Thursday, February 19, 2009

Passing the Budget: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Of the 51 municipalities in the state of New Jersey operating on a fiscal year (July 1st – June 30th), only seven have already passed their budgets as of last week; the others are awaiting a decision on the pension deferral legislation and extraordinary aid. The reason most, if not all, the other 44 municipalities have not adopted their budgets is because they all have levy cap problems, and municipalities with levy cap problems have to apply to the Local Finance Board (LFB) for a waiver. If a waiver is not granted, municipalities would have to reduce their budgets by the amount by which the budget exceeds the levy cap. In the case of Plainfield, that number is just over $3 million. Currently, the LFB will not hear any applications for waivers until a decision is made on the pension deferral legislation and on extraordinary aid.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has been urging the council to accept the 50% pension deferral, suggesting that this is the only feasible way to ease the property tax burden on our residents. This "urging" is misplaced, however, because based on the way the legislation is currently written, municipalities will not have a choice to defer or not to defer--deferral will be mandatory.

A 50% deferral for Plainfield will equate to $2.7 million, leaving Plainfield with a need for approximately $300,000 to get below the levy cap and avoid the need to go before the LFB for a waiver. It is likely that Plainfield will receive extraordinary aid to the tune of at least $300,000.

So, as it stands, Plainfield and other municipalities are between a rock and a hard place: they are over the levy cap and they need a waiver from the LFB. They can’t get a hearing for a waiver from the LFB because of the pending pension deferral legislation and a decision on extraordinary aid. Therefore, Plainfield cannot adopt its budget in its present form; the budget would have to be cut by a minimum of the amount by which it exceeds the levy cap, which is just over $3 million.

Between a rock and a hard place is not a good place to be, especially in these harsh economic times. However, tough times call for tough decisions and tough love.

It’s time for the mayor and council to make the tough decisions.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Plainfield Residents Need a CAR

Much has been made about the twenty-four hour use of city-owned cars by City Administrator Marc Dashield and Public Safety/Police Director Martin Hellwig. I am in total agreement with all who view the twenty-four hour use of city cars by certain department heads as an unnecessary perk. I voted “No” on twenty-four hour city car use by Messrs. Dashield and Hellwig. I believe that my vote was reflective of the views of most Plainfield residents, who, from the comments I have received thus far, feel that these officials should commute from their homes in their own vehicles.

However, although I remain opposed the twenty-four hour car use by municipal employees whom I feel don't need it, I am in favor of Plainfield residents having a CAR 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

The CAR I am referring to is an online tool that I am proposing, which I call a Citizen’s Assistance Request (CAR). Citizens would use it to request services from the city and as a vehicle to grade the performance of elected officials and department heads. It would be available on the city’s website to every Plainfield resident who has access to the Internet (there is free Internet access at the library).

Such a CAR would require the mayor and council to be more responsive to citizens’ requests for services. Plainfield residents using a CAR on a 24/7 basis would be able to do the following:

· Request city services
· Grade the performance of elected officials
· Grade the performance of department heads and staff
· Provide constructive feedback and suggestions
· Register as a volunteer

The City Administrator would be responsible for monitoring all CARs and for providing swift responses to citizens requesting city services.

In the interest of transparency, the grades assigned by citizens to the performance of their elected officials would be published on a regular basis. This would be one sure way of making Plainfield’s government more accountable and responsive to the needs of its citizens.

Let's provide all Plainfield residents with a 24/7 CAR!

Regards, Adrian