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Princeton Borough Council 2009

NOVEMBER 2009 PRINCETON BOROUGH
COUNCIL CANDIDATES QUESTIONNAIRE RESPONSES

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Polls are open in Princeton from 6 AM to 8 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for Princeton Borough Council to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area, in cooperation with The Princeton Packet. The candidates were given an equal amount of space for their answers.

Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)

Jenny Crumiller - Democrat, Homemaker

Linda Sipprelle – Republican, International Affairs Consultant

Kevin Wilkes (incumbent) - Democrat, Architect

The state is offering real incentives to municipalities to consolidate, including funds for studies and the offer to equalize taxes if necessary. Do you view these as sufficient incentives? What else can be done to facilitate the consolidation of the Borough and Township?

Ms. Crumiller:
The state funding for a cost-benefit analysis and a guarantee against a possible tax increase caused by initial costs of implementing consolidation are compelling incentives to revisit the issue with no downside even for those inclined to oppose consolidation.

Our Township colleague, Committeeman Chad Goerner, has completed the paperwork to apply for these incentives on behalf of the two governing bodies, both of which are on the agenda for approval at a joint meeting on October 26.
If the analysis confirms that we would save money and improve services and planning with consolidation, I’ll use my time and energy to work on a consolidation plan with a structure and safeguards that preserve the character and vitality of our downtown, which is what I suspect concerns Borough residents who resist consolidation at any price. I say this with the important caveat that the ultimate decision will be up to the voters.

Ms. Sipprelle:
State incentives for municipalities to consolidate are commendable, attractive and sufficient. These incentives include the possibility of retention of some neighborhood autonomy, local ordinances and regional planning capability. Some tax credits for property owners disadvantaged by consolidation would be available. Realistically, current financial inducements could disappear rapidly, given the State’s financial condition. Whether the Princetons should consolidate, however, should be based on the facts on the ground. Will consolidation benefit the Borough tax payers? Will property taxes be lower? As a Council member, I would not prejudge the issue, make assumptions or otherwise jump to conclusions.

What I would do is call for the authorization of a Borough consolidation study commission made up of local residents and officials with equal authority who would study the issues involved and, if warranted, present a consolidation plan to voters.

Even getting to the point where we have a plan to consider and vote on will be a protracted process. In the meantime, I would work to get Borough Council to seriously pursue with the Township an effort to consolidate additional municipal services. Prime candidates for consolidation are the Borough police and public works departments whose redundancy is obvious and expensive.

Mr. Wilkes:
Yes, I believe these incentives will help; however I am not certain that they are sufficient. In addition, the State should also put up funding to be used for “buy outs” – by this I mean to allow for the fairly negotiated early retirement of certain senior employees whose jobs will be duplicated (and therefore one of the two existing rendered unnecessary) in the larger combined municipality. For example senior police officers, public works managers and senior administration personnel could be more easily retired if one time cash incentives existed for their additional motivation. Unfortunately, these types of payments would make the “initial cost” of consolidation go up – but the benefits would accrue in subsequent years when these salaries are no longer an expense item in the budget of the larger, greater Princeton.

The Democratic elected representatives from both the Township and the Borough have taken great strides in 2009 toward improved comity and planning for a better Princeton. We have a long way to go; it will be hard work to envision an improved community. I will make it my goal on Council to listen to my constituents and take their ideas and aspirations and turn them into achievable successes.

Do you agree with some claims that the University is not paying its full share of the costs in the municipalities in which it owns property? How would you address this issue?

Ms. Crumiller:
Any tax exempt property by definition does not pay its full share of the costs unless it pays an equivalent amount as if it were taxed. Looking at it this way, the present contribution by the University does seem small. However, unless the law is changed, the Borough has little bargaining power in negotiations with the University on a contribution amount.

Once elected, I look forward to discussing the reasoning and process behind the current contract and planning for future negotiations. Both parties effectively renewed the contract in 2008, extending the current agreement to 2011.

I’ve heard the recent outcry in the community for a larger contribution and will enter into the next negotiations accordingly. That’s the best I believe we can do at this point.

Ms. Sipprelle:
I very much appreciate the opportunity afforded by Princeton University to attend lectures, artistic, musical and athletic events. The University does give back to the community. Nevertheless, the University’s enormous property tax exemption disadvantages owners of tax-paying property who bear a hugely disproportionate share of the cost of municipal services.

