Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 5
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
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Borough Strives for Zero Tax Increase

Dilshanie Perera

During a special session, Borough Council passed a motion 4-2 to set a goal of a zero percent tax increase for the 2009 budget, with Council members David Goldfarb, Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes voting in favor, and Peggy Karcher and Andrew Koontz voting against.

Mr. Koontz, Ms. Karcher, and Mayor Mildred Trotman, who does not vote on budgetary issues, worried that aiming for no increase would be an unrealistic goal, and would perhaps raise taxpayer hopes for naught. Mr. Koontz characterized the motion, which was proposed by Mr. Martindell, as “an emotional response to a crisis situation, and an unwise decision,” while Ms. Karcher asserted that “it is much too soon to be adopting this as a goal,” though it is “something we should reach for.”

“I’m concerned by the reaction from our staff that a zero percent increase is unrealistic,” said Mr. Goldfarb, adding “I can create very real scenarios. I want to know what the administration will do if we mandated the zero percent increase.” He acknowledged that some of the cuts necessary to achieving no tax increase may be “intolerable,” but that by setting zero as the goal, the Borough would be able to weigh all the options before coming to a decision on the budget.

Prior to the discussion about maintaining tax rates, Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi had presented the staff’s most recent assessment of the budgeting situation. He reported that after trimming down as much as possible, the 2009 Budget is currently at $24,946,281, which is a reduction over last year’s budget by over $300,000. This scenario would require over $1.2 million in revenues or expenditure reductions, which the administration felt was unrealistic. A five-cent tax increase would require over $700,000 in adjustments to the budget, and after some maneuvering, Mr. Bruschi said that about $300,000 is still outstanding for the Borough to either find or cut.

After Council set the new goal, the administration was tasked with bringing a plan or a few plans to the table detailing how a zero-percent tax increase might be achieved.

Chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission Wendy Kaczerski, and other commission members spoke about the importance of their work for the good of the town. Over the past two years, the Commission had “garnered $90,000 in grants to help the municipalities [Borough and Township]” on a $14,000 budget and a commission comprised of volunteers, she said.

Mr. Wilkes and Ms. Karcher had met with members of the Human Services Commission to reassess the organization’s goals for 2009, and to determine whether certain duties could be reassigned. “We’re not recommending moving welfare,” Mr. Wilkes said, though he suggested that looking into an interlocal agreement between neighboring municipalities regarding welfare may be an option. Certain services provided to seniors could potentially be reassigned to the Senior Resource Center, and youth programming may be managed by the Recreation Department, he observed. Duties that should be retained by Human Services that could be done “on a significantly lowered budget” include monthly meetings with an advisory committee, and having a representative in the community for civil rights and Latin American issues, Mr. Wilkes pointed out.

Further discussion about the Borough budget will occur at the Council meeting on February 10.

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