When the merger of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township was proposed, advocates said it would result in more efficient government and lower tax bills.
Now that the merger is complete, those same advocates are touting the town’s first consolidated budget as proof that they were right. Based on the merger, property owners in the newly combined municipality of Princeton will soon do something few in New Jersey ever experience: Open their mailboxes to find that their municipal tax bills have either gone down or stayed the same. In this case, the municipal tax rate is going down 1.5 percent. Princeton officials say they’ve achieved this decrease by cutting 26 staff positions, which totaled more than $1 million in salaries. They’ve also saved $600,000 by asking city employees to kick in more for their health benefits. Savings in the budget proposal vindicate what merger advocates have been saying all along, according to Kathy Monzo, Princeton’s deputy administrator and director of finance. “The consolidation commission projected that at first, and then the transition task force did the same,” she said. “This is just proving them all right. Despite employee cutbacks, Monzo says the consolidation hasn’t caused a reduction in municipal services. “In the first year, I think the Princetons did extraordinarily well,” said Gina Genovese. As executive director of Courage to Connect, she pushes for New Jersey towns to take advantage of the 2007 law that allows neighboring towns to study the possible effects of consolidation. “I think that the writing’s on the wall,” said Genovese. “Changes have to be made in order for us to offer our services and not have it become more of a burden on our taxpayers.” Another merger? Cherry Hill and Merchantville are two towns that have recently considered merging. But will Princeton’s success now convince them to tie the knot? “No, not at all,” said Cherry Hill spokeswoman Bridget Palmer. Cherry Hill officials balk at the cost of studying and planning a consolidation, Palmer said, adding that the town has saved money through more traditional means of streamlining government. As for Princeton residents, before they start making big plans for the tax windfalls, they should think twice. Taxes for the Princeton school district and Mercer County are still going up.