Friday, June 25, 2010

First piece of business

Later this week Trenton will have a new city council and a new mayor.

We’ve already been treated to a taste of the new crew’s form with the flap over who may be chosen to preside over council and how that decision was arrived at. Let’s give the players in our divine comedy the benefit of the doubt and assume that this week’s missteps are due to a little bit of stage fright as our elected officials approach the date of their swearing in. And let’s assume once the ceremony is behind them, our council will get down to serious business.

And one thing they can do is adopt an ordinance aimed at keeping our city free of extraneous signs, posters and handbills while providing for a modest revenue stream.

We don’t write or speak fluent legal/legislative-ese so the following suggested law may need to be translated into the appropriate verbiage.

“Effective immediately upon adoption by council, the city of Trenton will charge $1.00 each for the removal and disposal of any/all illegally placed signs. This would apply to all campaign signs for candidates running for any public office; any political action, candidate committee, political party or public question signs; it would also apply to signs promoting cultural events (are you listening “Art All Night?”), civic events or commercial establishments/events. This law applies to any/all such signage placed on public utility poles, public property, and private property without the owners express permission. “

“The fines for the removal of these signs will be assessed to the offending party promoted by the sign: candidate, committee, and business, etc. and payable immediately upon presentation of bill for services from the City of Trenton. In the case of political committees, the treasurer of record will be held personally liable for the fines if the entity cannot pay.”
This law should not meet with any resistance from any of our council people…especially those who have campaigned for a cleaner city (and some of whose signs were removed from telephone polls by city employees) or who have a clear understanding of the laws regarding placement of political after having served on the county election board for years.
By coupling enforcement with a fine, it should discourage the cobbling up of the capital city with handbills for club events (especially those promoting things like ‘stank butt Friday’ etc.) and make those offenders who think nothing of littering the city pay for their mistake.

All those in favor say, "Aye!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Send in the clowns

Don't bother, they're here.

When we were younger one of the hallmarks of summer was the seemingly endless series of carnivals held on the grounds of area churches. Each week there were amusement rides, “games of skill” (as opposed to games of chance) like ring toss, softball throw, shooting gallery, and food available to one and all.

It was like going to the boardwalk or the midway at the state fair only in a church/church school parking lot. Every week, one carnival would close and another would open just down the road. We were never at a loss for entertainment.

So it appears to be with Trenton’s City Council-elect.

The outgoing council hasn’t quite left the building, but the replacements have already taken the stage and begun to amuse us.

This morning’s Trentonian reports South Ward Councilman and sole holdover George Muschal invited his colleagues-elect to a “get-to-know-you” dinner at Amici Milano Monday night. The story states that two of the new council people, Kathy McBride and Alex Bethea did not attend. McBride and Bethea are alleged to be balking at the fact that in a non-binding straw poll the five members present agreed to elect Mr. Muschal as Council President and Councilwoman-elect Phyllis Holly-Ward as Vice President.
“Muschal said all seven members had been invited, and that each received the same phone call from him asking that they attend a get-to-know-you get-together at the restaurant — “That’s a blatant lie!” said McBride, councilwoman-at-large — but that Bethea claimed not to know where the restaurant is, then called Muschal at 4 p.m. Monday to say he wasn’t coming.”
Great! McBride, known to be difficult to reach at times and a no show at some candidate forums seems to be inclined to remain elusive. Her choice but it is not a good trait for an elected official and she shouldn't criticize others for taking action in her self-imposed absence.

And Mr. Bethea, who has campaigned city-wide in the last three elections for a Council At Large seat should know where Amici Milano’s is by now. If he doesn't...what about searching the phone book or the internet or just asking someone where this place is.

Is this the overture to the soap opera that will be Trenton’s City Council for the next four years?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

They never cease to amaze

One of the hallmarks of the outgoing Palmer Administration has been their "efforts" to clean up the city.

We won't delve into whether or not this effort has been successful.  Let it suffice to say that besides the annual clean city march held each April, the only other ongoing process are the neighborhood clean up days.

The various neighborhoods around the city get a week each year where they can pretty much empty out their attics, basements, garages and yards of any unwanted items, especially those not normally collected at curbside.

The Mill Hill Neighborhood's turn is coming up this week.

How did we find out about clean up week?  By fliers placed haphazardly on front porches where they can easily blow away in the breeze or, in the case of vacant houses, be left to get soaked in the rain and then slowly moulder and fall apart.

