Borough Candidates Face Off At Library Forum
Major issues facing Princeton Borough took center stage last Wednesday as candidates for municipal office faced off in a forum at the Princeton Public Library.
Moderated by Kate O'Neill of the League of Women Voters, the two-hour event pulled questions from the audience of about 50 as four candidates for Township Committee and three candidates for Borough Council brought their platforms to the public arena. [The township candidates have been omitted from this article in the interests of brevity.]
The forum was sponsored by Town Topics, the League of Women Voters, and the Princeton Public Library.
Incumbent Democrat David Goldbarb said he has "consistently been an advocate for lower tax increases," and that he had voted for budgets only after receiving commitments of decreased hikes from colleagues on Council.
In 2005, the Borough adopted a budget that had total spending at the same level as 2004, but still had an increase: "That's the kind of situation the Borough faces," he said, noting that when he was first elected to Council in 1990, about half of the total tax revenue consisted of parking revenues, which include parking fines. Since then, "the ratio has changed dramatically.
"Our parking increases and fines have not kept pace," and as a result, taxes have increased. "I think all of us recognize the burden that it places on the residents," but that burden, Mr. Goldfarb added, is "largely a function of state policies." He called for a more "fair and rational" means of funding government.
Independent candidate Joshua Leinsdorf, who will appear in the Republican colunm on the ballot, said that relying more on public transportation for school busing could ease some of the tax burden. "We're spending $3 million a year on school busing. I estimate that if the high school and middle school kids took New Jersey Transit buses, we could save $1.5 million - five cents on the tax rate." A member of the Princeton Regional Board of Education, Mr. Leinsdorf added that Transit bus routes would only have to be tweaked marginally, as many of the school and public buses have similar routes. He pointed to Notre Dame High School and Nottingham High School students who take public buses to school.
Incumbent Acting Mayor Mildred Trotman said the increases are largely out of the hands of Council, but that Council members had to work to keep the tax rate as low as possible. She echoed Mr. Goldfarb's assertion that even when spending maintains a status quo, there are tax increases: "Those are problems that we wrestle with year after year," adding that she was "not at all opposed" to soliciting large agencies such as Princeton University for additional financial help.
For the most part, the candidates were in agreement that services to which Borough and Township resident have become accustomed, should not be sacrificed to reduce spending.
Several candidates called for an expansion of the University's jitney service, P-Rides, that would, in part, take riders to the Dinky and other in-town destinations.
The Borough's Mr. Goldfarb said the "only way" the Borough can provide public transportation is in "very close cooperation" with the University's jitney service. "The University has to provide a subsidy...we simply don't have the means to provide a transportation system that is reliable enough so that people would be encouraged to use it."
Ms. Trotman agreed, saying that she did not see the Borough pursuing a jitney without the help of the University.
Mr. Leinsdorf said Princeton needs a bus service that "does a figure-eight" taking commuters to the Dinky in the morning, student to school, and shoppers to and from downtown. However, Mr. Leinsdorf criticized the Borough's downtown development project, namely the garage, as a "conflict of interest" that effectively encourages people to drive.
"They don't want public transportation, they want people to fill the garage."
All candidates conceded that roadways in the Borough and Township need improvement. The prospect of a freight-to-truck (transload) facility off Route 206 in Hillsborough was an additional point of concern.
"We try to prioritize our road work so we can do resurfacing projects because they're relatively inexpensive," said Mr. Goldfarb, while adding that some roads will eventually need full replacement and that the transload facility will "make things worse."
Mr. Leinsdorf said that while roads need repair, increases in sidewalk and bike lane accessibility need to be increased "so people can get rid of their second cars, or third cars."
The Hospital Site
While the candidates could only speculate about future development on the current hospital campus on Witherspoon Street and the Merwick campus on Bayard Lane, all agreed that some share of housing build on those sites should qualify as affordable housing, in line with new state mandates that place hefty burdens on municipalities.
"Whether it's on Witherspoon, or a combination of the sites, I would absolutely demand there be some kind of affordable housing set asaide," Ms. Trotman said. Mr. Goldfarb said that the only way for the Borough to comply with the mandates under the state's Council on Affordable Housing regulations, affordable housing "has to be an integral" part of the site.
Mr. Leinsdorf, on the other hand, called for the hospital to remain in town. "I think in this new energy economy, people have to re-examine the idea of these huge campus hospitals out on some highway someplace and that the Borough and the Township need to sit down with the hospital and see what can be done."
- Matthew Hersh
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