The University can not be blamed for all the Borough’s financial woes, however. Borough officials have for years failed to exercise appropriate fiscal discipline. This has led the University to note that it can not be expected to bail the Borough out of problems of its own creation. University officials have, however, repeatedly stated their willingness to discuss the question of increased payment in lieu of taxes with local officials, but the Borough has failed to engage the University seriously on this issue.

As a Council member, I would propose the University set aside initially a yearly, “head tax” of $300 per student for transfer to the Borough. With approximately 7500 students, the amount would be about $2,250,000. These funds would partially offset costs incurred by the Borough for road and sewer maintenance, emergency medical care, and police and fire protection resulting from the University’s student population and visitors.

Mr. Wilkes:
Yes, I do. They are legally within their right not to pay their property taxes, but I believe their position not pay them is built on faulty moral terrain. The relief from paying taxes by non-profit institutions is a concept grounded in a time of limited governmental services and a common belief that the societal good that non-profits perform outweighs certain government needs. This is certainly a defensible concept, but not reflective of the current situation in Princeton.

Princeton University has grown into an enormous corporate enterprise, valued at 12 plus billion dollars, able to buy and sell any property it wants in our town. They have gone on a fifty year growth binge and they continue to plan to add an additional 1.5 million square feet of buildings in the next ten years. Our request is simple; please dear Tigers, pay your property taxes, just like the rest of us do, because we are all in the same boat together. Why should only half of the properties in the Borough have to shoulder 90% of the costs of running the Borough? It is not fair because it makes our town less affordable and diverse for existing and future residents.

Princeton University is proposing an “arts district” which will change the routing of some Borough streets and move the “dinky” station, among other things. What is your opinion of these moves and how would you work with the University to insure that the interests of Borough residents are protected?

Ms. Crumiller:
While I can understand and sympathize with the University’s motive and interest in creating an arts district, moving the dinky station farther from the center of town -- as the current plans call for – is too big a sacrifice to the Borough. Much as a hundred and fifty yard move sounds relatively small for one individual walking to catch the train, that’s not what we’re talking about. Multiplied by the number of “person miles” the distance is great, especially since it’s in the wrong direction, away from town. For this reason, distances like this can have significant impact on real estate values, reflecting significant impact.

It’s probably most constructive to be up front with my likely refusal to approve rezoning under the current proposal so the University can plan accordingly. I would be open to rezoning for a different building configuration because the plan, apart from the dinky move, looks like a beautiful addition to our community.

Ms. Sipprelle:
The University grows and prospers. This is a good thing, but can not be permitted to take place at the cost of infringing on Borough residents’ “quiet enjoyment” of their own community.

The Princeton University “arts district” needs clarification and coordination in order to protect the interests of Borough residents. In October 2008 a representative of a transportation and infrastructure firm, hired by the University, spoke publicly about the arts district proposal. The presentation was incomplete and lacking in important details. The representative did point out that an extreme increase in traffic delays would likely occur at the Alexander-Mercer intersection and the Bayard-Stockton-Mercer-University Place intersections. Such a development would impact traffic throughout the Borough center. A diversion of traffic through neighborhood streets could well result from the move of the Dinky station.

As a Council member, I would work with the appropriate municipal committees to evaluate the proposed changes and meet often with the University to exchange views. How has the financial crisis which reputedly wiped out a significant portion of the University’s endowment impacted its arts district proposal? We should know much more from the University before the Borough commits to the plan.

Mr. Wilkes:
I applaud the University for their proposed “arts district” – it keys into the continued successes that McCarter Theater has brought to our region. As for the “transit” portion of their suggested neighborhood, I am less encouraged about its potential for success. I feel their plan proposes exchanging our present walkable dinky experience for a more suburban type train station with an overly complicated driving pattern that will not improve traffic congestion on Alexander Road. Outdated NJ Transit regulations force the dinky experience to be only a two stop shuttle service with two large parking lots at either end – the University is bound by their contract to sustain this failed model.

What we need is an improved mass transit system, closer to downtown (or uptown!) rather than farther away. We need reliability, additional stops, satellite parking lots for driving commuters from the north and west, vehicular fuel efficiency and fresh thinking about how we advance mass transit throughout the larger Princeton community. This would allow us to decouple Arts from Transit and give each a little air of their own to breathe. I will continue to propose specific plans to help advance the discussion of this critical issue for our community.

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