Council Introduces Budget, Has Dialogue With Eisgruber At Monument Hall Meeting
By Anne Levin
The municipal budget for 2018 was officially introduced Monday at a meeting of Princeton Council. Also on the agenda was a visit from Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber, who took questions from the governing body but not from members of the public.
This is the fifth year that Council has invited Eisgruber to engage in a dialogue. Questioning him has always been limited at these events to the governing body, Mayor Liz Lempert told a member of the public who was loudly critical of the proceedings. The woman became so unruly that the Princeton Police Department was summoned. Three officers stood at the rear of the room throughout much of the meeting, but she did not have to be removed and eventually left on her own.
At $64.3 million, the 2018 budget represents a $1.8 million rise over last year. That means an increase of $41.86, or 1.03 percent, to taxpayers, said municipal administrator Marc Dashield. The average assessed value of homes in Princeton is projected at $837,074.
More money from Princeton’s surplus will be used to cover much of the increase in the budget. There was a $1.6 million increase in the current fund surplus in 2017, Scott Sillars of the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee (CFAC) told the Council. The core debt has remained stable. Dashield said that budget expenditures increased by 2.9 percent. Salary and wages decreased by 2.77 percent, and general operating expenses went up by 5.23 percent. There are five percent fewer full-time employees in the municipality since 2015, due to reorganization in the health and police departments and Access Princeton.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is March 26. Until then, CFAC and staff members will continue to look for additional savings, Lempert said.
Members of Council took turns asking the University president about town/gown issues. Tim Quinn focused on the school’s campus plan for expansion, questioning economic implications for the municipality. Specifically, he asked that if a hotel is built, it be on the Princeton side of University property, rather than West Windsor.
“I agree it would be great if we had another hotel in Princeton,” Eisgruber said, adding, “We don’t have any plans right now, we’re not in the hotel business.”
Councilman David Cohen asked about assisting members of the University’s lower level workforce with housing, as is currently done with faculty. Eisgruber cited the University’s expanded graduate housing as an example of its evolving housing policy. Councilman Lance Liverman thanked Eisgruber for the University’s efforts to employ local residents — something he has requested each year that Eisgruber has attended the meeting.
Leticia Fraga touched on contributions the University has made to such programs as Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP) and other aid initiatives. “How can we build on this? How can we collaborate and mobilize the university’s students sources?” she asked.
Eisgruber responded by citing the University’s mission, “a commitment to teaching and research that makes a difference in the world,” globally and locally. “We’ve been very pleased to identify particular projects to which the University has been able to contribute over time and look for other opportunities to do that,” he said. He advised Fraga that students in the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement are always looking for service projects, and that she should contact them.
Dashield announced that Princeton’s human services director Elisa Neira is leaving to become the new deputy commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services. She will start her job on March 5.
Originally from Ecuador, Neira joined Princeton’s staff in 2013 and earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Rutgers University. She has a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. Neira was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting, but was praised by Dashield and by Councilwoman Heather Howard, who has worked closely with her as Council’s liaison to Human Services. “This is really quite an honor and recognition of who she is,” Howard said. “We were lucky to have her as long as we did.”
Neira will oversee the Division of Family Development, which includes the programs Work First New Jersey/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Work First New Jersey/General Assistance; NJ SNAP; and child support and child care services.
Melissa Urias, who works with Neira in the Human Services Department, has been appointed its interim director, Dashield said.