When Princeton Borough and Princeton Township merged Jan. 1, officials were confident the move would save money. Six months later, former Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner says the consolidated Princeton is on track to meet the savings targets at the end of three years. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that municipal employees have come to embrace the merger and he’s proud of how it has worked out so far.
With the consolidated municipality, the new budget has a municipal tax rate decrease of 2 cents, according to Goerner. “Where else is that happening in the state of New Jersey?” he asked.
While a tax reduction is coming for residents, there has been some debate about a raise for council members. Goerner explained that the township committee that existed before consolidation had a higher salary than the borough council members.
“So when the council combined, there’s some members of the old township committee on there that had a fairly significant percentage reduction in their salary,” he said. “Now we’re talking basically 2 cents an hour prison wages here because essentially they were looking to move up to $10,000 a year from $7,500.”
Goerner admits not all of the issues have been completely resolved, but said the big issues have been. “One of the reasons why they worked out was because we put together a transition task force that basically met over the course of last year and when I was mayor we basically decided that we would build everything from the ground up and put new departmental charts together and streamline operations as best we could,” he said.
The former mayor said there were unanticipated savings as well. “We actually moved our non-profit that we had supported — Corner House — to the old borough hall. Years ago we were talking about building a whole new multimillion dollar facility for them,” Goerner said.
The state helped offset the costs of the transition, which allowed residents to get a greater tax deduction. “I think that regardless of whether the state came in or not I think that there would have been enough or some type of reduction, but the state did promise to offset essentially 20 percent of the agreed to transition costs,” Goerner said.
Goerner said he is happy that municipal employees are excited about the transition. “I think there was a lot of issues last year in terms of fear of change and things like that and now they are taking ownership of this and I think they’re really proud of the fact that they were the real first ones to do this in virtually a century,” he said. “And what’s happening with the town, the police are more engaged. They’re actually surveying the community to see what the real needs are. They’ve reinstated their safe neighborhoods unit. I think community wise we’ve really come together and that makes me really proud.”
The biggest challenge, according to Goerner, is making sure the three-year plan is implemented and the ultimate goal of savings is realized at the end of that period. Currently, he said the consolidated municipality is on track to reach the goals. “I think that basically holding the council’s feet to the fire and also having good public interaction will ensure that we reach that savings target,” he said.
Goerner is encouraged by the response of the rest of the state to the Princeton merger.
“I think for many years people said it couldn’t be done. But now we’re seeing school districts that are looking to regionalize, we’re seeing other towns start to come together,” Goerner said. “With the shore that was decimated by Hurricane Sandy, many of those towns are looking to either share services or lower costs in some way.”