The first was not surprising. When I showed up for the "Multi Year and Long Range Financial Planning" session (in the unpopular 9:00 am time slot!), I could not get in. Correction - I could not get near the door. Several hundred people were crowding in to hear about the scary prospects for city budgets and taxes and how to project expenses and revenues to anticipate problems. Walking towards the next hot topic workshop, it occurred to me that this is a job for the 2009 City Council Finance Committee.
Up next, the session on "The Green Future Roadmap - How to Go Green in NJ". Actually there were many workshops on sustainability and going green throughout the three day convention. I attended most of them and was happy to see my council colleagues Burney and Simmons in attendance as well. As Trenton Mayor Palmer said, this is not a fad. And its not just about polar bears and climate change. Its about changing the climate in our neighborhoods and making our communities sustainable. What does that really mean?
- keeping residents money in the local economy
- creating local jobs for our residents
- city government and the Board of Education leading the way to energy efficient buildings and vehicles
- educating our young people to live sustainably and prepare to join the green economy that President-elect Obama is talking about
- using transit oriented development to maximize pedestrian friendly living, shopping and working
I also learned about Citi-Stat, a data driven city management system that measures the effectiveness and efficiency of city services and helps government become more accountable to the people. Neighboring Union Township is using this tool. We need this kind of change in Plainfield and 2009 is right around the corner.
A session on affordable housing detailed the convoluted and not very effective process of meeting New Jersey's demand for housing for working and lower income families. An important regulation for Plainfield is "Growth Share". Even if we think we have our fair share of affordable housing, we will create new obligations when we build new housing units - 1 new affordable unit for every 4 new units - and another affordable unit for every 8 new jobs created. Clearly, we will have to move away from our developer driven approach. What is needed is a city wide comprehensive plan that integrates the housing, job creation and business development elements. And residents and business owners will have to be welcomed into the planning process.
I will also share some information on property tax exemptions, immigration and language access, road paving (by far the most exciting topic) and energy audits. That will have to wait for my next blog.