Potential new costs for the town, incurred through the University’s construction projects, did not play a role in increasing its voluntary contribution to the municipal government, according to a University official.
The new agreement, which was approved during a public meeting last week, provides the town with $2.75 million in 2014, an increase of over 10 percent from last year’s contribution. By administering a four-percent increase in its contribution for the next seven years, the University will add over $21 million to the town’s municipal budget.
“We didn’t talk about that at all,” University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69 said of construction surrounding the Arts & Transit Neighborhood. However, the agreement does reference a likely increase in tax payments from the University stemming from new graduate student housing facilities at Lakeside and Merwick-Stanworth.
“All of these developments are going to have a major impact on the community and its infrastructure in terms of the cost of policing, fire protection, garbage removal and whatever else that the town supplies to people who live in the town and visit the town,“ said Roger Martindell, a former town council member and current Princeton resident, of the University’s construction projects.
He also said he thinks the current agreement does not include enough compensation for public costs incurred by the University’s construction projects and that not enough time was allowed between the agreement’s announcement and its subsequent approval.
“An agreement of this magnitude and of such importance to the tax payer deserves more public comment and analysis than this one received,” Martindell said, adding that the extended duration of the contract further inhibits opportunities for the public to voice their concerns.
Durkee noted that ongoing discussions were covered by the local press, providing ample time for citizens to voice their ideas or concerns. In addition to council representatives, a citizens’ finance group and a local adviser also took part in the conversation, Durkee said.
“Anyone who had anything they wanted to suggest to the elected officials or to the Borough administrator or to the citizens finance committee had plenty of opportunities to do that,” he explained.
Martindell said he thought the contribution’s increase was modest and arbitrary, failing to take into account several distinctions that no longer make the University an educational institution in the traditional mold.
“[The University] is a holder of huge amounts of very valuable intellectual property and it’s providing services to thousands of students that come from all over the world,” Martindell said. Princeton taxpayers shouldn’t have to take up the burden of providing services to an institution that reaches far beyond the New Jersey state borders, he explained.
However, the current agreement appears to have been much more amicable than in recent years according to Daphne Kenyon, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and co-author of a 2010 report on similar agreements involving nonprofit institutions.
“The Princeton case looked quite contentious, and to have an agreement, and a seven-year one at that, looks like a great development,” Kenyon noted, referring to former University President Shirley Tilghman’s controversial speech in 2011. Community members alleged that Tilghman threatened to reduce the University’s contribution if they did not approve zoning rights for the Arts & Transit neighborhood.
Kenyon said she thinks the long-term agreement will save time and facilitate planning. When asked about the Univerisity’s consideration to transfer its voluntary tax payments for graduate housing towards its contribution, Kenyon said it could be beneficial.
“I think that would be a good thing in terms of public opinion for the University,” she said. However, Kenyon noted that voluntary tax payments should already be considered as part of the University’s contribution.