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.