Sunday, March 2, 2008

My take on the 2008 Plainfield City Budget

The budget is approved, finally, 8 months into the municipal budget year. Under state budgeting rules, towns cannot do the sensible thing: approve a budget before the year begins. Most towns declare budgeting victory if they can get it done 4 months after the fact. For urban municipalities that depend on the special tax relief called "extraordinary aid", the best we can do is 6 months late. So blame New Jersey for the first 6 months and Plainfield for the last 2 months delay.

By the way, waiting for that extraordinary aid was well worth it for Plainfield. We got $800,000. Credit Assemblyman Jerry Green for that.

Given the time we had to produce a budget, how did we do as a city? I give us a mixed review.

On the positive side the Mayor and her administration made some tough spending decisions to deliver a budget to the Council that had an 8.5% tax increase. It might not sound that good until you understand the mandated salary increases from union contracts and state health and pension costs that are way out of control. Also, the Council was not tempted to dip into surplus to lower taxes. In another blog, I will explain the downside of using surplus as a one time fix for property tax relief.

Area's for improvement:

1. Get the budget approved earlier in the year, certainly no later than early to mid December. This goal is for the administration and is directly related to hiring and retaining qualified financial leadership, a serious problem for this administration.

2. Increase revenues! Money coming in to offset our continual cost increases is a must. We have to get back to the increases in various revenue producing activities that we saw in the last administration.

3. We have cut a lot of fat out of local government in the last 10 years by looking at budget line items. Now we have to take aim at systems to make sure we are getting our money's worth as Plainfield residents. Some of the questions we need to ask are:
  • Do we need 3 fire stations given how Plainfield and surrounding towns share firefighting assignments. Can we do this without sacrificing response time.
  • Are we getting value from the deployment of property code inspectors to closely regulate each and every house that is sold. Instead, should we use them more strategically to address eyesores and serious safety problems.
  • Can we significantly reduce legal and workers compensation costs through a comprehensive risk management program.
  • When will information technology and public relations become more than a hole to pour money into. When will it result in a more efficient government that is more convenient for the people and more cost effective as well.

The 8.5% tax increase was reduced to 6.5% as a result of the extraordinary aid and some cost reductions made by Council. I voted against this budget but I am relieved that it passed. Tax bills need to be sent out. I will vote for a tax increase if residents are guaranteed that every effort was made to keep taxes as low as possible and that they will receive the best quality services.

We are not there yet although I have seen some improvements in recent years. Most important for me is that the potential for significant progress exists in Plainfield. The pace of progress is directly connected to citizen participation in government. Get (or stay!) involved.

Cory Storch , City Councilman, 2nd Ward

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Councilman, I think the legislation preventing the passage of a budget before the beginning of the fiscal year is insane and needs to be revised. By your math there is no way to have any type of savings when the budget gets passed at leat six months into the budget year.

Anonymous said...

Dear Councilman Storch,

I am troubled by the fact that by foregoing her two personal bodyguards the mayor could have two additional law enforcement officers at our disposal. I am troubled by the city council's refusal to even address this issue. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Can we fire the public relations department and get someone who can do the job and start promoting Plainfield? Part of changing the image is letting people know what positive things are going on here and courting real estate agents to show them that this town is not a war zone. Obviously the PR department has no clue what to do. Can we get rid of them and get in people who are smart and know what to do, or at least have the smarts to figure it out?

Joseph Bergen said...

Councilman Storch, have you and the other council members considered the ramifications of the budget plan exploding into a disaster once the council votes to eliminate the Plainfield Chief position? Has the council taken into consideration the budget record of our Mayor when she was head of the board of education? This stinks to high heaven, for any council member to agrees to participate in a political lynching. The actionss taken may seem to prevail on the surface, but will cripple the city's budget when a law suit will eventually overturned in Chief's favor.

Anonymous said...

Councilman,

You state that Plainfield has made much progress. Would you please tell me what progress has been made? I've lived here for 20 years and do not see any. To the contrary, the town has continued to decline. ..something I didn't think was possible.