raises С from $7,500 to $10,000 for council members, $7,500 to $12,5000 for council president, and $15,000 to $17,500 for mayor С are not in line with those budgeted for municipal staff. “They represent an ambiguous sign of entitlement on our own behalf and show disrespect to the administration,” Mr. Simon said, adding that he would be in favor of either a pay raise in proportion to the staff, or a raise for future council members.

Council members Lance Liverman and Bernie Miller, both former members of Township Committee, took pay cuts after consolidation when it was established that stipends for the new governing body would be at the lower level employed by Borough Council. Mr. Liverman said he was in favor of the proposed increase because it would make serving on the governing body more appealing to people who are on a more limited budget than those who currently serve. He said he spends about 80 hours a month on municipal matters, which converts into about $6.25 an hour, less than New Jersey’s $8.25 minimum wage.

“Some people I’ve talked to say if the stipend was increased they’d consider running for office,” he said. “It would allow people of lesser means to serve. Please support this adjustment and let’s move on.”

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said that while she agreed with much of Mr. Liverman’s comments, “The problem is you didn’t say it when we were making promises. For me, it’s a matter of promises,” she said, referring to the determination to keep salaries at the Borough level.

Ms. Crumiller served on the finance committee with Mr. Miller and Mr. Liverman during the transition to consolidation. On Tuesday, she said, “We had plenty of opportunities to make the arguments he is making now, but no one said anything either privately or publicly. I feel it would be embarrassing to go back on my promise, even though I sympathize with their arguments.”

Mr. Miller commented at the meeting, “Tonight we’re not talking about salaries of elected officials or salaries of the employees or the municipality. We’re talking about a $59 million budget, an increase in one element of the budget. That’s not a tenth of the budget, or a hundredth of the budget. It’s not a thousandth of the budget.” He added that an attempt has been made to politicize the issue that is “undemocratic, ill-advised, and out of place.”

Before the meeting, Mayor Liz Lempert said the issue is “really an uncomfortable conversation to have,” adding, “The easy thing is to leave it the same, and the politically expedient thing is certainly to leave it the same. But I think that’s why there hasn’t been a change to it in 14 years.”

Tax rates stay the same in the $59.2 million budget, with no reduction in services. The total amount is $1.2 million less than last year’s budget.