Planet Princeton

Op-Ed: Princeton Freeholder Koontz Opposes Consolidation

By Andrew Koontz

In just a few days, voters in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township will decide whether or not we shed our common border and become a single municipality.  As a Borough voter, I’ll be voting too, and to make a long story short, I’ll be voting “No.”

I was a Borough Council member when this latest consolidation effort got underway, and although I voted to support the consolidation study, I was a vocal “skeptic” of consolidation.  I felt then that the issue of consolidation is highly emotionally charged and deeply controversial, and whenever it’s under consideration it distracts us from other pressing issues.  I felt that many of the taxpayer savings promised by consolidation could just as well be achieved through other means, such as through increased shared services between the Borough and Township (or with the county or with any number of other nearby municipalities for that matter).  I feared that no useful discussion of these options would take place as long as the “Big C” was on the table.  My fears, I think, proved correct.

A lot of folks have questioned the projected cost savings of consolidation as presented by the Consolidation Study Commission.  I consider a number of the members of the commission to be my friends, and I think they did their level best to arrive at reasonable estimates.  But their cost savings rest on one basic assumption:  that some as yet unknown body of elected officials, the Mayor and Council of (united) Princeton, would follow their tough, cost-cutting recommendations to the letter.  To me, that’s a pretty shaky assumption.

The focus on cost-cutting, to me, distracts from a much more basic question:  why consolidate now?  Is something terribly wrong with our two towns that only a consolidation can remedy?  I don’t think so.  Both towns are fiscally healthy and perfectly capable of reducing municipal budgets without consolidation.  Speaking for my hometown, the Borough, we have safe neighborhoods, access to mass transportation, and a vibrant, walkable downtown.  The Borough didn’t arrive at this place by chance, but through the many years of solving our problems as a community, a community that was in control of its own municipal destiny.  The Borough works, just as the Township works, and I think the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here.  To me, consolidation is a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

Finally, Princeton Borough is my home and it’s just the right size for me.  I’m not ready to “trade up” to a bigger place just yet!

 Andrew Koontz is a Mercer County Freeholder.

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.

  • Thanks Anne for all your work on this issue. Unfortunately, transition costs are NOT included in the Commission’s $149 savings estimate on a $15,000 tax bill for Boro households. Whether one estimates a tax increase or a tax decrease depends on the assumptions one begins with. For example, if transition costs are included (at $1M a year for 5 years), only half the staff cuts are made and that takes 5 years (9 of the 16.5 positions to be cut are those of unionized police officers), and Township trash collection only costs $241/house, the average Boro household will see an INCREASE in their taxes of $274 the first year. Borough household trash collection averages $224 a house currently. See http://preserveprincetonborough.wordpress.com/ for details.

  • Anne Waldron Neumann

    I agree with Andrew Koontz and will also–somewhat to my own surprise–vote against consolidation.

    According to careful calculations by Alexi Assmus, based on the Consolidation Commission’s own figures, consolidation might eventually save a Borough homeowner who pays the average Borough tax of $15,000 at best $149 a year. If your tax is lower, you would of course save less. $149 is not to be sneezed at. But the Borough has many new taxable properties about to come on line. And the Borough spends far less per resident to provide municipal services than the Township does. These savings would occur, moreover, IF and only if a larger municipality can function with fewer employees, IF 16.5 municipal employees retire promptly without being bought out, IF transition costs match the Commission’s low estimate (already demonstrated to defer major costs to subsequent years), and IF Township garbage collection costs only S240 per household (although homeowners in the compact Borough pay $250 per year, and Township homeowners currently average $400 for private garbage collection).

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