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Princeton Council Tables Vote on 2016 Budget

The governing body for Princeton couldn’t come to an agreement Monday night on where to make cuts to the proposed 2016 budget.

About $150,000 must be cut in order to avoid raising the proposed tax increase further.

A large chunk of the budget, $10.1 million, is for debt service. The amount the town owes this year for borrowing money increased 2.5 percent over last year.

The proposed $62 million municipal spending plan includes a tax levy of $33.2 million, a $1.2 million increase over 2015.

The proposed tax rate for 2016 is about 48 cents per $100 of assessed property value. A homeowner with a property assessed at the 2016 town average of $810,000 would pay about $3,900 in municipal property taxes for 2016. Those figures already factor in the $150,000 in budget cuts that still must be made.

But council members have rejected every proposal so far for areas to cut, including a small cut to the library’s proposed budget increase and cutting the budget for Access Princeton. Some council members don’t want to do something that might be unpopular with some people, and some would rather put the burden on individual departments to decide where to make cuts.

“Really, we need to put on the big boy pants and make some tough decisions,” Councilwoman Jo Butler said.

The library is receiving a larger percentage increase than other departments in the municipality. The town will fund a budget increase of $63,000. Councilman Patrick Simon proposed that the library be given the same budget percentage increase as other departments, 1.2 percent, which would be $47,000.

Council member Bernie Miller recused himself from the discussion and vote because his wife is a member of the library’s board of trustees, and council member Heather Howard recused herself because she is on the board of the Friends of the Princeton Public Library.

Council President Lance Liverman voted against cutting any money from the library’s increase. “It’s strange and ludicrous to cut anyone’s budget without looking at ramifications,” Liverman said.

Simon, Butler, and Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller voted for giving the library the same 1.2 percent increase as other municipal departments. The vote failed, however, because according to the town lawyer it would have required a majority of the full council to pass.

Unlike in previous years, the library did not make a presentation about its proposed budget this year. Mayor Liz Lempert said the council was provided with the library budget information, but council members countered that they have not seen the proposed library budget at all.

Validating parking for library patrons costs the town about $100,000 a year. Crumiller said that is possibly another area to look at cutting. Liverman said it wouldn’t be fair to former township residents.  “So many township residents were promised parking,” Liverman said. “That was one of main issues with keeping the library downtown.”

Crumiller said the agreement wasn’t in perpetuity, and times have changed. “It sounds like it was blackmail back then to get them to approve the library,” she said.

Simon also proposed that all of the municipality’s departments cut their budgets by one percent, arguing it might be the fairest thing to do. Liverman said he would be more comfortable having each department make their own cuts rather than having the council make any decisions.

Town Administrator Marc Dashield said making cuts across the board is one of the worst ways to manage a budget. “Those dollars translate into how we provide services,” Dashield said. “Are there services we no longer want to provide or provide in a different way?”

Simon said the council needs to make the cuts before the budget is passed instead of after “so we don’t let ourselves off the hook.”

Butler suggested that the council set the target a little higher than $150,000 in cuts.

The budget hearing will be carried over until  the 7 p.m. council meeting on May 9.

Only a few residents spoke about the budget during public comment.

Kip Cherry said she is concerned about any increase in taxes. “There is a lot of squeezing going on,” she said. “I’d caution you not to go beyond the budget for any reason.”

Anne Neumann said she the town should offer efficient and effective services, and said she appreciated a call for a hiring freeze. She also said a study should be done to look at staffing int he police department. She called on the town to take a more aggressive stance regarding property tax exemptions for Princeton University, and said she fears Princeton will become less and less diverse as taxes soar.

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.

  • FreshAir

    Two Council members had a conflict of interest & the Mayor didn’t vote, which stalled action on the library budget matter… that’s how it goes down here, They vote to spend money on their friends or hold things up till they get their way for their own protected cohorts. Every taxpayer should question the practice of giving across the board annual increases anyway, given the cost savings most smart enterprises continually seek from technology & innovation in a changing world, Some years, some budgets would actually be reduced, if we had a Council that valued efficiency & utilizing available systems. We have a lazy budget process here & the proof is in the fact that the bits of consolidation completed & lower gas prices have resulted in no reduction in our tax rate.

  • PrincetonResident

    Is the 48 tax rate just for Princeton municipality or for the municipality plus the library. Last year’s municipal rate (including library and not open space) was .4687, which would give a 2.4% increase over last year. More than 2%.

  • PrincetonResident

    A tax levy increase of $1.2 million from last year’s $33 million is almost 4%. Isn’t there a tax cap of 2% for increases?

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    I agree, and again, it is a relatively new building, j don’t see why it needs renovation. To keep the 1.2 percent same as last year should be ok by every single council member and mayor.

  • FreshAir

    We have a very lush downtown library, plus we maintain school libraries, & PTS graciously allows residents to visit their beautiful new library. We really have so much more than other towns already, & many in our town have access to institutional libraries as well.

  • FreshAir

    What’s hard to believe, as you observed, is that they can’t even cut $150,000 out of 62 million, and now we all have to worry about our taxes going up again. Council just can’t stop trying to make history & impress their friends, even with the additional 1.2 million they just charged us all.

  • Rev. Johnson McGillicuddy

    You know what’s extremely likely to make them very “unpopular with some people?” Raising taxes in lieu of making trivial cuts to this bloated budget. Ridiculous.

  • Show Up!

    Does this mean that the mayor and council members will take a pay cut as well?

  • FreshAir

    And am I reading this sentence right?: “Some Council members don’t want to do something that might be unpopular with some people”?? Feeding Council’s need to be popular is just too expensive. Wanting more taxpayer money again, before fully consolidating our towns, is a completely sickening & unpopular move. An honest assessment of Princeton’s total population, influencing factors, & the extensive offerings already available to that population (compared to other towns) would be super popular. Working within the lush budget already provided, by using the available technology, facilities, state services, & existing staff that we’re already supporting really well, would be super popular.

  • Salesmancar

    Didn’t President Obama tell us how great the economy is doing. Everyone is getting big raises and getting hired easily according to the Democratic party. Spread the wealth to your employees since the country is doing so well.
    Enjoy the wonderful financial gains we have experienced over the last eight years I have never seen so many people enjoying their new found wealth – right ?

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Pardon my ignorance; however, i don’t see anything wrong in keeping the same percentage

  • Rev. Johnson McGillicuddy

    Am I reading this right? These people can’t cut $150,000 out of a $62 million budget? That’s one quarter of one percent. You’ve got to be kidding me.

  • SFB

    There is a lot of posturing going on here. For example, Kip might be arguing against a budget increase now, but she is a champion of the town spending money on open space. One reason why the budget is high is because we have to pay back the money that was taken out to buy this land. The town spent $100,000 rehabilitating the D’Ambrisi tract off Route 206, at Kip’s request. Also, Jo is playing the budget hawk now, but when she had a chance to make a tough decision about buying some deer tick-infested woods off Mt Lucas Rd, she instead voted *for* it. (Bernie Miller was the only one to vote against.)

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