Friday, May 17, 2019

My Take on the Plainfield 2019 Budget


Knowing I would be traveling in early May I submitted proposed budget reductions to the Council Finance Committee at the end of April.  They totaled just over $500,000 also taking into account my proposed increases for the Library and seasonal recreation employees.  This blog post puts me on the record for my position on the city budget.  It was the will of the Council Finance committee to not accept my proposed budget amendments.  Had I been present at the Council meeting (I tried unsuccessfully to call in) I would have voted no on the budget that was approved.  The exception was Ashley Davis' no vote.  She has shown herself to be an independent voice on the Council.

P.S. my questions at the bottom were answered.

Proposed budget amendments - Cory Storch

 
line item admin # proposed #   difference comments
Mayors dues800060002000
Council travel950040005500
Council consulting500020003000
Council conference800040004000
Council travel600040002000
Insurance  flood15000100005000was 8800 in 2018
Insurance  auto12050001105000100000reduced to what was requested; similar to 2018
nsurance dental13399112000013991highest expenditure in 5 years is 120K, most years around 65K
Insurance opt outopt out18000017000010000still higher than last 5 years
Corporation Counsel1000007500025000same as 2018
Finance consulting750002000055000requested 50K; under 20K since 2015
Comptroller overtime12038012038not used since 2014
Audit control training2500150010001500 was requested
Audit control miscellaneous500030002000most years around 3K
Centralized community initiatives13000600070005300 last year, 4000 previous year
postage58000500008000still moe than 2018 - 48000
Health office equip25002000500average 1250 last two years
Community Dev emerg. Housing600040002000still more than last 2 years combined
Social Services consulting5000500never spent in this line
Social Services travel1000500500never spent in this line
DPW conference350010002500most years around 1K
DPW overtime24000020000040000never over 179000 since 2014
Egnineering consulting12000010000020000most years under 100K
Inspections acting pay302215001522management should cover this cost from savings in other lines
Inspections equip maint500040001000most years under 700
Inspections conference5000350015002389 last year
Senior seasonal workers600030003000never used in last 5 years
Fire overtime76500074000025000Management hasn’t made good on past goals
Fire bottled water550030002500839 in 2018
Fire med supplies3000200010002172 in 2018
Police overtime931000765000166000Management hasn’t made good on past goals
Police holiday pay22000020500015000last years cost
spot shotter1840001840000132000 last year; why a big increase?
Youth Council150001000050002K in 2018
Environmental Commission100001000never implemented
Natl Night Out500020003000spent 750 ini 2018
Total reductions43580513811000547051
Library30000
Recreation seasonal10000
Total increases4000040000
Grand total-507051
Questions
Court special serviceswhat is it
City Employmentwhat is it
Telephonewhy is it budgeted higher
Bond Anticipation Noteswhy is over 220000 higher
Notes Interestwhy 331000 higher
Police Radiosexplain
Cap Grant Cancellationwhat is it
SSexplain the increase
PERSexplain the increase
PFRSexplain athe increase
Reserve for Uncollected TAXesexplain the difference between amounts requested and reccommended

Monday, May 13, 2019

Road Signs in Plainfield

Please excuse the pun but the improving condition of Plainfield's roads are a sign of progress in city hall.  Our roads are no longer a source of frustration or a symbol of long term neglect by local government. 

We began a city-wide paving plan 12 years ago.  But we were playing catch up and we didn't make much headway until the Mapp administration came to city hall.  Now we have an accelerated paving program.  

What's more - we have begun to do what our engineers have been saying for years: maintain our roads by sealing the cracks to slow down deterioration and extend the life of our roads.  Go to a shopping mall to see how for profit businesses invest in road upkeep.  Just park your car and look down. Mall owners and operators know that crack sealing is cost effective.





