Combining the two New Jersey communities that share the Princeton name is testing Governor Chris Christie’s effort to get the state’s patchwork of 566 cities and towns to merge governments.
Voters in 1.9-square-mile Princeton Borough, which includes the downtown shopping area, and the surrounding 16.6-square-mile Princeton Township approved consolidation in November, after at least three earlier referendums failed. Elected officials have been meeting at least once a week as they face a Jan. 1 deadline to decide on everything from how many people to fire to which municipal buildings to spare. Christie, 49, a first-term Republican, is pushing consolidation after cutting municipal aid in 2010 and capping annual increases in local taxes at 2 percent. Princeton, home of the Ivy League university, agreed to merge after the governor endorsed the plan and offered to pay 20 percent of the $1.7 million cost of combining. He has promised to do the same for those who follow Princeton’s lead. “This is a test case for the principles he’s basing the economic future of the state on,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and politics at Montclair State University. “If it fails, it’s going to be held up by the home-rule folks as proof of why it doesn’t work.” Governors in Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey say their states have too many layers of government and that unwinding them would save money without harming services. Christie, during a May 16 town-hall meeting in East Hanover, said consolidation has been a slow process and “it’s not like ripping the Band-Aid off.”