PRINCETON: Town shows its appreciation to the many volunteers who serve the community

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Harry Cooke has been volunteering on municipal boards in Princeton for more than 30 years, just one of the more than 120 citizens who provide their time and professional expertise to the community in that way.
Mayor Liz Lempert and the Council paused to thank them for their service by playing host Wednesday to an informal dinner at Community Park Pool.
“This is a giving community where people are willing to give back,” Councilwoman Jo S. Butler said at an event that drew about 60 people.
To meet its legal requirements, the town turns to community members to serve on local land use boards to decide development and other applications, the board of health to create ordinances to protect the public health and other committees that help the town function. No one is paid.
“I think it’s a passion for the community,” said Sharon Ainsworth, a member of the local Shade Tree Advisory Commission. Serving is “definitely a commitment of time, but it is worth it,” she said.
Mayor Lempert said the town is “very fortunate” to have the expertise of volunteers, upwards of 125 of them in all. She later addressed the gathering and posed for a group photo with them, with the pool in the background.
Ms. Butler, who attended, said it not “terribly hard” to find residents willing to donate their time.
This was the second year in a row town officials had such a party, an idea that then-Township Mayor Phyliss Marchand had started. Last year, about the same sized crowd showed up. Some municipal staff attended as well.
Mr. Cooke said he has been volunteering for 31 years, first as a member of the municipal welfare board, later the zoning board and now on the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, a committee that reviews projects before they go to the planning board or zoning board.
Serving can eat up personal time, however. For example, planning Board meetings can stretch late into the night.
Housing authority commissioner Linda Sipprelle said she finds her service “very satisfying” and felt her commitment to the community and the people living in affordable housing are what got her involved.
Wednesday’s catered dinner consisted of baked summer pasta with basil and tomatoes, marinated flank steak, lemon chicken vinaigrette, salad, dessert and beer and wine — all paid at taxpayers’ expense. An exact cost of the evening was not immediately available, although one municipal employee who worked the event will be paid overtime.
Ms. Butler said Thursday that a dinner to recognize the volunteers is “not over the top” and said it costs far less than if the town had to pay for all the professional expertise they bring to municipal boards.
“We rely on the expertise, the time and the wisdom of these people,” she said.