When Chad Goerner was first elected to the Princeton Township Committee in 2006, his priority was to finally merge the township with Princeton Borough — a cost-cutting move more than 50 years in the making.
In 2011, voters approved a combined Princeton. That, plus a year planning the complicated shrinkage from two municipalities to one, was the heavy lifting. And Goerner, now the township’s mayor, is walking away in victory. Imagine that: a politician who makes a promise, finishes the job and goes home before the applause. Goerner didn’t run for mayor of the combined Princeton. His last day is Dec. 31. Princeton is a small win in the fight to shrink New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. It’s the most obvious solution: cutting government costs by cutting government itself. It’s also the most difficult: For all the complaining about taxes, New Jersey likes its towns as they are, despite the expense. Look at the Princetons again, where the first official proposal to merge was made in 1952. The barriers to complete mergers are considerable. Neighboring towns don’t necessarily have similar tax rates or, for instance, police contracts. When towns merge, taxes for some homeowners will go down, but others may go up. And employee contracts will merge at the highest pay grades, not the lowest. Sharing is the more likely path to savings. State leaders, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), are pushing this. Sweeney has a promising plan, which threatens to cut state aid from towns that refuse to share services. The bill has promise, as long as lawmakers find a way to stay within civil service rules. Consolidation isn’t the answer to all of New Jersey’s tax woes. The key, Goerner says, is trying: “It’s not a silver-bullet solution,” he says. “We need elected officials who are going to think outside the box, and not just about their own provincial dominion.”