Op-Ed: Princeton Consolidation Referendum Outcome Should Be Different This Time Around

By Marvin Reed

It’s easy to ask:  If past referenda for municipal consolidation in Princeton have been defeated why should this year’s ballot turn out any different?

A good question . . . but also a good answer:  We’ve learned.  We’ve grown.  We’ve changed.

From past experience like ours and like others, the State has significantly broadened and liberalized the consolidation statutes to make it less complicated to combine municipalities.

This time we’ve gained from a full-scale professional study that included currently elected municipal officials as well as their administrators to provide candid, practical advice.   The results show how best to redeploy staffs in a more direct, coordinated system.

Based on the new State law, the merger need not make unique aspects of each sector change.  Existing ordinances can remain in effect for up to five years, with the possibility of continuation.    Past debates over who leashes dogs and who doesn’t, who parks on the street overnight and who doesn’t, who has to build sidewalks and who doesn’t  aren’t needed.  Separate sections of town can maintain and enjoy their differences even as they forge a more cohesive management for leaner days ahead.

And, as this study has shown, the different sectors are more alike than they have been before.  The recent Census showed similar population mixes.  Tax rates in effect are practically identical.  Potential savings are quite similar.   We can gain together, not at one or the others expense.

Both municipalities face tough challenges –

  • —  More efficient, less costly policing should be in one combined department.
  • —  Fire and emergency services need to be reorganized, with major construction or replacement of outworn facilities.
  • — Neither government houses its Public Works staff and equipment very well.
  • — Townspeople expect far better access to public officials — web sites, electronic communication, on-camera meetings, and contact during emergencies.

A better managed single government can do this without duplication of costs.

I am proud of one of our community’s most recent accomplishments: the rebuilding of our Public Library.  As Princeton Borough mayor, I presided over many of those decision-making meetings.  I heard what people said.  There were Borough residents who insisted that the Library had to remain downtown.  But, I also heard Township residents stand up and say that location is the center of my town too.  And yet, there were some Borough and Township voters who said it was more convenient for them to pick up and drop off books at the alternate location, the Harrison St. shopping center.  Regardless of who favored which location it wasn’t a Borough v. Township thing.  We were able to agree and the result is one wonderful community center.

Towns like ours with so much highly priced real estate can no longer expect much in State and Federal aid to balance our tax bills.  To do it ourselves requires us to streamline local government into one frugal entity with as tight a management as possible.  We can no longer afford separate Township and Borough governments.

Join me in pulling us together.  Vote “YES” for Princeton consolidation on Nov. 8.

Marvin R. Reed is the former mayor of Princeton Borough

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