PRINCETON — The savings that encouraged the former borough and township of Princeton to merge into a single town started to appear last night as the town introduced a $61 million budget and announced a tax rate decrease of just under 1 percent.
The budget is the united town’s first and roughly $3 million less than what the 2012 combined budgets were for the former township and borough.
Taxpayers will also see a slight decrease in their municipal tax rate. Whereas both towns paid roughly 47 cents per $100 of assessed property value last year, the new rate will be 46.3 cents, thanks to the merger.
“We’re paying less money in 2013 ... than we were in 2009,” town administrator Bob Bruschi said. “We’re in a pretty strong financial position.”
The consolidation of the former borough and township was pitched to Princeton taxpayers as a way to save money, thin staff and maximize services.
The conjoined municipality has saved $1.3 million on salaries and wages, almost $500,000 by consolidating its police force, $255,926 by thinning out administration and $56,012 by only having one council.
The total staff size of the consolidated Princeton is 261. Prior to consolidation the borough and township had a total of 287 full- and part-time employees.
“I can confidently say that the staffing we have now goes right along with the recommendations from the Transition Task Force and the two governing bodies,” Kathy Monzo, assistant administrator and director of finance, said.
Budget data also showed that the town’s expenses dropped by about $1.9 million, from $46.4 to $44.4 million — with the biggest savings in insurance benefits and police.
There were some big expenses though, with the town having to pay $866,100 more than pre-consolidation for the extended trash pickup for former township residents.
The public hearing for the budget is scheduled for May 28.
The council also heard an update about Princeton University’s $330 million arts and transit project, which would move the Dinky rail station and install new buildings and amenities along University Place and Alexander Street, just south of McCarter Theatre.
The project will also bring a new Wawa convenience store and a new Dinky train station.
University vice president Bob Durkee said last night the first part of the project would be finished on time next summer and that commuting problems caused by construction would be kept to a minimum. The full project is expected to be completed by 2017.
“The first part will be the most disruptive and the sooner we can get through it, the better,” he said. “It’s likely to get modified as we go forward, but we’ve tried to anticipate as well as we can the steps necessary to minimize disruption to move the project along as quickly as we can.”
The project is still being scheduled, but construction is under way, with demolition of houses and other properties along Alexander Road.
Durkee also said that the next stages would see part of Alexander Street closed for part of the summer for utilities relocation. Traffic would be diverted along a temporary road.
Council also heard Monday night that the temporary Dinky train platform open during the construction project would be 750 feet away from the planned location for the new station. To assist commuters, Durkee said, the university would offer a short-loop express bus to the new station.
The new Dinky station will be 460 feet away from the current location when the project is done.
In other business, council voted to put a $50,000 cap on expenses related to the AvalonBay litigation. The town is currently embroiled in a legal wrangle with national developer AvalonBay, whose proposal to turn the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street into a 280-unit apartment complex was knocked back by the Princeton planning board. The developer has since appealed and sued the town.
The council also spent the last part of the night behind a closed door executive session to discuss the AvalonBay litigation, and Princeton Police chief David Dudeck, who faces allegations of misconduct. Dudeck has not been at work for almost a month.