Saturday, July 24, 2010

What he said

Today’s Trentonian contains a piece by long-time city editor Paul Mickle on recommended steps for dealing with Trenton’s budget crisis.

His points are sensible and actually echo some of the campaign rhetoric we heard from most of the candidates during this past spring’s campaign season. They should be acted upon immediately with no further debate, discussion or deal making.

We need a trimmer, slimmer, more efficient city government. There is no way you can achieve that and continue to support 67 operating divisions.

Without a doubt, the outside consultants must go. Moreover, this was something that Mayor Mack spoke about often during his campaign.

Speaking of the Mayor…it is very disappointing to see that he started himself off at the same salary as his predecessor ended with. After all, didn’t a judge rule that the last raise Doug Palmer gave himself and his department heads was illegal? In addition, wasn’t part of that illegal raise based upon so-called “longevity pay?” (A highly questionable and suspect practice for an elected official and his appointees. Seems like a reward for winning re-election.) Mr. Mack should start at a lower salary because he is a) new to the job and b) costs need to be cut.

We’d like to add that Mr. Mack needs to cut out his driver/security detail and return those police detectives to the police department to do much needed police work. Again, Palmer was regularly criticized for keeping this detail while cuts were made elsewhere. Mayor Mack needs to demonstrate to the taxpayers that he is ready, willing and able to cut back on the “frills” of office at least until we get our fiscal house in order.

This leads us to another of Paul Mickle’s points: new hires and appointees should not be starting at the top of the salary range. It is not good practice from a human resources point of view nor is it reasonable when the city is broke! And for those of you who want to argue about paying top dollar for the best let us remind you that this isn’t the private sector. When you go to work for the public sector there is (or should be) a tacit understanding and acceptance that you are doing it as much to be of service as to make a living wage. If you want to maximize your earning potential, the public sector is not where you should be.

The proposed county take over of the libraries and parks…Cadwalader Park specifically… may not be such an easy remedy.

Merging the Trenton library into the county system would most likely still mean the end of the four branches. It would also mean the end of the line for the Trenton Free Public Library and it’s highly ineffective board. And that is all “if” the Mercer County Library was amenable to taking over the Trenton system. Our understanding of the history behind earlier attempts to merge the library systems is that the board of trustees on the Trenton side didn’t want to give up control of the system and thus rejected the offer from the county.

Similarly, we recall earlier debates of putting Cadwalader Park in the hands of the Mercer County Park Commission. There was uneasiness on the part of some Trentonians to turning over Olmstead’s jewel to the “golf and softball” crowd over at the county. And what would become of Ellarslie…the city owned historic mansion, which houses the collection of the Trenton Museum Society that comprises the bulk of what, is known as the “Trenton City Museum?”

It’s a complicated proposal that requires a thorough vetting.

Without a doubt, the city vehicle fleet needs to be pared down. Again, this suggestion has been bantered about for a couple of years now. The SUV’s driven by department heads should be the first to go. The Police Mobile Command center is probably also expendable. In fact, aren’t there two? The first was a custom truck ordered by former Police Director Jim Golden and the second, the “bus” retrofitted by former Director Joe Santiago. If this is still the case, let’s keep whichever one is more efficient and effective to operate and get rid of the other one.

Certainly, the cost cutting must apply equally to the top-heavy school administration. And while the discussion about at least a partially elected school board simmers in the background, the recent revelations about waste and abuse in the in-home schooling program plainly demonstrate the school system needs a complete overhaul. This means vehicle fleet reductions, streamlining of the organization to eliminate expensive assistant and deputy superintendent positions, and realistic pay scales. All the things that apply to city hall apply here as well.

Lastly, the damned police horses. We have heard that there are no more police horses and that there are still two being boarded in Hopewell at Trenton taxpayers’ expense. Mr. Mickle states that latter to be the case. If he is correct…and we have no reason to doubt that he is despite the previous administration’s statements to the contrary…then it is time to end this ill-advised, costly waste of taxpayer money. The remaining horses must be sold or given away and the tack, uniforms, and horse trailers sold. Trenton needs to be out of the mounted police business immediately.

Mayor Mack, please heed Mr. Mickle’s words. It is time to make the politically painful but common sense moves he prescribes.