We still have many roads that haven't been paved for too long.  A typical road should last 15 to 20 years or more with proper maintenance.  With our accelerated paving plan, we will get caught up and then we will be able to afford even more resources for extending the life of our roads. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Library Needs Our Support

As city council moves towards budget passage, we have to balance the need for a vital public library with the needs of taxpayers. The question facing us right now is how we can preserve the library hours.  Although the proposed library budget is the same as in 2018, a new expense of $45,000 has been added in 2019 for training local residents to become certified in Cisco computer network support.  That would mean reducing library hours to make up the difference.  More on Cisco below.  I propose we restore $30,000 to the library budget.

Cisco certification is an opportunity for employment in high paying jobs.  that's certainly an attractive initiative in a city with relatively high unemployment.  But it is not clear how many people actually completed the Cisco training in 2018 and became certified.  Even more important, how many became employed or advanced to training in higher level Cisco certification.

I asked that question and the answer did not shed light on the questions above.  But there is word in the community of a low graduation/certification rate for 2018. If that is untrue there may be justification to continue this program in 2019.  If good outcome data is not provided to City Council, I propose we use 2019 to to put this program on hold and evaluate what happened and whether we can  do anything to get better outcomes in 2020.  That adds another $45,000 to the library budget.

That would also help the library maintain its hours - which is also part of the plan to increase resident access to good jobs through free internet service.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Plainfield Progress on Abandoned Properties


Plainfield's City Council approved an abandoned properties ordinance more than a decade ago.  But there was not adequate leadership or commitment in city administration to take the ball and run with it.  This is an important tool to get vacant and deteriorating properties restored so they are not eyesores and back on the tax rolls. We are now using it to our advantage.

Shep Brown is the new Director who oversees Community Development.    He shared with me that there are 276 properties on the abandoned properties list.  Here is the breakdown by ward:
  • Ward 1 - 54
  • Ward 2 - 68
  • Ward 3 - 51
  • Ward 4 - 103

This list is the first step in turning properties from liabilities to assets.  In some cases the threat of future city action, like taking possession of a neglected property, is enough to spur the owner into action to properly care for his or her property.  Or sell to a new owner who will do right by the property, the neighbors and the city. 

The city can take ownership if a property is not fixed up to Plainfield's code standards. 

Mr. Brown shared that he inherited a list with very little turnover.  But the last 12 months tell a different story, according to Mr. Brown.  Properties are coming off the list.  I have asked him to share data to show this story in the near future.  Stay tuned.

Monday, April 29, 2019

My Work in Behavioral Health


For those of you who know me primarily as a Councilman, I have another vocation.  It's more like a mission to me and I've been doing it for over 40 years.  I am CEO of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a not for profit mental health service organization.  I am a rehabilitation counselor by training with a Masters degree.  I started as a counselor at Bridgeway when it was a small Elizabeth based day program for people discharged from Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital.  Over the years Bridgeway has been at the forefront of a growing community mental health support system and I have grown professionally along with the organization. 

Today Bridgeway serves the 10 northern New Jersey counties from 14 locations.  We serve over 4,0000 people annually with 350 full time employees.  Bridgeway specializes in providing evidence based services to people with the most complex and challenging mental health conditions.  In spite of the stigma attached to mental illness, recovery is possible and is likely given the right services and supports.

Many persons served by Bridgeway have co-occurring substance abuse and/or chronic medical conditions.  Some have struggled with homelessness or criminal justice involvement.  The complexity of these challenges has led Bridgeway to join with housing partners and work closely with the county jails and Prosecutors offices. 

Most of our services are provided by mobile, multi-disciplinary teams that operate 7 days a week and are accessible 24 hours a day.  One such team is Program of Assertive Treatment Team 2 located in Plainfield on Roosevelt Ave behind Pollo Comparo.

You can learn more about Bridgeway from our website - www.bridgewayrehab.org - or facebook.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

June 4 Primary Election is About Plainfield's Future

Speaking with Plainfielders about how they feel about our city, I hear a growing consensus that we are making progresss as a city.  Finally.  In my opinion, this is due to leadership in our local municipal government.  We have a Mayor and Council that are working with local, county and state stakeholders on many fronts to move our city forward.

