Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Transformational Change in Plainfield

Dear Residents,

First, let me begin by thanking the Almighty Creator, through whom all things are possible and to whom I owe everything; second, let me thank the people of Plainfield for the trust, confidence and faith they have in me by returning me to this august body to do their will. Also, so that I may return safely into the household of the most important ladies in my life, I must thank my lovely wife, Amelia, and our beautiful daughters, Shermona and Ayisha, for standing by my side each and every step of this journey.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not express the joy I felt at being on the same ballot as new At-Large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams, the daughter of my late friend and former mayor, Albert T. McWilliams, and our President, Barack Obama.

When I decided in the spring of 2008 to run for the office of councilman of the 3rd Ward, it was at the urging of people who felt that I had a contribution to make to this city that we all love so much. Having served on the council previously and believing in the call to service, I felt compelled to answer the call.

For the next two months, along with my campaign team and a dedicated group of volunteers, I knocked on most of the doors of 3rd Ward residents and spoke with many of our citizens, most of whom voiced concerns about our city. Those concerns focused on quality of life issues, the terrible condition of our roads, ever increasing property taxes, and the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in government.

It is clear to me that we, as elected officials, cannot continue the same patterns of behavior and expect different results. We must be creative in our approaches and we must seek out innovative solutions to the challenges we face. All elected officials must be willing to make sacrifices and must be comfortable making the hard but necessary choices so that our government can be more efficient and cost effective. We as leaders must lead, and we must do so by example; we must be agents of transformational change.

I therefore propose the following:

1) I will decline all health benefits coverage from the city, for an annual savings to the city of $14,500; furthermore, I will not be accepting the opt-out cash payment. I encourage my colleagues to give this some consideration.

2) We must be professional and fair-minded in all that we do, and must work to restore confidence in local government through strong fiscal management that will lead to the elimination of waste and the creation of opportunities. To that end, let us incentivize existing businesses through the creation of legislation that will encourage them to expand their operations in the city, thereby creating additional jobs and expanding our commercial tax base.

These are but a few of the ideas that I would like this governing body to consider over the course of our next 100 days.

The time for us to act is now, the cause for which we must act is fair and just, and the reason for us to act is dollars and sense. We have a great opportunity to bring transformational change to the city of Plainfield, and we must embrace it. We must all tighten our belts and share in the fiscal sacrifices necessitated by today's harsh economic realities with prudent austerity measures.

In closing, let me leave you with this final thought. Just about five miles down the road south of us, the great Thomas Edison once remarked, “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Well, my fellow residents, it's time to tighten the straps of our collective overalls--opportunity awaits!

Thank you and may God bless you in this new year and always.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Reporting on the 93rd Annual NJLM Convention

I was very intrigued by some of the seminars given at this year’s New Jersey League of Municipalities convention, which I attended in my capacity as Chief Financial Officer for the Borough of Roselle. The seminars dealing with financial issues and “greening” New Jersey were of particular interest to me, but in this post I will focus on things financial.

Oftentimes, governmental entities and non-profit organizations, e.g., hospitals and churches, seem to take the view that any property they own is exempt from taxes. Municipalities have for years given into this unlawful ownership theory, thus foregoing tax revenues to which the municipalities may be entitled. But one of the things made very clear in the seminar titled “Property tax exemption in New Jersey, issues and answers,” is the fact that tax exemption is not based on ownership but is based on use. So, properties owned by non-profits, school districts, and other governmental entities can be taxed depending on the uses to which they are put. There are four basic theories that determine whether or not a property is exempt from taxation, regardless of ownership: 1) Tax Base Theory, 2) Benefit Theory, 3) Sovereign Theory and 4) Community Theory.*

This seminar also touched on the different types of programs and incentives municipalities can use in an effort to spur economic development, i.e., Redevelopment Area Bonds or "RABs" (also known as Tax Increment Financing or "TIF"), Redevelopment Allocation Districts, and five-year tax abatements, an incentive program I discussed during my recent campaign for the city council.

Another seminar of note was the one sponsored by the State Comptroller that dealt with the need for Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency in government. This topic was one of the themes of my recent campaign. Matthew Boxer, the State Comptroller, is proposing that municipalities rotate auditing firms every 10 years. His office is currently working on developing a template that municipalities would be required to use in soliciting quotes for auditing firms. I asked the Comptroller if his office had any plans to try and identify those responsible for the disappearance of billions of dollars in school construction funds. He responding by saying that his office was looking forward, not backward, and that it would be up to the State Attorney General’s office to pursue the matter of the disappearance of school construction dollars. Given the recent court ruling regarding the Abbott funding formula, I believe it is imperative that the AG follow up on this.

All in all, the convention was very informative and packed with several interesting seminars. It was a worthwhile learning experience.


*NOTE: I will discuss these theories and how they impact the municipalities I serve in more detail in a future post.