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Princeton Borough Council 2011

PRINCETON COUNCIL CANDIDATES QUESTIONNAIRE RESPONSES

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Polls are open 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 allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for the total.

Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)

Heather Howard – Democrat, Director, State Health Reform Assistance Network, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Website: www.princetondems.org/heatherhoward

Peter Marks – Republican, Commercial Real Estate: Acquisitions, Development, Restructurings, and Consulting; Self-Employed

Dudley Sipprelle – Republican, Former senior diplomat and crisis manager, U.S. Department of State. Contact: betterboro@yahoo.com

Barbara Trelstad (incumbent) - Democrat, Member, Common Council of the Borough of Princeton

What are the key issues that you think are most important to resolve in achieving an agreement with the University about the Arts, Education and Transit district?

Ms. Howard: Clearly, the Borough’s relationship with the University is not what it should be.  Although there has been a rough stretch recently, we have a strong history, and a good relationship is in both our interests.  The community benefits from having a vibrant University, and the University benefits from a thriving community surrounding it. It’s important to be a strong advocate for the residents when dealing with the University – to stand up to them when necessary.  Respect and courtesy are critical, but sometimes we will disagree.  Most importantly, good neighbors should always be talking.

Mr. Marks: Improve the existing Dinky service, i.e.: maintain its current alignment, reopen both existing stations; buy its right-of-way; create new, reasonably priced, municipal owned, structured parking adjacent to the stations; and replace NJT with a competent operator.

Veto proposed bottlenecks on Alexander.

Greatly reduce existing zoning on both sides of Alexander.

Maintain our long tradition of tree-lined green spaces (not ten story buildings) as the “gateway” to Princeton.

Mr. Sipprelle: A “memorandum of understanding” was recently concluded with Princeton University which should prove beneficial to all parties involved.  The community gets an enhanced cultural venue which will attract more visitors, business and tax revenues.  The University has made several significant commitments, including an upgrade of the “Dinky” and major funding for a wide-ranging study of the transportation needs of the community.  This is significant because traffic congestion is a major Princeton problem.  Of immediate benefit, the University will install lighted crosswalks across the perilous black tunnel which is now downtown Nassau Street after dark. 

Ms. Trelstad: A great deal has been accomplished in the last week in that Borough Council voted to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with the Township and Princeton University.  This will allow some much needed traffic and transportation studies to begin upon signing. The Planning Board voted on Thursday evening to approve the zoning ordinances for the E-5 and AET zones which means they move back to the respective governing bodies.  The governing bodies should, and I believe will, get these ordinances on the agenda quickly so that they can be reworked to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

Are you in favor of consolidation as it will be described on the ballot?  Why or why not?

Ms. Howard: I support consolidation because I think we are one community, and it does not make sense to have an artificial boundary separating us and draining our resources.  I applaud the work of the Consolidation Commission, which had a very thoughtful, inclusive process.  Testimony before the commission convinced me that our current system is dysfunctional and results in a ratable race – where no one wins – and that the significant legal fees between the two municipalities result in great inefficiencies.  Consolidation will result in financial savings of $3.2 million, but just as important, it will result in more effective and efficient government for the people of Princeton.  Consolidation will provide a real opportunity to rethink and restructure our government to preserve services and the Princeton we know.

Mr. Marks:  No.  It makes me exceedingly nervous.  Some observe that the Borough did not exist as an independent municipality until 1894.  They ask whether we would ever consider creating such a municipality today, had it not previously existed.  The unspoken answer is “obviously not”.

But that question, and the answer it elicits, are much too facile.  There is a much better question: might not the composition of our present downtown neighborhoods be a direct result of that nineteenth century accident?  There are, after all, not many communities with such well defined downtowns – and vanishingly few in which established, prosperous, predominately single family neighborhoods flourish literally steps from retail corridors.

I certainly understand the desire to relieve our community of a tax burden that for many has becoming crushingly large.

