Consolidation Benefits Princeton Borough Residents
To the editor:
Having exhaustively examined consolidation as Princeton Borough representatives on the Joint Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission, we believe that merging the municipalities offers crucial benefits to Borough residents as outlined in the Commission’s report, including: cost savings, enhanced services, and more effective and accountable government. These benefits help explain why five out of six Borough Council members, plus the Mayor, support consolidation.
A snapshot of Princeton Borough shows a town struggling to keep the tax rate steady and maintain service. Over the past few years, the Borough has dipped into its capital surplus and raised parking rates to avoid tax increases. Despite these efforts, Borough services continue to shrink. Recent examples include police force reductions from 34 sworn officers to 30, and the cutting back of solid waste pick-up from twice to once a week. Services have diminished in spite of the fact that we began receiving a substantial increase in annual contributions from the University several years ago.
The Commission has conservatively identified $3.16 million in annual savings on existing municipal services from consolidation. The Commission also proposed extending municipal residential garbage collection to the Township, at an estimated annual cost of $1.18 million. The combined reductions in property taxes and private spending on garbage collection will benefit residents of both municipalities.
Consolidating the Princetons offers opportunities for enhanced services: a merged and restructured police force will include a reconstituted traffic and safe neighborhood unit. Reconfiguring public works, engineering, sewer operations, and recreation maintenance will make possible a more effective and efficient use, distribution, and management of staff to better serve the community – no more snow plows or street paving stopping half-way down streets divided by an arbitrary municipal boundary, and better flexibility to plan for a sorely needed upgrade of public works facilities.
Consolidation critics worry that Borough residents will lose their voice and representation in a merged municipality. The cornerstone of this anti-consolidation concern rests on the assumption that Township residents hold a single point of view, which is always different from and hostile to the interests of Borough residents Yet, in fact, Borough and Township residents seamlessly integrate in community life – from civic and political groups, to religious and recreation organizations. Moreover, the Borough and Township share thirteen joint agencies. These activities call into question the assumption that Borough and Township residents have different values; and that Township residents lack the capacity to understand Borough concerns.
Nonetheless, contentious issues do arise in our community from time to time. With two governing bodies, this frequently leads to extensive and expensive standoffs which further polarize our community. We are very confident that such issues can be addressed more effectively within a consolidated Princeton.
Consolidation offers the opportunity for a more collaborative, effective, accountable government, in addition to cost savings and enhanced services. We believe these goals can be reached, and the Commission’s study provides a blueprint for doing so.
Ryan Lilienthal, Alice K. Small, and Patrick Simon
Princeton Borough Members of the Consolidation Study Commission