Nice way to keep our city clean.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It’s all over now

But we've only just begun
Trenton has a new mayor-elect.

The seven council seats have been filled for the next four years.

Congratulations to Tony Mack, Kathy McBride, Phyllis Holly Ward, Alex Bethea, Marge Caldwell-Wilson, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, George Muschal (who won the May 11 election), and Zachary Chester.

And congratulations to Algernon Ward and Michael McGrath for leading the successful charge against the sell off of the suburban portion of the Trenton Water Works to NJ American Water.

The fight to get the approval of the water deal on the ballot and the campaign to inform and inspire residents to vote on it was an un-qualified success.

Trenton was saved from what the majority obviously believe was a short-sighted deal. While the sale would have unarguably provided some immediate, much needed cash it would have mortgaged the city’s future fiscal soundness.

The group that coalesced around the opposition to the sale crossed demographic, party, and ward boundaries. And that is probably the biggest “win” for the city of Trenton.

After years of “divide and conquer” leadership, we have again found a way to work together for the common good. This is a lesson we do best not to forget.

As the new Mayor and Council take their seats on July 1 they would do well to keep yesterday’s lesson in mind too.

Trenton has suffered from an administration that worked in the shadows and through intimidation to get its way. It ran roughshod over any independence demonstrated by city council. And the voice of the people was treated as a mere annoyance that was more often barely tolerated than heeded.

Our city is still in difficulty. Stopping the water sale has not fixed the underlying budget issues. But we have a template for cooperation and engagement that was not present during the Palmer years.

The potent combination of new council and mayor plus an active and enlightened community can bring about much needed change in Trenton.

We at the stoop raise a toast (a glass of Trenton water, thank you very much) to a new day for the city and the citizens.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Good luck, Trenton

The day is here. 

June 15, the date for the Trenton municipal runoff election and the day the public gets to decide on the proposed split and sell off of part of the Trenton Water Works.

Trentonians are about to make some of the toughest, most important choices in the past 20 years.

They have to choose between two former Palmer insiders/confidants for Mayor.  Tony Mack has some questionable money problems and the endorsement of the outgoing Mayor; Manny Segura is collecting full disability but thinks he can adequately fulfill the duties of a full-time (plus) Mayor.

The electorate must choose three At-Large Council reps from among six individuals.  Some are known to the populace; others not.  Juan Martinez is the purported head of a mythical community group and currently holds a patronage position with the failing city school system. Missy Balmir is a professional political hack with connections but precious little practical experience and questionable contributions from far afield from Trenton.  Darren Green is a member of the Balmir's "slate" of candidates who has raised no visible funds of his own.  Obviously not the first choices of candidates to fill the slots.

Of the three left, Phyllis Holly-Ward has some real city hall experience along with some community credentials.  Kathy McBride is outspoken and a real street campaigner who may not have a lot of depth when it comes to policy and process but she doesn't lack spirit.  Alex Bethea is a school principal who has lead the local NAACP chapter.

In the North Ward the choice comes down to New Black Panther Party member Divine Allah, aka Brian Bethea or career Democratic party person Marge Caldwell-Wilson.

The East Ward contest is between brash anti-Palmer crusader Joe Harrison and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.  Jackson is part of the Balmir triad, a state employee and, by most accounts, a usually MIA member of the city's zoning board.

Quiet man Zac Chester is facing former school board President Joyce Kersey in the West Ward runoff. 

And then the big ticket item on the ballot:  the proposal to split off the suburban portion of Trenton's water utility to corporate giant NJ American Water.  A vote yes approves the administration's plan to cash in the money making part of the system for a one time fix of $80 million. 

A no vote leaves the system intact with all of the costs and proceeds accruing to the city and it's water customers.

The choices made on Tuesday will impact the city for decades to come, regardless of the tenure of those elected to office.

Choose wisely, Trentonians.  Not just for tomorrow, but for the future of our city.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Common questions/direct answers

Are the entire Trenton Water Works being sold?

NO. The only thing being sold would be water pipes in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell and Lawrence Townships along with some water towers and pumping stations.

Is the buyer a foreign company?

NO. New Jersey American Water Company (NJAWC), a subsidiary of American Water Works Company is the proposed buyer. American Water Works Company is the largest public water utility in America. It was at one time a subsidiary of RWE, a German Company, but was spun off in 2008.

Is it true that, as part of the sale, NJAWC will pay 60% of cost for water facility improvements in Trenton that benefit the outside system?

