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Op-Ed: Consolidation Math Makes Sense for All of Princeton

By Patrick Simon

For the Princeton community, consolidation offers three crucial benefits: (1) cost-control and savings; (2) enhanced services; and (3) more effective government. Those are the findings of the commission, reached after in depth study of the potential for consolidation and also for shared services for police and public works.

Interestingly, the public is now being asked to accept an argument put forth by opponents of consolidation, that the potential savings identified by the commission are not real, based on a “back of the envelope” calculation and worse than worst case hypotheticals presented as fact. I’ll put my money on thorough and objective study vs. “back of the envelope” and unsupported hypotheticals any day.

Two tables make it very clear why we all come out ahead.

Consider first the head counts for the combined police and dispatch departments, by job title, current vs. after full implementation of consolidation:

           CURRENT

             FUTURE

     # full-time staff at each title

Assistant to the Chief

2

1

Records

4

3

Parking Enforcement

2

2

Dispatch

9

8

IT Specialist

1

1

Chief

2

1

Captain

2

1

Lieutenant

3

2

Sergeant

14

7

Corporal

4

4

Detective

5

6

Officers

31

30

Total

79

66

Reducing a single position is not going to send any of us to the bank, but a reduction of 13 adds up. Eliminate those 13 positions and the result is approximately $2.1M in annual savings. This recommendation intelligently addresses the structural inefficiencies we have today in managing two small 24×7 police departments side-by-side, without jeopardizing public safety. Even by a “back of the envelope” calculation, we’ve still got enough management positions for the officers on patrol.

As a bonus, combining the police departments in this way will allow the police to provide dedicated community services and traffic units. Similar units were recently reduced or eliminated in both municipalities due to budget pressures.

Savings in other departments may also be achieved through consolidation. These savings add up too.

Public Works / Engineering / PSOC

$442,000

Governing Body

$61,000

Administrator

$206,000

Clerk

$199,000

Finance / Tax Collection

$217,000

Court

$79,000

Tax Assessment

$17,000

The total annual savings, across all departments including police, add up to $3.32M, of which $160,000 would go to sewer rate payers, and the remaining $3.16M to those who pay property taxes. Upon implementation of these recommendations, we would all share in those savings.

These savings are an estimate, based on the roadmap provided by the commission’s reports. We cannot say with certainty that this is exactly what we will save. The new governing body, with public input, could ultimately decide that we need to maximize savings, and opt to squeeze services further to save even more. Alternately, we could decide that overall we want additional services restored or new ones provided, more than we want tax savings at the level that the commission has proposed. Lower taxes or better services, starting from a lower base than we’ve got today, we win either way. If we don’t consolidate, we won’t have the luxury to debate those choices.

There are a couple of other financial aspects to consolidation worth considering. First, the commission recommended that municipal garbage collection be extended to the Township, at an estimated cost of $1.2M that we all share, while eliminating approximately $2.0M in private spending by Township homeowners. And second, there is a hole in the Borough’s 2011 budget that we’ve got to close eventually. The Borough is expected to take in approximately $1.3M less in revenues than it spends this year. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, because the Borough has the funds available to cover it, but it’s not sustainable for more than another two years or so. After that, the bill comes due. If we consolidate, we all share that bill, and properties in the Township pay 68% of any tax increase, which of course will not happen if we vote to remain separate. Under consolidation, we all come out ahead as a result of these additional impacts.

Objectively analyzed, the potential impact of consolidation is beneficial, substantive, and remarkably even for residents of both Princetons. Efforts to show otherwise rely on highly selective and biased analysis. Please don’t get taken in. This time around, the math of consolidation in Princeton adds up to a win for all of us.

Patrick Simon serves on the Princeton Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission and is a resident of  the borough.

 

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Jon Crumiller

    Which to believe: an op-ed piece with relevant facts and clear logic, or a posted comment with opinionated, unsubstantiated assertions?

  • Kate Warren

    Too bad the Commission didn’t identify any of the costs to consolidate other than the watered-down “transition costs.” There is no mention of the costs of the ‘incentives’ that will need be offered to effectuate the so-called savings through “attrition” of 16.5 positions. The so-called “road map” is only as good as the paper it is written on. There are absolutely no guarantees that a newly-created governing body will “implement” the “road map” nor is the “road map” legally binding. And where is taxpayer input in the so-called “road map?” The “road map” is the wishful thinking of a few volunteers, four elected officials and a paid consultant. The Commission has overstated the savings and underestimated the costs and they completely ignored the findings of the State-created bi-partisan panel to study consolidation and shared services whose findings do not support the Commission’s findings that the annexation of Princeton Borough by Princeton Township is a mechanism for property tax savings.

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