Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 24
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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Borough Approves $24,647,375 Budget

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council adopted the 2009 municipal budget at last Tuesday’s meeting. At $24,647,374, the budget involves no tax increase from the previous year and represents a 2.7 percent decrease over that of 2008. The tax rate remains at $1.03 per $100 of assessed property value.

The budget passed in a 4-1 vote, with Council members David Goldfarb, Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes voting in favor of it, while Council President Andrew Koontz voted against it. Margaret Karcher was absent.

Reemphasizing that the goals that Council imposed on the 2009 budget (namely, no tax or employee salary increases) were met through workforce reductions and a five percent cut in the operating expenses of every department with the exception of the Senior Resource Center, which now administers the Crosstown 62. Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi added that this year has also seen “significant losses in revenues” including state aid and hotel taxes.

Reducing residential garbage collection to once a week, restructuring the Human Services Commission, and beginning employee contribution to health benefits, all contributed to savings, Borough CFO Sandy Webb said, noting that construction fee revenues are up from the amount anticipated, as are those from the Municipal Court, and the surplus from the parking utility. The Borough is also seeing an extra $84,130 from the University this year as part of their agreement.

Mr. Bruschi predicted that “2010 will present its own set of unique challenges,” while Ms. Webb said that the next steps include finishing the capital budget plans, negotiating labor contracts, determining the debt management plan, and preparing the budget for coming year.

The 2009 budget will use almost $800,000 of the $1.3 million in the Borough’s surplus fund balance. Wary of that policy decision, Mr. Koontz said that “we have surplus in order to stabilize the tax rate, since a number of the revenue sources we collect are notoriously unstable.”

Mr. Goldfarb added a caveat, noting that while construction code fees do fluctuate, other items contributing to the surplus also do, and not all vary in the same way. Mr. Wilkes pointed out that construction code revenue this year looks promising, as the first-quarter yielded monies closer to those expected halfway through the year.

Characterizing this year’s budget as “very showy” instead of being responsible fiscal planning, Mr. Koontz remarked that the zero tax increase, combined with dipping into the surplus would result in elevated taxes in future years.

Calling the zero-increase a “sea change,” Mr. Martindell said that the move was “not just an economic decision, but a policy decision” having to do with “the way we conduct Borough government” and something to be analyzed carefully each year.

In a recent letter to Mayor and Council, a group of local merchants offered their thoughts on ways the Borough could achieve greater savings in areas related to personnel, benefits, and overtime, adding that perhaps a closer look had to be taken regarding essential versus non-essential expenses.

Signed by Hank Siegel of Hamilton Jewelers, Mark Censits of CoolVines, Raoul and Carlo Momo of the Terramomo Group, Henry Landau of Landau’s, and Bill Howard of Triangle of Princeton, the letter concluded with a proposal for working together: “As Borough stakeholders, we are committed to assisting Borough Council in finding solutions to these important issues that face us all as concerned citizens, business, and property owners. We look forward to having the opportunity to do so, and appreciate this forum in which to have a positive dialogue.”

At the meeting, Mr. Siegel noted that the Borough spends $1.9 million per year on employee health benefits, and suggested that a lower price could be found. Mr. Martindell observed that the police union contract drives the rest of the employee benefits, as the municipality prefers not to have different tiers of benefits.

Mayor Mildred Trotman said that “there is a huge difference in spending in government versus spending in business.”

“We’re all trying to survive in this current economy,” Mr. Landau commented, urging Council to allow business owners to look at the budget “with fresh eyes” to see if additional savings could be garnered. “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of dollars that are not needed in here,” he said, giving an example of how $600,000 could potentially be saved by partnering with another municipality’s police dispatchers.

Mr. Goldfarb said “we do appreciate the offer, and will certainly take you up on it,” adding that more “difficult decisions” would have to be made in the upcoming months.

“By voting for this budget tonight, we are not only protecting the taxpayers, but we are paving the way for working with you,” Mr. Martindell told the assembled merchants.

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