Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memo from a taxpayer

One person's twelve, oops, make that thirteen cents worth.

To: The Palmer Administration and Trenton City Council

Subject: The Budget

Ok. You danced around so long that the FY2008 budget has to be approved more or less as presented. There was no chance for City Council to find ways to reduce or eliminate the tax increase because a) the budget year is nearly 75% over and the money similarly spent and b) the Administration likes to play games with the amount of detailed, timely information given to Council so they can perform their fiduciary duties effectively.

So you won another round of “My Way.”

Well, let’s get started today on the FY2009 Budget. Let’s start with the assumption that revenues will not increase a single penny above this year’s (and it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t even meet that mark).

Let’s look at real ways to cut spending. And yes, this means jobs. But perhaps not the ones you were thinking of cutting.

For starters, let’s look at these various “Special Assistants” to the Mayor. By now we all know the saga of Barry Colicelli, the highly compensated “consultant” whose contract was not renewed by Council. Well that’s just the beginning.

How about Mr. Jerry Harris? Do we really need to pay him over $50,000 to be a part-time assistant to the Mayor? No!

How about Chief of Staff Renee Haynes? Is this position really required? A survey of most taxpayers might just show you that it is not. There’s another $100,000+ a year saved.

In fact, Mr. Palmer, if you were to “stay home” and tend to the business of running this city, you might not need all this extra help.

Oh, and let’s not forget your driver. How about we let those police officers assigned to you get back to doing the job they were hired to do in the first place: protecting and serving the people of Trenton.

I know it will be hard on your image as a highly successful municipal executive with a role to play on the national stage, but too bad!!!!

The people of Trenton need a leader. They want a mayor who is hands on, in touch and grappling with the real problems of this city. They don’t want a grandstander who is running all over the country promoting himself while the city sinks deeper into debt and despair.

So there’s your start. Check around the executive branch of Trenton’s government and see what other positions we can no longer afford. (Public Information Officer Kent Ashworth, maybe).

Next, stop spending incredible sums of money for outside professional services contracts when the work can be done in house with staff people (and if the people on staff aren’t qualified, get rid of them and hire people who are!).

Need an example?

How about all the various attorney contracts the City pays for? We have a legal department and staff. Why is so much work going out the door? Is it to “toss a bone” to your cronies and campaign contributors? (The names Peterson and Trimboli are just two that come to mind). Bet we could save some money there.

And just why are we dealing with so many legal cases anyway?

Let’s see, there are protracted union negotiations…and who benefits from those? Not the unions and their membership; not the public. That’s right, the lawyers.

And there’s the multitude of claims and lawsuits. Maybe if we didn’t arbitrarily tell the police to “look the other way” while someone shoots a movie without a permit or liability insurance; perhaps if we monitored the way we go about the city’s business, we could minimize or eliminate some of these claims and reduce the need for legal representation. I believe it’s called “Risk Management.”

And it’s not just contracts with lawyers. We need to seek out the best price on all outside professional services contracts…regardless of whether or not they are buddies or supporters of your campaigns (and those of your chosen few).

Along with this, we need to totally and honestly evaluate how the various city departments operate.

Now whatever happened to the management study being conducted in the past year? What were the results? How much did that cost? Are we reaping any benefits from that yet? Oh, and was it really necessary to hire as one of the sub-contracted consultants the wife of one of the division heads who’s staff was being interviewed and evaluated? Isn’t that a little dicey as well as pricey?

City Council, don’t turn away. You’ve got a role in this too. Apply what you’ve recently learned about the budget process to FY2009 expenditures. If you don’t have a working budget in front of you, along with the backup information and material, don’t approve any unnecessary expenditure! Especially outside contracts. It’s past time for you to exercise the power and authority that you have over the budget. Use it or lose it!

Back to the administration; stop proposing stupidly expensive and totally unwarranted spending.

The fire helmet was a bad idea from day one. It became an infamously costly bad idea as time went on. The next time it goes out, have it dismantled and sold for scrap. It’s worthless and we can’t keep spending money on it.

Municipal Wi-Fi: it is a bad idea. Scrap your dreams and whatever promises you may have made to E-Path. It will never be what you think it will. If E-Path or any other company wants to build a system, let them. Just don’t put one Trenton dime into it.

And stop buying half-assed technology just because somebody’s cousin or friend is "in the business" and will sell you stuff cheaply that you can then point to as an illustration of just how advanced and sophisticated Trenton is.

You did it with the old Computer Aided Dispatch System (CPLIMMS was it?)

You did it with the Motorola radio system for the Communications division (remember the promise that the whole County would share this system --- and the cost--- with us?)

You did it with the farce of the video surveillance cameras in the midst of the 2006 election campaigns.

Are the few minutes of positive press you get really worth the ultimate cost to the taxpayers for non-functioning equipment and systems? Not to mention the risk to life and property when they fail to perform as advertised?

If you really want to improve the city’s bottom line, how about making a real and concerted effort to wrest control of the multitude of vacant buildings from their owners who are sitting on them like golden eggs that will never hatch. Take those buildings and put them in the hands of the various small developers who have been working very hard to restore and revive the market for this great old building stock. Get these building out of the hands of speculators and into the hands of people who will realize their full assessed potential.

Forget the big marquee development projects that never seem to work out or get started or become what they were promised to be.

And stop squandering our money and UEZ funds on your friends like Mr. Torricelli and his touted yet unrealized promises of “full occupancy.”

In short, the Mayor and the Administration must stop treating the City budget like their own personal treasury. Pennies must be pinched. They must do without some of the fun things (do all the various directors and such really need full-time city provided vehicles when our cops don’t have enough decent cars to use?) and perks.

If we can’t afford them, you can’t have them. (And by the way, a lot of this also applies to that money pit subset of City government, the school system. Let’s get rid of the extra assistant and special superintendents, various other dead weight positions, unneeded extras and spend money on good teachers, supplies and facilities!)

So let’s get cracking! Sharpen those pencils and fire up those calculators. July 1 is but four months away. Let’s see a fully thought out preliminary budget and all the back up detail presented to Council by then.


Irving Bertrand Clean said...

:: stands and applauds ::

Old Mill Hill said...

Thank you, Mr. Clean.

Chrissy said...

Excellent post!

Old Mill Hill said...

Thanks, Chrissy. I hope more folks feel the same and let City Hall know it.

Irving Bertrand Clean said...

OK, Stoop... now don't be letting this go to your head and all! :)

Have you ever thought about running for City Council? The North Ward could use you! So could all of the these "Large" people I keep hearing about, who are apparently represented by Segura, "Pinata" and "Dum Dum."

Now excuse me while I do some "orienteering."

Old Mill Hill said...

Why Clean, I'm flattered. But what could a stooped old troll from 'toney and well-heeled' Mill Hill offer the citizens of capital city of New Jersey?

Chrissy said...

Stooped old troll?!? I had no idea!!

I don't mean to get all earnest and sincere, but uh, you have a lot more to offer than 4/7ths to 6/7ths (give or take) of our current council members: accountability, accessibility, free thought, loyalty, compassion, and a freakin' spine. Also, take a look at the success story that is Jim Coston. I'm convinced a huge part of his popularity and influence is the fact that he is accessible and a bit of a risk taker: he blogs, and the people of Trenton love that. You've got that going for you too!

Cal said...

Great points!