TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie has stepped into one of the more contentious local issues: municipal consolidation proposals.
Spurred by the desire to reduce or reverse the growth of property taxes, Christie today backed an effort to consolidate Princeton Borough and Princeton Township.
Together with Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner and Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred T. Trotman, Christie expressed his support for a ballot question going before the voters of each municipality to move forward with a consolidation of the two municipalities and announced new initiatives to support local consolidation efforts.
The issue of the two Princetons combining has been a controversial proposal for years.
“The residents of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have an opportunity to streamline their local governments and achieve significant savings now and into the future,” Christie said in a release.
“My view has always been that sensible, locally-driven consolidation must be supported by state government, and that is exactly what we are doing by proposing common sense changes to how municipalities absorb the one-time costs of mergers and incentivizing voter-approved consolidations with grants to assist with those expenses.
“I believe these efforts to consolidate in Princeton can be an example for other municipalities seeking savings and efficiencies under the 2 percent property tax cap.”
Christie is proposing legislation to allow municipalities engaging in complete consolidation to spread one-time costs associated with consolidation over a five-year period. Spreading these costs over a five-year period will allow consolidating municipalities to rapidly begin experiencing the financial savings of those mergers by mitigating the one-time, upfront costs associated with consolidation, the administration said.
Current law provides for a category of certain municipal costs to be spread over a five-year period. The proposed legislation would include one-time costs of municipal consolidation among those qualified expenses.
In addition, Christie announced that the Division of Local Government Services, within the Department of Community Affairs, will provide consolidating municipalities a grant to cover 20 percent of the cost of implementation, representing the entire first-year expense of the five-year period proposed under the legislation. By the second year, following voter approval of consolidation, savings from a merger would far exceed the remaining spread out nonrecurring integration costs.
The one time estimated cost of consolidation for Princeton Township and Princeton Borough as estimated by the joint municipal commission was $1.7 million, with the merger anticipated to yield at least $3.16 million in annual savings upon full implementation.
The Division of Local Government Services will review proposed transition expenses and provide a grant to cover 20 percent of approved transition costs, representing the first-year amount under the new legislation, allowing residents in both municipalities to share in the identified savings as soon as possible and without any impact on property taxes in the interim period while those savings are being achieved.
Chad Goerner, Mayor of Princeton Township said in a release, “I welcome the Governor’s support on what should be a common, bipartisan goal for our state. Consolidation offers an opportunity for our collective communities to streamline governance, improve accountability, generate tax savings, unify our resources and improve budget flexibility.”
Midred T. Trotman, Mayor of Princeton Borough said, “While I have never before supported consolidation in the 49 years I have lived in Princeton, but believing as strongly as I do now that full consolidation is in the best interest of Princeton Borough residents, I am pleased that some financial relief to help offset the cost of transition is being made available to our taxpayers.”