I worry, however, that the unintended consequences of consolidation – more structured parking (to accommodate those who, like many Township residents, cannot walk to our downtown), higher densities and taller buildings (our downtown is effectively built out and so can only be built up) – will have the opposite effect, driving up downtown land values, accelerating the shift of tax burdens to downtown residential neighborhoods, forcing out many long time residents, and ultimately destroying what still is the largely single family character of the current Borough.

I would be more comfortable were proponents of consolidation to exhibit some awareness of the risks I see.  The rush to appease the University on the Dinky is a brightly flashing warning light.

Mr. Sipprelle: A consolidated Princeton could have been a model for good governance.  But, the municipalities opted for the antiquated and inefficient “borough” form of government.  Other forms are available which allow for council members to be chosen by neighborhoods (wards) or a combination of at-large and ward council members.  There could be a larger council and a mayor who is actually the chief executive of the municipality and directly accountable to the voters.   Local elections could be non-partisan and voters could propose local ordinances (initiative) and, if rejected by the council, be submitted to the voters (referendum.)  Fewer than 18% of New Jerseyans live under the borough form of government and the average population of those municipalities is 7000.  The borough form of government is not adequate for a consolidated community of nearly 30,000 inhabitants and almost 20 square miles.  It diminishes the voice of the individual in government decision-making.  Consolidation as proposed is more about political control than economics and I cannot endorse it.                     

Ms. Trelstad: Yes, absolutely.  It is the right time to consolidate.  Both municipalities have worked hard in the past couple of years to keep their budgets at 0% increase.  I believe that there will be significant financial savings to the tax payers with consolidation.  More importantly, we will be able to function more efficiently as one community with one governing body.  Things will move more quickly through the governing process and our citizens will experience greater efficiencies in the services they receive.  Princeton should be a leader in the state in this regard.  The time to consolidate is now.

Whether or not we consolidate, there will still be a time period when elected officials work on the business of Borough government. What would be your major concern for the Borough in the coming year? 

Ms. Howard: Whether or not the consolidation initiative passes, the Borough Council will need to focus on making government more efficient, and finding savings to provide property tax relief. I’m running for Borough Council because I believe that Princeton is at a critical juncture.  As Commissioner of Health and Senior Services for New Jersey, I managed a staff of 1,700 and a budget of $3.5 billion. I can use my government experience to help create a more efficient and effective Borough government.  If consolidation passes, I will work to ensure a smooth and fair transition for the Borough.

Mr. Marks: Achieving zoning protections for existing Borough neighborhoods if consolidation passes.

Otherwise, reducing Borough costs, avoiding tax increases, matching our service package to existing revenues, and reining in the University.

Mr. Sipprelle: The Borough faces a financial crisis.  The budget is balanced only by spending reserve funds.  Municipal staffing levels, salaries and benefits are generous by any standard.  Borough taxpayers pay a higher percentage of their income in property taxes than any other Mercer County municipality.   Local officials lack the political will to make necessary budgetary cuts.  Is it any wonder they are consolidation cheerleaders?   Make the problem someone else’s, as if procrastination is not costly.  Action, not posturing, is needed--now.

Ms. Trelstad: I think the biggest challenge in the coming year will be to assure our citizens that their government is stable and functioning in a normal fashion.  We will have a lot of business to conduct with the many new development projects that the University is proposing and with the move of the hospital to its new location.  We will have the routine business of budgets, road work, garbage collection and storms etc.  We must ensure that the Borough functions with the same efficiency that it always has.  In addition to keeping our noses to the grindstone we will have to work with the Consolidation committee to ensure that the transition from two governments to one is a smooth as it can be.  There is much to do in the year that lies ahead and I look forward to the challenge.

MISSION STATEMENT: The League of Women Voters®, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The Princeton Area League seeks new members (men and women) from the Princetons, West Windsor, Plainsboro, Montgomery, and South Brunswick.  To become a member or learn more, click here.