Friday, April 22, 2011

North Avenue Road Project Should Not Be Used Play "Politics"

This is campaign season in Plainfield, and the red herring (known as the North Avenue pipes) is beginning to dart across the trail so as to create a diversion from the real issues and financial challenges facing the City. These are issues such as:

  • unauthorized expenditures;
  • the squandering of $460,000 federal dollars on the partial sheet rocking of the Tepper's basement;
  • the waste of city funds and grant dollars on the construction of a bathroom that is a little bigger than a 6’ x 12’ shed at a cost of over $220,000 in Bryant Park on East 6th Street;
  • the complete breakdown of controls in the purchasing division;
  • the refusal of the mayor to allow the CFO to meet with the Finance and Administration Committee;
  • the refusal by the Mayor to allow any department head to attend the Council’s ward meetings; the doling out of city funds to non-profit organizations in violations of Article VIII, 3,2 of the new State Constitution;
  • the refusal to put the budget documents online;
  • the failure to cooperate and to collaborate with the council on an early start to the budget process;
  • the failure to negotiate with the collective bargaining units, and the list goes on and on.

Meanwhile costs continue to escalate. These are some of the many issues the council has been wrestling with, and we have been making good faith efforts to meet with the Administration to address them. However, we have been stymied by a wall of frustration erected by the Mayor (now "acting" as the city administrator).

Now, back to the red herring known as the North Avenue pipes: sadly, one very important point being missed in the discussion about the North Avenue pipes is the tremendous benefits the residents on North Avenue as well as other residents in the surrounding neighborhoods have derived from that great project. The flooding that once plagued that neighborhood has all but disappeared as a result of that well thought-out and designed project. I am happy to have been one of the councilors who supported the McWilliams administration on that project. All elected officials who supported it have a great deal to be proud of, and I am sure that Mr. Muhammad who lives on North Avenue can attest to the benefits that he as a homeowner has derived.

If only the current Administration would get busy working with FEMA to redraw the flood maps, the residents of the First Ward would be able to get the financial relief they seek. They deserve to realize a drastic reduction in the flood insurance premiums they currently pay. As a matter of fact, many of the residents in the First Ward could make a very strong case for the elimination of flood insurance all together, all as a result of the North Avenue road reconstruction and flood remediation project, a project that was conceived in the minds of individuals who wanted nothing but the best for the residents of the First Ward. It is shameful that some would allow the trees to blind them, causing them to lose sight of the beauty that is the forest.

The North Avenue road reconstruction and flood remediation project should be seen for what it is: a success story that needs to be replicated, not one to be criticized for the purpose of scoring cheap political points.



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Proposal for the Calendar Year: An Idea Whose Time Has Come!

Two years ago, when I returned to the Plainfield City Council, I recommended to the Mayor and to my council colleagues that the City of Plainfield should revert from a fiscal year to a calendar year. At the time, I was told that the absence of a CFO would make it somewhat challenging for the administration to do the work that would be necessary to prepare the application to the Division of Local Government Services in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

However, I never gave up on the goal of having the city revert to a calendar year. Out of the 51 municipalities that were previously on a fiscal year, roughly 26 have already reverted. When the 2011 goals of the Finance and Administration Committee were announced earlier this year, we knew that reversion had to be a priority. As the Chairman of the Finance and Administration Committee I laid out the steps that would be necessary in the process of reversion as well as the advantages to doing so.

As has been reported by the current CFO, the city faces a budget gap of $3.4 million. The gap has been expanded as a result of the Council’s decision to restore funds to two of the city’s operating divisions, and will expand even further when the city receives a bill from Union County for the county’s 5% share of all PILOT revenues paid to the city since 2005. Prior to 2005, all PILOT revenues went to the city, with none going to the county or to the local school district. However, due to a change in the law dating back to 2005, all counties must now receive 5% of PILOT revenues. Therefore, what was thought to be a $3.4 million budget gap could easily balloon to over $4 million, depending on the bill that has been or will be sent to the city from the county.

Hence, in light of the rising expenses, declining revenues, and a budget gap that continues to grow, the idea of reverting to a calendar year, which I first proposed in 2009, is one whose time has come. I am happy to report that the city now has a CFO who is savvy enough to be able to put all of the required pieces together to assists the council in making this idea a reality. The primary benefits of reverting from a fiscal year to a calendar year are as follows:

  1. A fiscal year that runs with the calendar year from January to December would be aligned with the election cycle and would allow newly elected official to participate in the budget process from the outset. Newly elected official would no longer be able to say that they had nothing to do with the budget.
  2. The confusion stemming from the use of two tax rates, one for the fiscal year and one for the calendar year, will disappear and property owners will be better able to understand their tax bill.
  3. The city will be able to pull in all state aid into the transitional year budget between July 1 and December 31, thus regenerating surplus and regaining a more solid financial footing.
  4. On January 1, the City would become eligible for a new round of state aid as a calendar year municipality.
  5. The potential loss of jobs and services that could result from the challenge of complying with the governor’s mandated 2% CAP (when faced with a potential budget gap that could reach over $4 million) would be minimized.

Although what I have outlined above are key benefits of reverting from a fiscal year to a calendar year, I must caution that this is not a panacea; these financial benefits must be viewed as one-time hits. They do not eliminate the need for the city to be fiscally prudent and for the collective bargaining units to come to the table in good faith to work with the Mayor and Council to find long term solutions to the financial challenges the city faces. All parties must now work together to ease the property tax burden while, at the same time, preserving as many jobs as possible and maintaining quality municipal services.