Op-Ed: Borough and Township Mayors Argue Merger Would Be Gain for Both Towns
On Tuesday, consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township will be on the ballot for your consideration. As the mayors of your respective towns, we feel consolidation is the best option for our collective community.
Both our towns bring something to the table, and both gain from consolidation. The Borough has new ratables coming online in Palmer Square and at the hospital site, and the Township expects new ratables from the senior housing development on Bunn Drive and other sites as well.
The Township has a significant ratable base and now generates more than twice the revenue of the Borough for each incremental change in the property tax rate. Combined, we will all gain from the greater budget flexibility under a consolidated municipality.
The commission’s work has resulted in a final report that you can find at www.cgr.org/princeton. Here are some of the clear reasons why we ask you to support consolidation on November 8th:
A Government Accountable to All Residents –Because our towns are already so integrated, a decision on zoning or budgeting in one municipality can affect residents in the other. Yet, those affected residents cannot hold the governing body in the other municipality accountable. A single government will be accountable to all residents and demystify decision making.
Improved Services – Consolidation allows for town-wide public trash collection, a community policing unit, an integrated affordable housing service, and more efficient public works and recreation services.
More Efficient and Proactive Administration – We share some 13 services already and have reached the point where they are more cumbersome than effective. Decisions lag because of the extra layer of dual governance. Municipal staff is challenged with two masters. Under consolidation, we will maintain our boards and commissions while streamlining governance.
Clear Emergency Management – Consolidation would create a clear chain of command and unify our police and public works resources to respond more effectively and efficiently to an emergency. Our community and personnel would no longer be confused about police jurisdiction.
Tax Savings – The commission has identified $3.2 million in savings, and even with the extension of trash collection in the Township, property taxpayers in each community share in the savings under consolidation. In addition, we could optimize the use of our capital resources (municipal buildings and other properties), potentially providing residents with additional long term savings.
Budget Flexibility – A tax point in the Borough is approximately $219,650. In the Township, a tax point is $461,780 because of its larger ratable base. Combined, the single municipality will have more budget flexibility to better withstand any changes in revenues or costs. This benefits everyone.
Optimal Negotiation With Tax Exempt Institutions – A single negotiating body coupled with increased budget flexibility will allow us to negotiate with the University and other tax exempt institutions from a position of strength rather than a disjointed weakness.
Empowering Neighborhoods – Preserving neighborhood character, valuing our history and maintaining the vibrancy of the downtown was a consistently common finding of our neighborhood meetings and focus groups. It is something that, as mayors, we both value too and we feel that consolidation will help us best achieve these goals for our community in the long term. Advisory Planning Districts, which are allowed under consolidation, give us the ability to unite neighborhoods like the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood that are currently divided by our borders and give the neighborhood standing in front of our planning and zoning boards on major development applications.
Sound Planning for the Future – Financially, it is also clear that the savings and budgetary flexibility will allow us to become less reliant on parking revenue, realize taxpayer savings and slow future increases.
As mayors, when we step back and consider the status quo of remaining two separate municipalities, it is difficult to envision a scenario of similar savings and budgetary flexibility.
We recognize that this is not the first time that consolidation has been considered in our community, but this time we did some things differently. Unlike in 1996, we included elected officials on the study commission and we were aided by an independent consulting firm that analyzed our municipal operations to identify potential savings and efficiencies. We conducted our analysis under the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act (2007) that, also unlike 1996, allows us to both maintain our ordinances and create advisory planning districts to unite our neighborhoods that are currently divided by arbitrary municipal borders.
We didn’t arrive at this decision overnight and we know change is hard, but we also know that based on our experience and review of all the data that consolidation will unify our community and make it an even better place to live. Please join with us in voting for consolidation on November 8th.
Mildred Trotman, Mayor, Princeton Borough
Chad Goerner, Mayor, Princeton Township
I am very sorry to see the mayors recycling the same old figures and arguments that have already been discredited.
One example: There will NOT be $3.2 million in savings. At least $2 million must be subtracted to pay for Township garbage collection, and even the Commission admits there will be $1.7 million in transition costs, while others estimate that transition costs will be at least $5 million. $3.2 minus $2 minus $1.7 is only $0.5 million in savings, even by the Commission’s figures. Using the more realistic transition cost figure of $5 million, there is a COST, not a savings, of $3.8 million.
Another example: Neighborhoods will NOT be empowered, because advisory planning districts have no real power. Their “standing” permits them to ask questions of the Planning Board and get written answers, but these answers may simply be: “Your request is denied.”
Another example: Services will in fact only be improved if taxes are increased. You can’t get something for nothing. Princeton employees will already be overstretched by the merger and the lay-offs.
Another example: Research shows that larger municipal governments are LESS efficient than smaller ones.
Another example: A consolidated Princeton government will NOT be accountable to all citizens because former Township voters will outnumber former Borough voters 2:1.
Another example: There is absolutely NO evidence that a consolidated Princeton would be better at negotiating with the University. Some think that having two municipalities actually gives us MORE negotiating ability.
The debate about consolidation would be more fruitful if discredited figures and arguments were simply dropped.
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