Monday, February 16, 2009

Come clean, Palmer

Admit there was no 10 year plan

Doug Palmer and his acolytes are fighting hard to ram the sell off of the outlaying water distribution system down the throats of Trenton’s taxpayers.

As has been noted on Greg Forester’s blog, the administration seems a little worried that the petition currently circulating might be successful in at least delaying if not stopping the sale.

And without a doubt, if the proposed $80 million sale doesn’t go through the City of Trenton’s financial picture darkens considerably. That translates to higher property taxes.

It is very difficult, however, to accept the “official” line that this deal has been worked on for 10 years.

Let’s go back to January of 2003 when then Times reporter Albert Raboteau reported officials in the suburbs were questioning the sudden increase in money being taken from the water utility to pay for city services, including all or part of the salaries of three of Doug Palmer’s aides.

So was there really a plan afoot to sell off the water utility five years ago? Was part of that plan to plunder and pillage the resources of that asset and then try to sell it off for cold cash once the Palmer administration couldn’t wring another nickel out of it?

And what about the rate increase enacted in September of 2006 that increased suburban water rates some 17% and the rates for water customers within the city by 31%? Was that part of the long range plan to sell off the outside infrastructure?

In typical Palmer fashion…his mismanagement decisions are made based upon what is most expedient to his personal agenda and not that of the city he purports to serve yet long ago abandoned.

The city has been in a downward fiscal spiral for more than a decade. Rather than tighten up the purse strings in city hall and hold the line on budget items, Palmer…with the able and apparently willing assistance of former Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum literally robbed from Peter (the water utility) to pay Paul (the ballooning costs of a bloated administration).

At no time did anyone from the Palmer administration rein in the ridiculous spending at city hall by excising superfluous aides, vehicles, etc. or eliminating services that were duplicated elsewhere. Instead, they just kept crying poor to the state for more money and taking from the water utility surplus what rightfully should have been returned in the way of system improvements and holding down usage rates.

Instead, the spending has continued unchecked until the only way to fill the gap is to divest the city of the outlaying parts of the water utility for a chunk of cash that might, conveniently, hold tax increases to a tolerable level until the end of the current term.
The Palmer administration has yet to satisfactorily demonstrate any rational attempt to reduce spending through cutting the layers of staff in the Mayor’s office, curbing personal use of city vehicles (or shrinking the size of the take home car fleet).

For years people and some elected officials have pointed out that if the city was more diligent in enforcing its laws and collecting fines, we’d be in better financial shape. But that has not happened either.

Yet we are to believe that the plan for the last decade has been to sell off the portion of the water utility serves customers outside of the city limits. But we never heard of this long range plan until Palmer and company felt they had the citizens over the barrel by delaying a city budget until it was so late that the only answer appears to be selling off the water system or face huge tax increases. If this is such a good idea, why aren’t we getting rid of the entire water system and thus reducing the city’s huge expense to maintain and staff the utility?

A plan that supposedly has been in the works for 10 years should have been brought to light and discussed openly so long before it was time to sign the sale agreement. That might have eliminated some of the resistance and backlash.

If Palmer and company want us to truly accept and believe this sale is the end result of a long-rage plan, show us the documentation. Take us through the timeline of the steps taken to position the city to benefit now and going forward from this proposed sale.

It is obvious that one cannot document something that didn’t exist.

The notion that this plan has been in the works for a decade is another Palmer pipe dream that is turning into a hose job for the citizens of Trenton.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Palmer out of fiscal tricks to fix budget woes

Well, at least he admits it.

Doug Palmer’s administration finally presented the budget for the current, 7 month old, fiscal year to city council last night. Banking on the completion and final approvals for the sale of the outlying water distribution system to reduce the city’s debt, the new budget calls for nine cents per $100 of assessed value increase in property taxes.

Council and citizens alike were warned of dire consequences if the sale of the outside portions of the water utility was somehow thwarted. Taxes will go up an additional $1.00 per $100 of assessed value claims acting business administrator Dennis Gonzalez in the Trentonian.

There is no doubt that the City of Trenton is in dire financial consequences. And it has been for several years.

But Palmer, at his quixotic best has pointed the finger at the State for not continually increasing aid to the capital city and not readily allowing the state parking lots to be developed for ratables. It never seemed to occur to the Man of Hiltonia or Dennis “Sancho Panza” Gonzalez to cut back city spending on non-essentials before going to personnel layoffs and asset sell offs to balance the budget.

In the Times article on the budget presentation, reporter Meir Rinde quotes Palmer’s admission that he’s never approached the problem from a long-term perspective:
"In the past, we've had Houdini-like, one-shot deals," to balance budgets, Palmer said. "They're certainly running out."

That’s right, Doug. And you were called on that fact each and every time you pulled one of those tricks out of your sleeve. But you wouldn’t listen.

Now that you may be nearing the end of your reign, you are scrambling to find ways escape for the fiscal house of cards you built collapses on you.

Too late my friend, it’s coming down and it’s coming down fast.