Op-Ed: Princeton Consolidation Commission’s Recommendation is Wrong

By Phyllis Teitelbaum

The Princeton Consolidation Commission is composed of intelligent, well-meaning, hard-working people. So why did the commission reach the wrong conclusion about the benefits of consolidation? Why did it recommend consolidation, even though consolidation will greatly disadvantage Princeton Borough residents and will provide little or no benefit to Princeton Township residents? Here are some of the reasons:

The majority of the commission members were already pro-consolidation when they were appointed to the commission.
Group dynamics pushed the few undecided commission members towards supporting consolidation. (As a sociologist, I saw this happening during commission meetings.)

Commission members worked so long and hard on consolidation that they cannot see its flaws.

Commission members seem to favor consolidation for emotional reasons. They ignore the hard economic facts. They seem determined to consolidate, no matter what the cost and no matter what the negative effects.
Commission members dismissed major disadvantages of consolidation (for example, Borough disenfranchisement: The 2:1 ratio of Township to Borough voters and the all at-large seats on the new council would result in most seats being filled by Township residents).

The initial goal of consolidation was a large decrease in property taxes. But when the commission projected negligible savings (a few hundred dollars a year), the commission switched to vague goals that cannot be measured, such as “efficiencies” and “effectiveness.”

The commission is overoptimistic about even the few hundred dollars per year, because the new council will probably find it difficult to implement all the lay-offs required to achieve these savings.

The commission is overoptimistic about getting reimbursement from the state for $1.7 million in expenses for the transition to consolidation. The commission has developed options for paying all $1.7 million ourselves, but most of its options simply take money from the municipalities’ surpluses or delay payment.

The commission’s recommendation ignored the large upcoming additions to the Borough tax base in Palmer Square and the hospital site, and the very few additions likely in the Township. If we do not consolidate, Borough taxpayers get 100% of the municipal benefit from additions to the Borough tax base. If we do consolidate, Borough taxpayers get only approximately 1/3 of the tax benefit.

Commission members are so committed to consolidation that they ignored a superior option–merging the police departments, which would save 2/3 as much as consolidation. It would not disenfranchise Borough residents, would not require $1.7 million in transition costs, and would not demand changes in ordinances and governance.

It is not surprising that commission members who favored consolidation from the beginning would decide to recommend consolidation at the end. What is surprising is that we, the public, are expected to accept the commission’s incorrect recommendation. It is even more surprising that Borough residents are expected to vote in favor of losing their representation and most of their tax benefit from additions to the Borough tax base.

Fortunately, most of us are wise enough to recognize that the commission’s recommendation is wrong. On November 8, we will vote against consolidation.

Phyllis Teitelbaum is a Princeton Borough resident.

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