Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 20
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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Borough Democratic Primary Candidates Get Ready for Upcoming June Election

Dilshanie Perera

With the primary election scheduled for June 8, three of the Borough’s Democratic candidates are vying for the two spaces on the ballot in November that correspond to two seats on Borough Council. The two who win the primary will be those who ultimately sit behind the dais beginning next year, since they will run unopposed by a Republican candidate in the fall elections.

Longtime Borough residents Jo Butler, Roger Martindell, and Anne Waldron Neumann each have a storied history of service in town and strong opinions about where the municipality should be headed. Taxes, development, and the future of the community were recurring themes discussed by each candidate in separate interviews.

“Clearly, one of the major challenges now and going forward are Borough finances,” asserted Ms. Butler, reasoning that some new sources of revenue would be coming on line through rateables from new development in town over the next few years, but that controlling expenses was of the utmost importance, particularly because of the concern that increased taxes would make living in Princeton unaffordable for seniors and those with a fixed, low, or moderate income.

A founding member of the Citizens Finance Advocacy Taskforce, an ad hoc group formed last year to take a closer look at Borough budgeting, Ms. Butler said that a look at the school board and county budgets are next on their agenda. “We need to look at ways to consolidate services — police dispatch at the county level, for instance.” She suggested determining a five-year budget document that could give all parties some direction for the future.

Emphasizing that “we need to keep talking with the University, though they aren’t the only solution,” Ms. Butler recalled a time when Princeton University’s contribution to the Borough was $300,000, which was expanded to $1 million to much fanfare. Now, with a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) valued at over $1 million, the University’s contribution is seen as inadequate, and Ms. Butler wants to find out how this shift in perception occurred.

“The University acted very quickly when the economy started to go bad. They stopped building. They took a very aggressive stance. I don’t think the Borough, School Board, or County did as good a job. We didn’t react as quickly, and I don’t think you can go ask for more money if you haven’t made the same tough choices.”

“The University does a lot for the town, but the town does a lot for the University too,” Ms. Butler pointed out. “It is an interesting community; it’s not just a suburb.”

A strong supporter of consolidation, Ms. Butler remarked that joining municipalities is important for regional planning and for the future, regarding transportation, public health, and disaster preparedness. “I have been an active community volunteer in both municipalities since I arrived here almost 15 years ago, and those are the relationships I can call upon to move [consolidation] forward.”

Ms. Butler has a background in business, and currently works for an educational consulting firm. She is an active member of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) and People and Stories/Gente y Cuentos. She was also a member of the Friends of Princeton Public Library for 10 years.

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The key issues of Ms. Neumann’s platform parallel the three axes of sustainability, which include balancing “environmental protection; social cohesion; and economic prosperity and fairness.”

An advocate of smart development with respect to both the “natural environment, trees and open spaces, and also our built environment,” Ms. Neumann highlighted sites in the Borough that the community should carefully analyze as they are “on the verge of being redeveloped,” namely, the University Medical Center of Princeton location on Witherspoon Street and Merwick; Stanworth, which belongs to Princeton University; and the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood.

Ms. Neumann cited the dialogue about development on Princeton Ridge, particularly the discussion about creating age-restricted housing on the Ridge that involved the planning board, zoning board, developers, the environmental commission, and Township Committee, as a fruitful conversation that addressed many community needs.

“I believe strongly that established neighborhoods should be protected from too rapid change,” Ms. Neumann said, expressing concern about the recent revaluation that seems to have distributed the tax burden in a way that shifts it from the higher-priced homes to the lower-priced homes more starkly than before. “Strong neighborhoods, as well as a vibrant town center, are both important to a community’s social cohesion.”

Marveling that Princeton is in the 94th percentile in New Jersey for highest property taxes, Ms. Neumann suggested that all possibilities for additional revenue must be considered. A member of Princetonians for Tax Fairness, she characterized the group’s goal as encouraging “Princeton University to increase its voluntary contribution to the Borough and Township,” and she supports continuing the dialogue with the University in efforts to extend its PILOT contribution.

Ms. Neumann grew up in Princeton and returned in 2000, after stints abroad and elsewhere. A teacher and writer, she has taught a class at Princeton University on South African literature, and has also written for The Age, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. Her engagement with local government includes experience on the Princeton Environmental Commission, and the Site Plan Review Advisory Board.

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Mr. Martindell is a third-generation Princetonian who returned home in 1984 and has been on Borough Council since 1989. “My interest was first sparked through genes, probably. I’m a seventh-generation public servant,” he said. With his initial involvement in political activity occurring during the protests in Chicago in 1968, he has been “part of politics at the federal, county, state, and municipal levels,” working for New Jersey congressmen, his mother, Anne Martindell, when she was a State Senator, providing legal counsel to County freeholders, and getting involved with Borough politics through the Civil Rights Commission.

“One of the key issues is to keep a lid on taxes. We need to have a skeptical eye about expenses and to generate as much non-tax revenue as possible,” Mr. Martindell said of the future of the Borough. Such revenue would come from PILOT negotiations, and pursuing rent that Nassau HKT has defaulted on, he suggested.

“On the expense side, we can have more shared services with the Township, including areas such as Police, Public Works, and parks. We can privatize the garage, the expenses of which are much higher than anticipated,” he added, noting that “I think the two governments have been dragging their feet in working toward more shared services.”

Making local government more responsive is another key item on the docket for Mr. Martindell, though he acknowledged that the Borough is fairly responsive to citizens’ concerns already. “The bedbug issue is a perfect example, though — we were slow on the uptake and slow on coordination … it’s a question of will, attitude, and modeling it.”

“Government is really a service busines, and from my perspective, the customer is really almost always right,” he suggested.

Mr. Martindell also observed that development at the current hospital site will be another big issue the Borough will face. “What is going to go on at that site? What is the effect on local taxes? Affordable housing? The surrounding neighborhood? We need to take that issue up quickly and not let it fester.”

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8. If you are a Democratic or unaffiliated registered voter living in the Borough, you are eligible to cast your vote in this primary.

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