Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Comment on comments on my blog

My practice has been to post all comments unless they are personal attacks on anyone or if they are off topic. Lately I have been receiving numerous off topic comments that clearly have a political agenda. Dear readers, I welcome your comments but I will not post it if I am writing about the city budget and the comment is about how certain Board of Education members who supposedly oppose Jerry Green are harming our school district.

As an ex-Board of Ed member, I know how hard that job is and how important it is for the whole community to lend their support to the Plainfield schools. Lets do everything we can to depoliticize our school district and focus on the academic performance of Plainfield youth.

Regarding personal attacks, they are not welcome. I have excluded numerous personal attacks or non specific blog comments on Ms Robinson Briggs and Mr Green. Read my blog carefully and you will see that I am critical, not of Mayor Sharon or Assemblyman Green as people, but of their performance as leaders of Plainfield. I try to make specific criticisms and offer alternatives. And I give credit when it is due.

To my recent and frequent off topic commenter, either get in the spirit of my blog or try another blog, perhaps the Assemblyman's, for publication of your comments.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tough Times Ahead for Property Tax Payers....and Renters

And workers and business owners. People are losing their jobs, pension funds are shrinking, shopping is down and development has slowed almost to a halt. The impact in Plainfield is showing with an increase in home mortgage foreclosures. Increasing unemployment will surely hurt Plainfielders and we in city government will have to reckon with dipping property values.

Watching the actions of elected officials prior to my election to city council, I've been most interested in decisions made under difficult circumstances. Why did Governor Jim Florio raise income taxes knowing the price he would pay politically? Why did Governor Whitman raid the pension funds, knowing that New Jersey citizens would eventually see a day of reckoning? In Plainfield, why did the City Council squander in one year a huge payment from other towns for the sale of the sewer system?

The simple answer is that when elected officials are between a rock and a hard place, they often blink. The rock is usually angry tax payers who vote and the hard place is often workers protecting their hard won wages and benefits.

Where does that leave us in Plainfield? We are facing a 9.5% tax increase on the municipal budget and the school tax increase will continue to rise after decades of remaining flat. County taxes, the third component of our tax bill, have also increased most every year.

I will only speak to the municipal portion of the tax bill because it is the major part of the total. Also, the school tax increase, which started in 2008, is mandated as a decision made in Trenton regarding Abbott school districts. The City Council is deliberating on proposed cuts that could reduce the tax increase to around 7%. Beyond that, proposals for further budget reductions have been strenuously opposed by City Administrator Marc Dashield. These further cuts, he rightfully says, would have to be the elimination of jobs and consequently, services to residents.

The other side of the coin is property owners and renters, some of whom will get squeezed out of their homes by taxes and rents that exceed their incomes and ability to pay. So to blink or not to blink. Here is my version of the two options:

  • If the state legislature approves the pension payment deferral plan and the City Council actually defers a payment - that's a blink. Putting expenses off for future Mayors, Councils and taxpayers has a long history in our state but it is unfair and bad policy.

  • If the Council requires that non essential city workers go to a reduced work week for the last few months of this fiscal year (ending June 30, 2009), we will save money - it would be very unpopular among many city workers but that's not a blink.

  • If Plainfield elected officials continue to say "there are no sacred cows in our budget" but refuse to consider cuts in our police and fire division budgets - that's a blink.
  • If we eliminate out of state travel for staff and elected officials and food for staff and public meetings - that's not a blink.
  • If we freeze salaries of non union employees earning $80,000 or more - that's not a blink.

A good principle for budget action is that everyone shares the pain.

All budget decisions will be made knowing that the all important primary election is coming in June. This is an opportunity for Plainfield stakeholders to make your feelings known. The local budget process has not generally had as much input from the people who pay the property taxes as from the employees of government. This years budget advisory committee has stimulated some advocacy from residents. Lets see what the new year brings.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Going Green

No, I am not referring to an elected official. Green is the new buzz word in New Jersey government, referring to anything about sustainable, healthy communities. It means a lot for the future of Plainfield. That is why, come January, I will be working with my City Council colleagues to move Plainfield in the "green" direction.
There are many aspects to sustainability:
  • preserving open and public spaces
  • growing the local economy and keeping local money in the community
  • local jobs for our residents
  • energy saving buildings and vehicles
  • recycling
  • transit oriented development
  • walkable downtowns
  • teaching our young people to live sustainably

One of the first steps is to do energy audits of Plainfield's public buildings. This is a really good deal for Plainfield as the audit will lead to saving money every year. Money wasted on heat and air-conditioning leaking through windows, doors and poorly insulated walls can be re-invested in services that residents need, or tax relief. We will ask the Public Schools, the Housing Authority and the PMUA to join the city on this initiative. Along this line, we need a better plan for selecting city vehicles, ones that are fuel efficient.

We have already taken some steps in the right direction with energy savings. Look for Plainfield and other communities to pick up the pace in 2009. We can't afford not to.

Solar panels could be in Plainfield's future. Last Monday I attended a meeting to organize Union County towns for a group purchasing arrangement. Solar technology has improved to the point where the up front cost of the panels is recovered in about 7 years in the Northeastern USA. Under a creative new financing arrangement, a "purchase power agreement" would eliminate all costs for purchase, installation and maintenance of the panels. Plainfield would still save money on the monthly energy bills but we would share some of the savings with the solar panel installer, who would own and maintain the panels. Plus, having a group of towns and school districts do this together would help us negotiate a better deal. I spoke with School Superintendent Dr Gallon and he is interested in exploring this with the city.

Going green is not just about acting locally to help the planet. Its about making Plainfield a better place to live, work and visit. Creating local jobs for our people reduces traffic congestion and greenhouse gases but more local jobs also strengthen our tax base and stimulate local businesses. Each aspect of sustainability is connected in a synergistic way.

Imagine this: we hire an energy audit firm for our municipal and school buildings. The contract states that Plainfield High School students will taught to participate in energy audits. They also learn about the growing green economy and green jobs. Then they go home and help their families save money on the PSE&G bill.