It’s easy to ask: If past referenda for municipal consolidation in Princeton have been defeated why should this year’s ballot turn out any different?

A good question . . . but also a good answer: We’ve learned. We’ve grown. We’ve changed.

From past experiences like ours and like others, the state has significantly broadened and liberalized the consolidation statutes to make it less complicated to combine municipalities.

This time we’ve gained from a full-scale professional study that included currently elected municipal officials as well as their administrators to provide candid, practical advice. The results show how best to redeploy staffs in a more direct, coordinated system.

Based on the new state law, the merger need not make unique aspects of each sector change. Existing ordinances can remain in effect for up to five years, with the possibility of continuation. Past debates over who leashes dogs and who doesn’t, who parks on the street overnight and who doesn’t, who has to build sidewalks and who doesn’t aren’t needed. Separate sections of town can maintain and enjoy their differences even as they forge a more cohesive management for leaner days ahead.

And, as this study has shown, the different sectors are more alike than they have been before. The recent census showed similar population mixes. Tax rates in effect are practically identical. Potential savings are quite similar. We can gain together, not at one or the other’s expense. Both municipalities face tough challenges:

More efficient, less costly policing should be in one combined department.

Fire and emergency services need to be reorganized, with major construction or replacement of outworn facilities.

Neither government houses its Public Works staff and equipment very well.

Townspeople expect far better access to public officials — websites, electronic communication, on-camera meetings, and contact during emergencies.

A better managed single government can do this without duplication of costs.

I am proud of one of our community’s most recent accomplishments: the rebuilding of our public library. As Princeton Borough mayor, I presided over many of those decision-making meetings. I heard what people said. There were Borough residents who insisted that the library had to remain downtown. But, I also heard Township residents stand up and say that location is the center of my town too. And yet, there were some Borough and Township voters who said it was more convenient for them to pick up and drop off books at the alternate location, the Harrison Street shopping center.

Regardless of who favored which location it wasn’t a Borough v. Township thing. We were able to agree, and the result is one wonderful community center.

Towns like ours with so much highly priced real estate can no longer expect much in state and federal aid to balance our tax bills. To do it ourselves requires us to streamline local government into one frugal entity with as tight a management as possible. We can no longer afford separate Township and Borough governments.

– Marvin R. Reed

Reed is the a former mayor of Princeton Borough, which will vote on consolidation November 8.

#b#Says the Governor: Vote Yes#/b#

The following statement was released by Governor Chris Christie’s office on September 30:

“The residents of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have an opportunity to streamline their governments and achieve significant savings now and into the future,” said Governor Christie. “My view has always been that sensible, locally driven consolidation must be supported by state government, and that is what we are doing by proposing common sense changes to how municipalities absorb the one-time costs of mergers and incentivizing voter-approved consolidations with grants to assist with those expenses. I believe these efforts to consolidate in Princeton can be an example for other municipalities seeking savings and efficiencies under the 2 percent property tax cap.”

To facilitate the merger in Princeton and municipal consolidation efforts in the future, Governor Christie is proposing legislation to allow municipalities engaging in complete consolidation to spread one-time costs associated with consolidation over a five-year period. Spreading these costs over a five year period will allow consolidating municipalities to rapidly begin experiencing the financial savings of those mergers by mitigating the one-time, upfront costs associated with consolidation. Current law provides for a category of certain municipal costs to be spread over a five-year period. The proposed legislation would include one-time costs of municipal consolidation among those qualified expenses.

In addition, Christie announced that the Division of Local Government Services will provide consolidating municipalities a grant to cover 20 percent of the cost of implementation, representing the entire first-year expense of the five-year period proposed under the legislation. By the second year, following voter approval of consolidation, savings from a merger would far exceed the remaining nonrecurring integration costs.

The one-time estimated cost of consolidation for Princeton Township and Princeton Borough as estimated by the joint municipal commission was $1.7 million, with the merger anticipated to yield at least $3.16 million in annual savings upon full implementation. The Division of Local Government Services will review proposed transition expenses and provide a grant to cover 20 percent of approved transition costs.

Chad Goerner, mayor of Princeton Township said, “I welcome the Governor’s support on what should be a common, bipartisan goal. Consolidation offers an opportunity for our communities to streamline governance, improve accountability, generate tax savings, unify our resources, and improve budget flexibility. While the transition costs are a one-time expense, and we have identified significant savings from consolidation, the grant will help us achieve these savings faster to benefit all residents of our community. Princeton has an opportunity to become a model for the state on locally driven municipal consolidation.”

Midred T. Trotman, mayor of Princeton Borough said, “While I have never before supported consolidation in the 49 years I have lived in Princeton, but believing as strongly as I do now that full consolidation is in the best interest of Princeton Borough residents, I am pleased that some financial relief to help offset the cost of transition is being made available to our taxpayers.”

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