Council Introduces $66.6 Million Municipal Budget for 2021
By Anne Levin
At a meeting Monday night, Princeton Council voted to introduce a budget of $66.6 million, up approximately $2.3 million from last year. That translates into a tax increase of 2.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The ongoing pandemic has resulted in a decrease in revenue from such sources as court costs, permit applications, and parking meters. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the stimulus package recently passed by Congress, Princeton could possibly qualify for a portion of $3 million in federal aid.
“That will be the only way to cover our deficit without raising taxes,” said Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, a member of the town’s Finance Committee. “But we can’t count on this until we have more clarity on the requirements for what will be covered, and how it will be covered.”
Now that the budget has been introduced, the town’s Finance Director Sandy Webb said staff will work with the Finance Committee to look for ways to make further cuts. The goal is get back to a zero tax increase by the end of April, and then
amend the budget.
The budget includes approximately $2 million of surplus funding. Interim Administrator Robert Bruschi said that because of sound fiscal policies initiated in past years, the town is in better shape than it could have been. “It’s not a great place to be,” he said of the need for some $2 million from surplus. “But it’s a lot better place to be.”
Princeton Public Library Director Jennifer Podolsky and Finance Director Susan Chernik delivered a report on the state of the library, which has suffered some losses in revenue from the bookstore, café, rentals, and other sources due to the pandemic. Chernik said an effort has been made to minimize the impact on funding from the municipality.
“I know it’s been a really difficult year,” said Councilwoman Eve Niedergang following the presentation. “I truly believe the library is a careful steward of municipal tax money and resources.” Council President Leticia Fraga thanked the library “for being a really great community partner, especially with Human Services.”
Lambros said, “We need to keep working on cost savings and looking at maybe more fundraising,” adding, “We appreciate anything you can do with grants.”
Members of the group Princeton Mutual Aid commented that the town should be spending money on human services instead of hiring more police officers. Lambros responded that no new positions were being added to the Police Department, and the staffing level of 53 is being maintained. Any new officers are replacing those who retire. Officials also said no cuts are in the budget for the Department of Human Services.
A letter signed by more than 170 people urged Council to use the three buildings on Harrison Street and Clearview Avenue, formerly home to Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, to create a community center rather than putting them up for sale. “This has been part of the master plan forever,” said resident Maria Juega. “I think this was written in 1996, so conditions continue to be the same and even more urgent today. I would like to invite Council members to please be part of the task force to make this happen.”
Councilman Dwaine Williamson reported that the Princeton Recreation Department had decided not to hold day camp and teen travel camp this summer due to ongoing uncertainty about COVID-19. But some half-day programs for different age groups will be held. Plans for Community Park Pool have yet to be announced.
Williamson read letters expressing opposition to the proposed addition of synthetic turf at Hilltop Park, and several members of the public spoke about the issue.
The controversial proposal will be the subject of two virtual public meetings scheduled for this week. On Wednesday night, March 24, the Princeton Environmental Commission and the public will be able to raise questions with the recreation and engineering departments. The Recreation Commission will meet on Thursday night, March 25. Go to princetonnj.gov for the Zoom links.