Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Something doesn't add up

The city of Trenton is facing a $25 million budget shortfall.

The state of New Jersey will give Trenton $21 million (above and beyond the $16.5 million already being paid to Trenton "in lieu of taxes" on the state properties within the city limits).

The money comes with "strings attached" and the Mayor doesn't like it.

He doesn't like the fact that he's at the Governor's doorstep, hat in hand, asking for help, but might have to rein in his profligate spending practices and file monthly reports with the state in order to keep the city solvent.


Mayor Palmer was quoted as saying "For them to ask us to sign this is laughable and unfair."

The Mayor went on to say that the conditions attached to the money are usually reserved for municipalities who have mismanaged their finances but implied that wasn't the situation in Trenton. Rather, it is the state's fault for not paying it's fair share of property taxes to the city and for having no other mechanism in place to hand over $21 million dollars to a city that...has what? Mishandled its finances?

Now, let's recognize right off that the problem of the state paying its fair share of property taxes has been an issue as long as Doug has held office (and before). He's known about it, talked about it and made noise about how it needs to be changed. At the same time, his financial people have known about it and had to deal with it. Yet the spending continued as if "the money were there."

So what does our city's chief executive do? He cries poor and throws good money after bad on neon fire helmets; out of town gang consultants; and stipends for non-resident cabinet level directors.

Four years ago he tried to sneak raises for himself, his directors and city council after having frozen department budgets and asking for cutbacks. When the public found out, a fuss was made, but the raises stayed.

While the Mayor (and his pet, the Police Director) have demonized the Police Unions and cursed the four-on/four-off police schedule, the number of cops on the force has decreased, homicide's have increased and overtime spiraled out of control.

They installed, touted and then cursed a video surveillance system that has failed to perform the promised crime fighting miracles (although it is reported that video footage from one camera did help in the recent solving of the Eure homicide, how many other crimes occurred under the blind eye of the faulty system?). For what purpose all this spending?

So Mr. Palmer and Mr. Santiago can point and say they are doing something. But it is just throwing money at a problem, not solving anything.

The city is losing businesses every day: restaurants, cheesecake bakeries, hardware stores, auto body repair shops. In large part this is due to the reluctance of people to shop or dine in the city out of a sense of discomfort with the less than clean streets; frequent panhandling; lack of suburban style parking convenience and increasing number of abandoned or poorly maintained buildings (including city owned ones).

The administration, through an act of city council, gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to one "connected" developer out of the Urban Enterprise Zone monies that could be better spent bolstering the small business that exist here and need help to survive.

Our hotel, financed with bonds backed by the taxpayers of the city of Trenton, was to be sold. And as part of the deal, the financing burden was going to be shifted from the wallets of Trentonians and spread to New Jersey's taxpayers as the state agreed to substitute its bonds for the city's. Sale or no sale, we're all still on the hook for the financing of the hotel.

Most recently, the Mayor proposes to sell off the part of our water distribution system that serves non-Trenton customers. It's a relatively short term financial fix at the cost of losing one of the city's greatest financial assets (or at least one with great financial potential in the coming years...if managed and maintained properly).

At the same time, the City of Trenton is cashing in it's limited financial stake in the TriGen co-generation system downtown. Again, a one shot financial fix from the sell-off of a potential future revenue source for the city.

The list goes on.

The City of Trenton is not only poorly managing it's finances, it is poorly managed.

To belittle some common sense conditions placed on the state money is irresponsible of the Mayor.

That is to say, "It is laughable and unfair."

No comments: