Princeton Borough approves $1.3 million improvement bond issue

By Lauren Otis, Staff Writer
   Princeton Borough Council unanimously approved a bond ordinance authorizing $1.3 million in capital improvements for joint agencies it operates with Princeton Township at its meeting on Tuesday evening, but not before council members engaged in a heated discussion over the wisdom of conducting business as usual with their neighboring municipality when the township continues to lag in settling old accounts with the borough promptly.
   Councilman Roger Martindell said the provisions of the bond ordinance whereby the borough puts up the bond to fund joint borough-township projects, then bills the township later for its share, was no longer appropriate given the township’s history of incomplete and late payments in the past.
   Mr. Martindell cited hundreds of thousands of dollars the borough is still owed by the township going back 10 years or more.
   The time when the borough could effectively operate with the township under a handshake agreement for township reimbursement of joint projects was long gone, Mr. Martindell asserted. “That kind of informality, given our relationship with the township over the issue, I think is irresponsible,” he said.
   In addition to the disputed payments, the township recently angered Mr. Martindell and other members of Borough Council by backing out of an agreement to arbitrate a dispute with the borough over $1.5 million in sewer fees the borough says it is due as part of construction of the Northridge sewer line years ago.
   Mr. Martindell called for a written contract or administrative procedure to be drafted and presented for the township to sign, “that says we are going to get paid within a certain period of time,” after which the township would be charged interest on the balance due. He said the grace period could be 30, 60, 90 days or another period. “All I’m asking is we have a written enforceable contract,” he said.
   Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman said the borough was in part to blame for the payment delays because in the past it had failed to bill the township promptly. “I think we are on our way to resolution of those past bills,” she said, with the township paying the borough promptly now when it is billed promptly.
   Mayor Trotman inquired of Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi: “To my knowledge we have not submitted any bills to the township in a timely fashion and did not get a timely response.”
   ”No, not that I am aware of,” Mr. Bruschi said.
   Mr. Martindell then asked Mr. Bruschi if it was not correct that 2005 bills submitted by the borough took the township two years to pay.
   ”That is pretty much correct,” Mr. Bruschi responded.
   ”That is my point, why did we have to wait two years to get paid?” Mr. Martindell said.
   ”It’s taken about a year to sort things out,” said Council President Margaret Karcher. “It is a process that is continuing, it is moving along at the level of the (borough and township) CFOs, who are meeting regularly and exchanging information regularly,” Ms. Karcher said.
   ”They are doing it with a high level of collegiality,” she added.
   Councilman Andrew Koontz said the township’s requests for documentation of past amounts the borough has belatedly billed it for were understandable. “The level of vitriol that has been hurled at the township over this issue I think is way over the top,” Mr. Koontz said.
   ”Roger I hear you, I hear you very clearly. This is an embarrassment that shouldn’t continue,” said Councilman Kevin Wilkes. Mr. Wilkes voiced support for a new borough policy whereby borough CFO Sandra Webb would issue a voucher for payment to the township immediately upon incurring a joint expense. “Then we can’t sit around and say we didn’t bill them for six years,” he said.
   ”I’m willing to discuss strategies to get the borough and township back on track in a cooperative way,” as long as ongoing joint agency business was not jeopardized, Councilman David Goldfarb said. “Commerce between the borough and township has not suddenly come to a halt. They are paying us for the operations of the joint agencies and we are paying them,” Mr. Goldfarb said.
   Mr. Martindell said he would vote for the current bond ordinance, but would oppose future ones until such a written document was drafted by the borough to be presented to the township.
   ”It is not rocket science, it is simple basic commercial undertaking,” he said, adding “if the township says ‘are you kidding, we aren’t going to sign this,’ that will raise a red flag.”
   After the meeting, Mayor Trotman said she was not opposed to the borough drafting a contractual agreement with the township but “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
   The bond ordinance earmarked funds for six joint agencies:
   • $122,100 for sustainable energy improvements and installation of flooring at the Suzanne Patterson Center;
   • $47,390 for acquisition of computers, shelving and other equipment for the Princeton Public Library;
   • $214,300 for acquisition of computers, software, sustainable energy and ventilation system improvements at the Princeton Fire Department;
   • $34,165 for synthetic turf fields design and engineering and paving of the Smoyer Park parking lot in the Recreation Department;
   • $744,770 for improvement and rehabilitation of sewers, and other upgrades and $165,880 for acquisition of vehicles, computer, office and other equipment overseen by the Sewer Operating Committee;
   • $2,395 for acquisition of vital statistic books at the Health Department.