That's why this coming election is important.  It is a contested Democratic primary.  There will be a slate of opponents challenging the Council incumbents - Barry Goode and me.  And a slate of Democratic committee candidates challenging the Regular Democratic Organization, currently led by Adrian Mapp.

Plainfield Democrats - you  have a choice on June 4!!

Your current leadership stands for continued progress.  You are seeing visible signs of it.  An accelerated road paving program.  Refurbished recreation facilities like Seidler Field.  Development across the city.  Less visible signs like an improved bond rating which will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Crime is down and property values are up.

Our opponents want to take over city government.  These opponents include many candidates for Democratic committee who are members of the Plainfield school board or have been.  They have not yet turned our school district around.

I urge you to support our team in column A.  Why am I feeling a sense of urgency?  Recent history. 

In the 1990s Plainfield had a revolving door of School Superintendents and a divided Board of Education.  Our schools were failing our students because of a lack of leadership.  A group of concerned citizens ran for and took over the School Board.  I know this story well because I was one of them.  Good timing gave us the opportunity to appoint a new School Superintendent - Larry Leverett.  He began a reform program that started to turn the schools around.  When he left after 8 years a changing Board of Education appointed a new Superintendent who was unable to sustain progress.  Plainfield schools lost many of the gains that had been made and we are still a school district that is not providing the education our students deserve. 

My point is that progress is not guaranteed.  It takes sustained effort over years.  You cant fix what was broken over a long period of time without sustained quality leadership.  We have that now at city hall.

This primary election is not just about electing two Council members.  Its about control of the Plainfield Democratic committee. Which ever group of committee members wins the majority in this primary election will select a mayoral candidate in the Democratic primary election in 2021.  For Plainfield's future I want it to be Adrian Mapp. I don't need to agree with him on everything.  I simply want a mayor who will provide effective leadership so we can continue to see visible signs of progress for many years going forward.

For sustainable progress, choose column A on June 4.

Monday, April 8, 2019

We Need To Decrease Property Taxes

New Jersey pollsters routinely identify property taxes as the primary concern of residents.  In Plainfield the story is similar with a local twist.  I like to think that our local version of pollsters
are candidates for office going door to door asking residents about their issues.  I used to hear public safety and potholes as the leading concerns.  "Early returns" this election season have property taxes in front.  And that is even more concerning to senior citizens I've spoken with.

New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation.  But Plainfielders do not care that they are in good company.  They care that they cannot afford the taxes.  Seniors on fixed incomes in particular are forced to move to other towns and states, away from their circle of supportive friends and neighbors. 

The challenge to decrease property taxes is daunting.  So much so that I propose we take this on as a multi-year project beginning with the 2019 municipal budget.  The city administration is presenting the City Council with an annual budget tonight, April 8.  Once the Council receives the budget it is our responsibility to make any changes we see fit to make and then approve it.  It is perhaps the most important decision of the year for Council.

The administration budget proposes to increase expense less than 2% from 2018.  This is in part due to increased pension costs.  But decreased tax ratables means the Council faces a municipal property tax increase of 3.5%.  Lower ratables comes from successful taxpayer appeals and means that the rest of the taxpayers take on a bigger share of the tax burden.  (It is a misconception that developer tax breaks are causing Plainfield taxes to go up .  In fact all of the developers receiving those incentives are still paying the city more than the previous taxes on the properties they are developing).

Where does this leave us?

The City Council will have to take a hard look at 2019 expenses.  Police and fire division overtime pay is an example.  Reducing expenses requires painful decisions that are bound to upset some constituencies.  But that is what Council members agreed to take responsibility for with the oath of office.

We will have to learn from what other cities have done.  Some in New Jersey have reduced property taxes.  It is what our residents need and require.  It will also make us more business friendly.  More commercial development and investment by current businesses will increase our tax ratables, taking on some of the burden from residential property taxes. We need to reduce property taxes.