GUEST OPINION: Looking at 2013 successes

The Princeton community has much to celebrate as we mark the one-year anniversary of the historic consolidation of the former borough and township governments.

By Liz Lempert
   The Princeton community has much to celebrate as we mark the one-year anniversary of the historic consolidation of the former borough and township governments. We have realized tax savings, improved relations with Princeton University, and made our mark with sustainability initiatives. And in so doing, we have become a model for innovative government.
   With the help of the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee, we lowered the municipal tax rate and shrunk the size of our budget for the first time in decades. This follows a few years of holding the line on municipal taxes in both the former borough and township. As a result, we actually pay less in municipal taxes now than we did several years ago. When we look at the impacts of consolidation, it is important not just to compare where we are now versus where we were a year ago, but rather, where we would have been today had we stayed two separate communities. That comparison shows the success of consolidation in even more dramatic terms.
   Meanwhile, we have built upon on our relations with the major institutions in town this year, especially Princeton University, and paved the way for constructive collaborations. Earlier this month, Chris Eisgruber, the new president of Princeton University, came to the Witherspoon Hall municipal building for a public meeting with the Princeton Council. The first-of-its-kind meeting was a significant first step in reopening a dialog of cooperation, and establishing a relationship of mutual respect for working out disagreements.
   One of the significant successes of 2013 has been the development of a formal agreement of operational cooperation between our police department and Princeton University’s public safety department. Our town was one of the very few college towns in the entire country that did not have a written agreement with its corresponding campus security. Because there was no agreement, officers from the police department and officers from Princeton University public safety would sometimes both respond to an incident and be forced to make up the rules on the fly as to who was in charge.
   Now we have a formal agreement that clearly spells out the protocol for each type of situation. The former uncertainty and tension between the two forces has evaporated, and the relationship has dramatically improved. Both the bomb scare in June, when the campus was evacuated, and the reports of gunshots at Nassau Hall in the fall were handled jointly in an efficient and coordinated way. Neither incident was a true emergency, but the response to them revealed a new level of public safety coordination.
   Consolidation has solidified Princeton’s reputation as a leader in innovative government. Other government leaders have called and emailed asking for advice as they contemplate consolidation. Three school districts – in Lambertville, East Amwell and Stockton – consolidated earlier this year.
   Other communities are starting study commissions to see if consolidation makes sense for them.Princeton continues to lead on the sustainability front as well. The League of American Bicyclists recognized Princeton as a bike-friendly community this year, thanks to the work of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee. Sustainable Princeton launched an energy audit program for homes and businesses to help save on energy bills while reducing emissions. Meanwhile, the number of households participating in the award-winning curbside organics program nearly doubled, and Princeton was able to divert more than 200 tons of waste from the landfill. Lawrence and other towns around the state are making plans for curbside organics pickup.
   Princeton is poised for a promising 2014. We are well positioned to make progress in the area of sustainability, we will continue to seek common ground for partnerships with community institutions, and we will continue to find efficiencies and savings be it through further reorganization, staff reductions or service improvements. Our community has benefited not just in the short term, but as we chart a more sustainable environmental and financial path, we can expect to see long-term benefits as well. As always, my door is open. I wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy 2014.
   Liz Lempert is the mayor of Princeton.