Saturday, October 18, 2008

Plainfield's Money: Who's In Charge

Saturday's Courier News lead story was about the $1.66 million dollar mistake in the Plainfield 2009 proposed budget. This mistake is disturbing for two reasons. One is the potential tax increase, an additional 3% added on to the already high 9.5% proposed increase. The second problem is that our city administration's official position is that this is the fault of the audit firm that does Plainfield's municipal annual audit. Just when we all want to take responsibility for a serious problem, we get finger pointing. Who was checking the numbers? The Mayor and her team obviously did not.

Is she saying that our audit firm created the budget that the administration introduced to the City Council. Whatever she was thinking, this incorrect budget has been submitted to the Council. It is now our mess to deal with.

To make matters worse, our City Administrator stated that we will use surplus to address this mistake. That may well be but only the Council can decide that, not the Mayor or her staff. And the Council has not even been consulted, let alone requested by the Mayor, to use surplus to fix this huge budget hole.

When there are performance problems in city government, the first reaction should be to be constructive and not just critical. Some will want to close ranks around the underperforming city officials and do patch work. That may be fine for minor potholes but not when the road is in need of total reconstruction. That is where we are right now with the city's fiscal operations and budget.

This $1.66 million mistake is, unfortunately, indicative of the Mayor's budgeting process and more. I will provide details in my blog later this week to explain some of our problems and possible solutions.


Anonymous said...

Hello Cory,

The explanation by the administration that this is an auditor's error is ridiculous. Municipal auditors are not responsible for preparing information they are responsible for checking the validity of the information which is usually performed through a sampling of the information prepared. To suggest it is the auditors fault is simply incorrect. Further the idea that we will have a tax increase is very unfortunate. No one wishes to attempt to really cut the insanely high spending that Plainfielders are faced with. It will take courage from council members and the administration to address the out of control spending. We cannot continue along this path of increasing spending forever. The contracts with municipal employees need to be renegotiated to include a provision that they pay a portion of their health insurance costs. And we should eliminate all spending for outside consultants. It will not hurt the city in any way if that was imposed. Place a freeze on outside consultants spending.

We also need to have a revaluation process initiated to properly assess values and apply taxes proportionately based on the values of homes. This would result in an increase in taxes for the homeowners with higher property values who are currently being subsidized by homeowners with significantly lower property values whose properties are currently being taxed at a much higher value. The property values of commercial properties in the city are also artificially lower than they should be. This needs to be addressed.

I am also signing anonynmous because I do not wish to have the Union County Democratic Machine punsih me and my family.

Anonymous said...

Councilman Storch,
It is always a treat to read your blog. I appreciate your thoughful and even soft reponses to issues that have plagued this city for decades. I am also struck how the comments from other responders are presented with such authority and clarity. However, meaning well, a little knowledge does not make an expert. Case in point: The assumption that one part of town is paying more or less in taxes than another because property values are higher or lower is falacious. A revaluation would only establish a new assessed value - and at great cost to the tax payers. The assumption is that property values throughout the city have not risen on an equal % basis. There are individual exceptions, but generally this is just not the way a revaluation plays out - what individuals pay in real estate taxes remains about the same after the revaluation -only the tax rate is less.