Letters: Taxes, Taxes, and Taxes

I’m surprised by all the commotion over the municipal budget this year. Sure, I don’t like a tax increase any more than anyone else. However, I have to give our Town Councilors and staff a lot of credit for keeping 2016 expenses to a 1.2% increase. Meanwhile school taxes will be up 2.8% for the 2016-17 school year, according to the district website.

My 2015 tax bill indicates that municipal taxes including library and sewer charges were only 22.2% of the total. School taxes were 47.4%, and Mercer County 28.3%. Open space accounted for the other 2.0%.

Looking back at older bills, I see that the municipal tax rate for 2015, including the library, was up just 0.2% from 2010/2011, the first tax year after property revaluations**. The school tax rate was up 11.2%, and the County was up 11.8%. I live in the former Borough so these percent changes may not be the same as for former Township residents – who since consolidation have received free garbage pickup that they did not have before.

Both jurisdictions held municipal tax rates flat for the last few years before consolidation. In 2013 and 2014, consolidation resulted in lower municipal taxes versus 2012.

The point is – since at least 2010, apples to apples, municipal taxes have increased much less than school and County taxes.

As in Lake Woebegone, our “children are all above average.” We love them and want them to get a great education. But let’s focus on the drivers that have the most impact on our tax bills – school and County budgets.

Rather than a process which uses percentage increases from last year, I would like to see a “zero based budget” similar to that used by the most successful corporations and non-profits. What services are truly necessary? Which positions result from this analysis, and which positions may no longer be necessary? Are we purchasing goods and services as efficiently as possible? When was the last time large budget items like insurance, maintenance, technology, supplies and major outsourced services were put out for bid?

Let’s give credit to our Town administration and Council who have done the best job keeping our taxes in check.

John Heilner

Editor’s Note: The municipal tax rate for Princeton in 2013, the first year of consolidation, was about 46.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The municipal tax rate for 2016 is about 48 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase of about 3.7 percent.  



  1. No the town has been holding off on buying or improving things to show savings right after consolidation. What will happen is all off a sudden things will start breaking because maintenance was not done or they held off buying things that were on a timed replacement schedule. They are hiding the real numbers and kicking the can down the road.

    1. I will gladly give anyone a tour of our downtown area and point out the specifics of the “cans kicked down the road”.

      1. OK, I’d like to take the tour. Because I think our council, mayor and department heads do a great job. So your bluff is called. Email me at prntnNJ@aol.com.

        1. Oddly, this was the reply to the email invitation that I sent to you earlier:

          IMPORTANT: This email address is not monitored and not forwarded. Please call me at the office or my mobile if you would like my new email address. DELETE this email address NOW from your address book. This is the ONLY autoreply you will receive.

  2. If town and school populations increase do you believe we should have zero increases in the budgets? The school budget increase was partially due to a waiver taken because of an increase in the number of students in the District over the last several years.

    Large increases in the number of housing units in town will bring in new tax revenues, but perhaps not enough to cover the costs of services for new residents.

    Municipal services and education do not have the economies of scale of corporations which rely on mass production of goods and services.
    From what I have seen, both the municipality and the schools are frugally run. Pensions and health benefits account for much of the budget pressure.

    1. The population of West Windsor has grown by 27% since 2001 and yet they pay lower taxes than us. If you want to find out what the problem is, ask why the Princeton school board spends 50% more per student compared to West Windsor.

      1. Why does the Princeton school board spend 50% more per student compared to West Windsor? There, I asked. I look forward to the answer.

        1. If the voters want officials who won’t raise taxes, they should elect those candidates. Those candidates also have to be willing to run.

      2. Princeton supports a “regional” shopping area downtown. I am not sure the commercial taxes pay for the police and municipal services required for the downtown — it is possible that residential taxes are subsidizing the downtown. The Princeton municipal budget also supports a word-class university and its events. These may be reasons why our municipal budgets are larger than West Windsor’s.

        We also have a much more diverse student body than West Windsor — I believe 12% of our student population is on free or reduced lunches. We provide academic and English as a second language programs to support this population. We also support special education programs — people move to Princeton for these.

    2. There you go again opposed to more housing and the affordable units that we desperately need that come with it. And your fake facts about lack of economies of scale. Of course there are. Tiring to track you and your merry band.

      1. Princeton has a long tradition of adding small number of units of 100% affordable housing placed throughout the town to increase its affordable housing stock — we have a set of townhouses at the bottom of our street that fits in beautifully with the neighborhood. I see no reason why we cannot continue to grow our affordable housing stock with small developments of 100% affordable housing integrated throughout the town.

        I believe the short-term cost of financing the creation of 100% affordable housing (money which could be raised by a non-profit) will be less for the taxpayer than supporting the 80% market rate homes that go along with the 20-80% affordable/market rate split. Large-scale luxury apartment complexes (the 80% market) are expensive to the renter and profitable for the developer/owner, but likely cost the town in perpetuity as tax revenues may not cover the costs of services for residents.

        Money was raised to build a new 5-star luxury hospital. Will those who fundraise for the hospital also fundraise for affordable housing in town?

  3. Seems like every truck and car is new in the Princeton Government public works…no cost? With the new housing going up how come there is no increase in city property tax revenue?

    1. They need to look at the take home cars also. You would be surprised at the departments that have take home cars.Very few people need them and it is a very big waste of money. This was brought up before but the top people want to keep their perks so it is kept quiet.

  4. Of course you support the work of the Mayor & Council who appointed you to a Commission, John. They have given you a greater sphere of influence. Yours is a wonderful & welcome voice on many issues. But, on the issue of taxes, I have to differ with you for the following reasons:
    – Princeton taxpayers received a signed letter from the Governor, promising that consolidation would reduce taxes significantly – our tax rate did not go down.
    – PU stepped in & gifted this administration significant additional millions each year for 7 years – our tax rate did not go down.
    – New mini-mansions, a luxury complex in the heart of town, & other significant projects have added & are adding large tax revenues to the property tax base regularly – our tax rate is not going down.
    – Taxpayers here are burdened with higher pension obligations and higher school district costs per student than neighboring municipalities – forcing our tax rate unnaturally up.
    – Odd, unexpected cost overruns in basic services, such as trash, have occurred – hence an unexpected increase on something easily calculated.
    – Former Township taxpayers have effectively lost the only benefit given for consolidation, trash collection, through tax increases – & it seems have taken on new, costly problem. All promises of consolidation for them has been completely broken.
    – Approval to expand government spending & hiring occurs while consolidation is not yet complete.
    There is more, but painting it this with broad brushstrokes is all that’s needed when many here are feeling hopeless about our taxes in the future, are hurt by the disappearance of the promised tax reductions & more. I like your idea of focusing on school taxes, since they’re a major drain & disappointment. Please understand that most people in our young, small, town need to budget expenses & have dreams of their own that are not “municipal”. Most have no desire to make Princeton an urban hub for the suburbs. Several hundred or a thousand more per year times their lifetime is a lot of money from their wallets, apparently going to mismanagement. Thank you.

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