In Princeton Borough, Zero Tax Rate Increase a Goal for 2012

The borough’s finance committee is seeking to keep the tax rate flat this year, and with consolidation on the horizon the borough does not anticipate any major new projects for 2012.

“No major new initiatives are proposed this year, and their are no significant labor contracts,” Borough Councilman Roger Martindell said. “We’re taking the philosophy that the less we do financially, the better. The budget largely reflects that. There was a sense on the finance committee that we’d like to keep to a zero tax rate increase this year.”

The preliminary 2012 Borough budget includes an increase in spending of about 1.63 percent, or $420,000, said Sandra Webb, the Borough’s  chief financial officer. Department budgets are not being increased, Webb said, with expense increases mostly coming from areas like benefits. The Borough is assuming state aid will remain flat this year.

Princeton University increased the Borough’s voluntary payment for 2012 by $500,000. Borough Mayor Yina Moore asked how that increase is reflected in the budget.

Webb said the Borough is using less of its operating surplus and capital fund surplus to balance the budget because of the increase in the University’s contribution. “I’ve tweaked some of the other numbers,” she said.

Moore said she thinks the extra money should be used to find a way to provide relief to property owners who are struggling to pay thieir taxes as a result of the 2010 property revaluation. “We need to look to establish a way to provide some relief for property owners for whom the tax burden was severe,” she said.

Martindell said the revaluation study commission made some propopsals the Borough should consider.

In a discussion about the Borough’s surplus funds, Councilman Kevin Wilkes suggested the Borough use the capital surplus, which was funded by Borough taxpayers, for Borough interests this year before consolidation takes effect. The money could be used to beautify the downtown business district.

“There are lot of issues downtown involving trash and trash collection,” he said.  “Centralized trash collection strategies might require a modest investment from us. This might be the year we have a chance to score on this issue for businesses and Borough residents. We can look at how to improve the points of trash collection and  how to improve recycling downtown. We don’t have sufficient recycling downtown or trash containers. We could polish the downtown, make it more attractive, and try to address the trash and recylicng issues.”

Council President Barbara Trelstad said the trash issue is worth considering. “The public works committee has the issue on the agenda very soon,” she said. “If we throw a little money at it now, it might be beneficial. The township recycling coordinator might have some ideas. Now might be the time for a pow wow.”

Borough officials will be meeting with Princeton Township officials to discuss the budgets and issues related to consolidation such as transition costs.

New Councilwoman Heather Howard said the two Princetons should make sure the state follows through with its commitment to pay 20 percent of the consolidation transition costs. Now is the time to do that, she said, because the state budget is being developed. She said the two Princetons should also consider what other help they might need from the state in terms of  budget flexibility as the towns merge.