NO. According to the sales agreement between NJAWC and the City of Trenton Exhibit C includes the terms for a Capital Improvements Surcharge calculation.

The section establishes two factors that would be applied to the cost of capital improvements that benefit the townships.

The first factor would be based upon an agreed percentage assigned to the City and to the townships. This could be a 40% allocation for the City and a corresponding 60% allocation for the townships (NJAWC).

The second factor is based upon the amount of water the City customers use and the amount of water that township customers use (Demand Share Factor or DSF). Those percentages could also be 40% for the City and 60% for the townships.

To determine the amount that NJAWC would pay the City, the cost of the project, say $70 million dollars (the cost of the Filtration Plant project), would be multiplied by each factor. Applying the first factor of say 60% would give $42 million. Then applying the second factor would give $25.2 million. The $25.2 million would then be divided into annual payments that would also include the interest that the City is paying on the money it borrowed to finance the project. The annual payment would then be converted to a per thousand gallon surcharge to add to the base water rate. The figures would be recalculated every three years.

What this means is that NJAWC would pay $25.2 million for a benefit that is worth at least $42 million dollars. What that also means is that the City, actually its water customers, would have to make up the difference of $16.8 million over the life of the loan. (The actual amounts would be more over the life of the loan due to the interest charges.)

Applying the provisions of Exhibit C of the pending contract reveals that NJAWC will not pay 60% of the cost but only about 36% of the cost or less depending upon the factors.

VOTE NO on June 15th!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

They're all wet

General Superintendent for Water and Sewer Joe McIntyre was featured in an ad this morning paid for by Trenton Yes. The ad, the latest in a series aimed at convincing voters to approve the sale of the outlaying water system to New Jersey American Water (NJAW) shows, McIntyre posing at what we presume to be one of the water works facilities.

If you don’t already know it, Trenton YES is completely funded and managed by NJAW. And the photo was quite probably taken during a recent visit to Water Utility facilities by NJAW staff as outlined in this article from the Trentonian.

The headline of the ad is intended to look like a quote from Mr. McIntyre.

“People think we’re selling Trenton Water Works. That is simply not true. Everything in the city stays the same.”
Really? Reducing the utility’s customer base by over 60% is equivalent to staying “the same?” How many businesses do you know that can lose more than half of their customers and stay solvent without raising rates for the remaining clientele?

The ad continues with another quote.

“We’re just selling township assets. We’re selling a bunch of old pipe. We’re selling some water towers…and two small booster stations. That’s it.”
Since the Trenton YES people like to play semantics police, what would be sold if the plan is approved is not “township assets.” It is, in fact, assets belonging to the people of Trenton that are located in the neighboring townships that would be sold. So Trenton assets, not township assets, would be sold. Mr. McIntyre…if he actually made these statements, should know better.

We’re selling a bunch of old pipe” is not exactly accurate either. The suburban infrastructure is newer than the system that serves the city of Trenton. We are keeping the “old pipe” and selling off the newer stuff.

And about those water towers…engineering studies have indicated that without those towers, water pressure in certain areas of the city could experience dangerously low water pressures in times of emergency.

To be sure there is a lot to consider when looking at this proposed water deal. But it really comes down to a a couple of basic facts:

The outside water system is a major part of the value of the entire Trenton Water Utility. Without that (growing) customer base the utility will have a hard time remaining solvent based solely on servicing the Trenton customers…even after water rate increases.

IF the deal is so good for Trenton, why has NJAW spent more than $178,000 from May 4 to May 17 (and a whole lot more since judging from the mailings and ads we’ve seen) to convince the voters approve the sale?

IF the deal is so good for Trenton, why did NJAW spend an estimated $175,000 (based upon the legal fees paid by the City of Trenton in the same fight) to prevent the voters from having a say on the sale?
We can not accept or believe anything NJAW/Trenton Yes has to say to us about this deal.

Nor can we accept or believe anything that Mr. McIntyre purports to say in these advertisements. After all, it was Mr. McIntyre who had yet to complete a cost savings analysis on the sell off of the suburban system on January 22, 2009. That was the very day that Mayor Palmer addressed council and told them he had been working on this for nearly a decade. The very day that Mayor Palmer stated that the city had “held out” for the $80 million sale price.*

Neither one of these gentlemen appear to know what they are talking about.

Just vote NO!
*Public records indicate that NJAW was willing to pay $100 million for the outside system but the NJ Board of Public Utilities actually reduced the sale price to $75 million + $5 million for "consultative services" to be provided by Mr. McIntyre and his staff.