October 14, 2020

Council Puts Down Framework For New Human Services Hire

By Anne Levin

At its virtual meeting Monday night, October 12, Princeton Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would authorize the hiring of an outreach coordinator for the town’s Human Services Department. A public hearing on the issue will be held October 26.

Several members of the community including Maria Fuega, Fern Spruill, Larry Spruill, and Tom Parker commented in favor of the ordinance, which creates a framework for the new position. Earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert said the issue is one that Council has been talking about for a while. “This is one of our smallest departments, but it serves a critical function,” she said. “We’ve been leaning on them and counting on them during this [pandemic] crisis.”

The full-time position is for someone who can help with the growing volume of cases handled by the department. Councilwoman Leticia Fraga said that even before the pandemic, Human Services was over-stressed.

“Post-pandemic, there were many community partners coming together to meet the needs,” she said. “But it became evident that while we had all of these great resources, not everybody was aware of them. So all of those who needed them weren’t able to access them. We need another staff person to help work with the director and identify where those gaps are, and ensure we are doing a good job of getting whatever resources are available to everybody in the community who needs them.”

Council also voted in favor of introducing an ordinance providing for various capital improvements. The ordinance appropriates $1.7 million, and authorizes the issuance of $1.6 million in bonds or notes to finance part of the costs. This is the second part of an initial ordinance of $6 million that was approved last June for major projects that were either grant-funded or absolutely critical to move through, said Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield.

“This second part is for items we need to get done this year,” he said, mentioning lights and sirens for police vehicles, replacement of a small trash truck, replacement of a street sweeper, and replacing two dump trucks for snow removal. Money is also needed to replace a part of the roof at Witherspoon Hall, for funds associated with the Safe Routes to School program, and remediation of the River Road Sewer Operating Site.

Council approved a resolution for an amount not to exceed $19,800 hiring McMahon Associates for a Witherspoon Street Traffic Impact Study. The consultants will analyze the options for the road, which is currently one way between Nassau and Spring streets. The road can remain as it is, go back to two-way traffic, or be fully closed at certain times of day.

“They will use available big data representing the traffic that was in operation prior to COVID, rather than using COVID traffic volumes as a gauge for what to expect once life returns to the new normal,” said Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton. “The study will take about six or seven weeks for a draft recommendation, which we’ll bring back to Council to consider.”

Chief Financial Officer Sandy Webb gave a report on the state of budget revenue and expenditures, which have been impacted by the pandemic. The town’s sizable hit in parking revenues has been a major concern. Webb’s report covered the time period ending September 30. “My intent isn’t to say let’s make some hard decisions right now,” she said. “I hope things rebound, so some of what I’m reporting could change. We’ll continue to monitor through the end of the year.”

In addition to parking, revenues for hunting, fishing, pool, and marriage licenses are down. Fees and permits are also below the levels in a normal year, though they could rise by the end of the year, Webb said. Municipal court revenues have dropped, but have begun to rebound. Sewer revenues are half of what was anticipated, but should go up because two revenues for two quarters will be collected next month.

Parking in the municipal garage went from about $140,000 last January and February to a few months where only $2,000 was collected. “We got clobbered,” said Webb. “With street meters, we looked at a high of $135,000 in January and February for credit cards down to $8,000 in April. For coins, for one month we went down to zero. So right across the board, we’re seeing significant reductions. The bottom line is that we’re looking at a $1.8 million shortfall.”

Despite those numbers, the town is in a better position than a lot of other communities, she said. And some significant savings will be realized for municipal positions that haven’t been filled. “This is a work in progress,” Webb concluded. “We will keep an eye on this and update Council so we’re prepared going into the next budget year.”

Council’s next meeting is Monday, October 19 at 7 p.m. The focus will be on transportation issues.