Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 5
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
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Holt Offers Township Candid Advice on Ways to Tap Into Stimulus Money

Ellen Gilbert

President Obama’s economic stimulus package was the subject of a January 26 meeting convened for area mayors by Representative Rush Holt (D-12). “He had two objectives,” said Township Mayor Bernie Miller. “To walk us through the proposed package, and to break it down to show what parts of the package would come to New Jersey.” Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner and Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman also attended the meeting, which was held in the Lawrence Municipal Complex prior to the House of Representatives’ endorsement of the $819 billion proposal.

Although it is a “broad package” that “covers everything from food stamps to transportation,” Mr. Miller said that Princeton’s four main areas of concern with respect to the presentation included low-income home energy assistance, modernizing highways and bridges, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Fund. “Transit capital,” which Mr. Goerner described as a “subcategory” of modernizing highways and bridges, would help support efforts like extending the Free B borough bus to the Township.

While major urban areas like Trenton, Newark, and Camden stand to gain the most from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Fund, a long-standing local need that might be addressed includes improved police emergency radio response coverage in the northeast sector of the Township. Fire Department radio equipment also needs upgrading, Mr. Miller said, to make it consistent with equipment being used by the county. While an effort is being made to encourage police to use fuel-efficient vehicles, he said, these vehicles are expensive and, as a result of high demand, unavailable for the immediate future.

The “take-away” of Mr. Holt’s “very candid” explanation, Mr. Goerner said, was that municipalities should seek to obtain money for existing or “shovel-ready” projects. The definition of “shovel-ready” was recently expanded from 90 days to two years. A major consideration, he noted, is the fact that the money will come from the state, and local municipalities will be “competing for the same pot of money.” Collaborative efforts, like the ongoing Route 206 Joint Vision Plan and Traffic Calming Study, and anticipating Route 1 traffic challenges when the new hospital is built would, they thought, be good candidates for state Department of Transportation (DOT) funding. Mr. Holt suggested that collaborative requests would carry more weight than those coming from individual municipalities.

Mr. Miller said that a mid-January request from the New Jersey League of Municipalities for towns to identify suitable local projects in need of support provided a heads-up preliminary to the January 26 meeting with Mr. Holt. He mobilized quickly, asking Township departments to look at their respective needs, identifying “projects where we can move ahead quickly,” and gathering information due to be submitted to the state by February 23. “Bernie did a great job,” Mr. Goerner commented.

Although Ms. Trotman attended the meeting, she was not available for comment, and Mr. Miller and Mr. Goerner said that they did not know whether or not they would be submitting requests for project support together with the Borough or separately.

In general, Township administration is responding to the ailing economy by planning for a budget that will not provide for increases in any of its departments. Recognizing that taxpayers would be hard-put to foot a significant tax increase, they are looking for alternative revenue sources. Mr. Goerner reported that in addition to helping to prepare the annual Township budget, the Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee will be asked “to take a look at how we interact with the university.” While “the Borough is going it alone,” in dealing with the university and fiscal concerns, he said that he was optimistic that the Township could work with the university using “an approach based on facts and figures.”

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