May 22, 2013

Christie’s Consolidation Pledge Paying Off

When the non-profit organization Courage to Connect NJ holds its third annual seminar at Princeton University on June 5, Princeton’s successful consolidation will be the focus of the day. And now that the town is assured of the 20 percent reimbursement for consolidation costs that Governor Chris Christie pledged during a visit to Princeton nearly two years ago, the lineup of Princeton officials taking part in the day’s sessions is especially relevant.

Mayor Liz Lempert learned last Thursday that the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would provide $464,000 to help offset costs of the merger between Princeton Borough and Township, which went into effect the first day of this year. By October, the town should expect $350,000, which is to be used for the 2013 municipal budget. The balance will be forwarded by the end of 2013, after proof is provided that transition expenses were reasonable, necessary, and one-time in nature.

“The State is pleased to have provided Princeton with support to make the merger possible,” the letter from DCA to municipal officials stated. It also noted that hundreds of hours of DCA staff were allotted to Princeton to smooth the consolidation process, as well as develop a plan to reassess property in the merged towns.

According to Ms. Lempert, budget savings this year that are related to consolidation exceeded the projections of the Consolidation Commission by 40 percent. At its meeting Tuesday, May 28, Princeton Council will be considering an amendment to the budget that will lower the tax rate an additional cent. A public hearing on the budget will also be held that night. But should the amendment pass, the Council won’t vote on the budget until the June 10 meeting, because they are not allowed to amend and vote on the same night.

In the meantime, several local officials will take part in the Courage to Connect event on June 5. Ms. Lempert is a panelist at a session titled “Princeton: A Road Map to Follow,” along with Councilwoman Heather Howard, administrator Bob Bruschi, and Joseph Stefko, the president and CEO of CGR, the company that helped guide Princeton through the consolidation process.

Former Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner will speak during “A Path to Success,” while Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter and Lieutenant Chris Morgan will take part in a session on the benefits of police and fire consolidation.

Courage to Connect NJ is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that “educates the public and elected officials in New Jersey about municipal consolidation by merging towns into town clusters for improved efficiency and savings,” according to its website. During an appearance on the television show “NJ Today” earlier this year, the organization’s executive director Gina Genovese said of Princeton, “Now we have a model that works” and called 2013 “the year of the merger.”

Ms. Lempert said it is important to keep in mind that Princeton’s process of consolidation dates back to the 1950’s. “It took a long time,” she said this week. “The effort that was successful was based on a very long period of discussions. But in a lot of ways, the economy, the condition of the state budget, and other factors are putting increased pressures on local municipalities. To the degree that we can show that consolidation has allowed us to lower taxes and enhance services at the same time, it becomes something really attractive to other towns to seriously consider for themselves. We’re excited at the level of interest in Princeton’s consolidation and know that others around the state are looking to our example.”