Town Backs Princeton University in Tax Case

The town of Princeton is siding with Princeton University in lawsuits regarding the school’s tax-exempt status.

Four Princeton residents have filed two lawsuits, one challenging the tax-exempt status of various Princeton University properties in the 2011 tax year, and the second challenging Princeton University’s tax exemption in the 2014 tax year.

The municipality is a defendant in the case, and officials have argued that means the town must therefore side with the school. The lawyer for the residents has said the town’s position is ridiculous and that being named as a defendant does not mean the municipality must side with the school.

Tax Court Judge Vito Bianco yesterday rejected the University’s claim that the burden of proof in the case should be on the four residents who are challenging the tax exemption.

The lawyer for the residents, Bruce Afran, successfully argued that the burden of proof is always with the party claiming an exemption from taxation, and not with the party challenging the granting of an exemption.

The municipality did not submit a brief either in support of, or in opposition to, Princeton’s motion. But during oral arguments in September, the municipality’s lawyer argued in support of the motion, according to the judge’s ruling.


  1. What law school did the attorney who is telling us that the town must side with the University because the town is also a named defendant in the case? What kind of counsel are we spending our tax dollars on? Or, is it just the “officials” who are saying this and counsel for the town is silent?

    The disdain our town officials have for the positions of citizens is shameful. Can someone please remind the officials that they represent their constituents? Even if it may make their golf outings with University officials a little awkward on occasion?

    1. Town officials rightly have disdain for idiots, and idiots seem to be suing to overturn Princeton University’s status. These are the same types who challenged the parking garage, the replacement of the train station, and a dozen other projects in town. I don’t know why people who don’t want to live in Princeton just move.

      1. Who are you–Bob Durkee? Only an idiot wouldn’t see that a large part of the reason that taxes are so high in Princeton is because the university doesn’t pay its fair share. The PILOT payment is a joke, the university profits handsomely from patents developed on its property and continues to purchase land and take it, unfairly, off the tax rolls. Thank heaven for the people suing.

        1. They can sue all day. They’re going to lose, just like all the other lawsuits filed for frivolous, ridiculous reasons. Name one of these types of lawsuits that have prevailed. One. Just one. And you ignore the incredible value that PU brings to the area — our homes would be worth 1/2 of their value, and we wouldn’t want to live here, without PU inside our town. We would be Edison, or Rahway, without PU.

          1. That’s such bunk. Ever been to New Haven? Cambridge? An Ivy League school does not an idyll make.

            Also, guess who doesn’t think the suit is frivolous? The judge. I note the university has lost every motion so far in this case. Not looking good for you guys. Ha ha ha.

          2. No one is denying that living in a University town adds value to our homes. The problem is that the Council is supposed to support it’s constituents, the very people that elected them. And they are not doing that. The question is why? It is a fair question.

          3. No one is denying that living in a University town adds value to our homes. The problem is that the Council is supposed to support it’s constituents, the very people that elected them. And they are not doing that. The question is why? It is a fair question.

          4. You clearly don’t realize that colonists died on the soil in Princeton NJ fighting for the fair taxation…nothing “frivolous” about that. The people questioning inappropriate tax favors today belong here. It’s very sad though that they even have to fight this fight.

          5. See article from today re Morristown Hospital. Bwa-ha-ha. Warm up the checkbook, Durkee.

  2. I think it’s technically the ‘city’ that is backing Princeton University, not the ‘town’…”Best Small City” in the USA, according to some online poll or other.

  3. People really never mention a couple of problems when they talk about PILOTs so I thought I would bring it up:

    (1) The PILOT payments are only for town taxes, and don’t include the other half (or more) of the property taxes residents and businesses pay — to the school district and the county. Why isn’t the town bringing in (at the very least) the school district when they hold these negotiations? They really should. After all, PU promotes the great free public schools when they recruit professors.

    (2) PU is getting more than a pass on the rest of the typical property tax bill — the PILOTs also include agreements to drop non-educational buildings (the Nassau Street bookstore, for example) from the tax rolls after a set amount of time. That just ends up shifting the tax burden to the rest of the property owners.

    I’m not involved in these lawsuits in any way, but I really feel like the town could be working a bit harder on getting more than they’ve gotten in the past. Town officials could make a very good case that these properties are largely non-educational and, as such, should always pay their full share of property taxes. This is especially important because I’m pretty sure PU isn’t finished expanding and buying more property in Princeton.

  4. With a University employee on Town Council and the wife of a University professor as Mayor what do you expect? This past Election Day, Princeton was offered an alternative…they declined 3-1. Sorry, but what do you expect from a one party Town Council that has complete rule over this town. The lack of transparency was vetted to the public….the residents spoke… Same old story.

    1. I would have liked to vote for you, but you weren’t willing to participate in the candidates’ debate.

      1. Then please don’t complain if you dislike the current Council’s decisions. That ship has sailed. I didn’t participate for personal reasons. I will not be addressing this question again.

        1. One doesn’t lose one’s right to speak when one votes for a candidate. No two people agree on all issues and when there are differences, one should advocate for one’s position.

          I’m confused about the LWV forum. You write that you didn’t participate for personal reasons, but at the time, you and your running mate wrote the following:

          “It is our view, gained from our past experience and that of previous candidates, is that the stylized, controlled format of a forum does not permit the necessary give and take required to educate either
          the voters or the candidates.”

          That sounds like an unwillingness to participate in public forums.

  5. This report validates word that town officials are complicit in giving lower tax rates & inappropriate leeway on tax matters to the University. Most know the University received preferential treatment during reassessment & PILOT, so it comes as no surprise that the Municipality is a defendant. The Judge is doing the right & reasonable thing, by attempting to discover the truth. So are the citizens who shouldn’t have had to start legal action to be heard. I do not know the Judge or these brave citizens but thank them for their work. Given the enormity of this matter & the fact that Council is a defendant, all discussions about the suit & all legal advice should now be heard in open sessions. Those on Council who derive household income from the University directly, by relation, or investment, need to excuse themselves from ALL discussions & approvals, regarding this matter. Left unchecked, their biased input would just continue to give more leeway to the tanker known as “Princeton University”. This might fail to produce a quorum from those in office now, but It is high time this entire matter be heard fully by all & addressed by those with no conflict of interest.

  6. I do not think that the town should side with the university because ” the town” is the town officials, who are elected by Princeton inhabitants; so, if they side is like going against the people who elected them. It would be more logical to refrain themselves and wait for the judge’s verdict.

  7. I am a life long Democrat, but I wonder how/if the dynamic on this particular issue would have played out differently if we had non-partisan municipal elections in town. Because Princeton as a town trends heavily Democratic in upper ticket elections, Democratic nominees for municipal office nearly always win all municipal office seats and the real “selection” process happens within the PCDO (which requires voting in person at their meetings by those who have paid membership dues in time to vote). If elections were non-partisan, there might be a little more robust campaigning for municipal seats and/or thought & research conducted by the electorate (because there wouldn’t be just a pull down the big D line). If municipal reps had to really fight it out for votes among the general Princeton electorate and not just rely on big D coat-tails, maybe we’d see a little more interest in constituent concerns.

    1. Agreed – I would work with you to push for “non-partisan municipal elections in town”. The system here is worse than Jim Crow or voter ID because if you don’t have access to vote in the PCDO meeting, you effectively have no representation in this town.

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