Mayor Liz Lempert said in her state of the town address Monday that the merger of two Princetons had shrunk the size of government, improved services and lightened the tax load on residents.
In a 20-minute speech, she said that as the town begins the third year of consolidation, Princeton is seen as a leader around New Jersey. She said she looked forward to working with others to make Princeton “a shining example of good government serving an exceptional community.”
“The bringing together of the former borough and township has helped put Princeton on the map as a model municipality,” she said in the Witherspoon Hall municipal building during the council reorganization meeting.
“Our reconstitution as a single government continues to pay dividends,” she continued, “and has helped us to reshape ourselves as a more affordable, diverse and sustainable community.”
Listing some of the ways consolidation has succeeded, she said the municipal workforce shrunk to 208 employees, down from 235 in 2011. She said the municipal tax rate is lower than what it was five years ago. She contrasted that with other towns in the region.
“If you look around, nearly every other Mercer County municipality has raised its tax rate and most have imposed double-digit increases since 2010,” she said.
Princeton residents also are getting more from their government, like trash collection to the entire town, community policing and a customer service department called Access Princeton, she said.
“Do we have a more responsive government? Yes,” she said. “We are more responsive and better positioned to partner with other community institutions to find efficiencies and improve service.”
She said Princeton’s work has caught the attention of others. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities bestowed its innovation in government award to the town for consolidation.
“There was a fear that with consolidation, we’d lose our identity, compromise our values and fail to support the downtown,” she said. “If anything as one community, we are a stronger voice for our values ….”
Elsewhere in her remarks, she highlighted accomplishments from 2014 that included reaching a seven-year deal with Princeton University to give the town voluntary financial contributions totaling more than $21 million. University Vice President and Secretary Robert K. Durkee, attending the meeting, declined to comment afterward.
Among other highlights from 2014, she pointed to promoting Nicholas K. Sutter to chief of the Princeton Police Department. She said police, in conjunction with the municipal human services department, stepped up its enforcement of wage theft — a crime that the local immigrant community falls prey to.
“The combined police department has truly become better than the sum of its parts,” she said. “The police department has made tremendous strides.”
For 2015, she said the town would accept requests for proposals to install a solar farm on River Road landfill site. She said a task force would investigate using “underused publicly-owned properties” that possibly could be converted into affordable housing sites.
“Staying true to our values by investing in affordable housing is essential to maintaining and enhancing Princeton’s ethnic and economic diversity, and underscores our efforts to be a welcoming community for all,” she said.
Yet she never mentioned AvalonBay, the developer of the old Princeton Hospital. The company, through its demolition subcontractor, is in the midst of clearing the site of a future a 280-unit-development.
The first council meeting of the year drew former mayors Chad Goerner, Marvin Reed and Phyliss L. Marchand, among other notables. Also attending was Anton Lahnston, the former chairman of the consolidation study commission.
“We wondered time and time again whether what we were predicting in terms of efficiencies, in terms of savings would become real. And I’m thrilled,” he said afterward.
DATE POSTED: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 12:12 PM EST
By Philip Sean Curran
The Princeton Packet
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