Commission Approves Consolidation Recommendations: Ballot Question Now Up to Elected Officials

At a joint meeting next month, the governing bodies of the two Princetons will consider whether to put consolidation on the November ballot.

On July 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the township municipal building, the borough council and township committee will hold a joint public meeting to discuss recommendations, reports and other documents provided by the joint consolidation and shared services commission. They will then weigh putting a potential municipal merger before the voters.

“I feel confident it will pass,” Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman said Wednesday night of the vote to put the issue on the ballot.

The commission, which Trotman serves on, met Wednesday night to finalize all the documents to be presented to the township committee and borough council.

Although all of the members of the 10-person commission agreed that the group did a thorough analysis of consolidation possibilities, Borough Councilman David Goldfarb raised several concerns throughout the meeting. While Goldfarb agrees with the commission’s recommendations on how consolidation should be managed if voters approve it, he felt the commission is trying to market consolidation too much and  said the commission has not had a thorough debate about the merits and drawbacks of consolidation.

In a lengthy discussion about the cover letter, forward and recommendations of the commission, Goldfarb said the materials were well done, but are basically a marketing tool too promote consolidate and try to convince people that consolidation is a good thing. He does not think the commission’s job is to sell consolidation.

“It moves beyond what I am comfortable with in terms of what the report should do,” Goldfarb said. “All you’ve to do is read it to see that the general tone is in favor of consolidation. I really don’t believe that the work of the commission should be compromised by a foreword that appears to be so strongly in favor of consolidation,  with reasons that are not entirely objective…If we start off saying what a wonderful thing it is, it will color the way people look at the report.”

Trotman and others disagreed, saying there is nothing wrong with the commission marketing consolidation.

“As a group, we were given a charge to study the different materials that would help us make a decision about whether or not it is in the best interest to consolidate,” Trotman said. “Nine of ten voting members voted to recommend to the municipalities that we do consolidate. It leads me to believe there isn’t anything wrong with marketing it that way.”

“We studied much more material than any member of the public probably will and made a decision after studying material and I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to market our recommendation,” she said.

“We would be remiss if we did not advocate for what we recommend,” added Township Committeeman Bernie Miller.

Goldfarb said he felt concerns about and disadvantages of consolidation got short shrift in the report in terms of analysis, with the general response to any issues being that advantages outweigh the concerns.

Township Mayor Chad Goerner disagreed.

“With all due respect, this forward was redesigned based on the disadvantages you perceived,” he said of the document that will be presented to the governing bodies. “We incorporated a lot of the disadvantages that you perceive and we tried to address what those disadvantages were…beyond that we felt moving forward there are clear advantages to consolidation.”

Goldfarb pressed his point. “In the forward, nothing states that some things will be worse after consolidation than they were before. Every single thing identified has been dismissed in the same paragraph.”

Commission member Carol Golden countered that people can draw their own conclusions from reading the report.

“We aren’t saying that concerns are not valid,” said commission member Patrick Simon. “We are sating be believe on balance the benefits outweigh the concerns.”

“Furthermore we are confident that articulated and concerned citizens will continue to hold officials accountable,” Goerner said.

“What it tends to do is minimize the real concerns though,” Goldfarb said. “It is a beautifully drafted marketing tool. If everyone is happy with it, then I will vote against it and we can move on.”

At a few points during the meeting, Goerner expressed annoyance with Goldfarb and said the commission has hashed out various issues repeatedly. “I get a little frustrated when we are being held hostage by one member of the commission. It is like a filibuster,” Goerner said at one point when Goldfarb debated language in the commission’s cover letter to the governing bodies.

Asked by Simon what his position on consolidation is, Goldfarb said he has not made up his mind yet and will decide between now and November.

“I’m looking forward to a debate about the advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “I thought we would have that debate here. Now I hope this will be the starting point for that debate.”

Goldfarb said it was clear early on that the majority of commission members were for consolidation, but commission members disagreed.

“Based on comments early on, I thought it was going to fail.” Simon said. “We had debates that raged for months in subcommittees.”

“I clearly did not know early on that I would support it,” Trotman said.