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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Councilman Storch. I appreciate your "blink-not a blink" approach. The pension payment deferral is a bad idea, but this mayor does not want to be responsible (or perceived to be so) for a 9.5% tax increase in an election year. The truth is, she does not have to be, if she adheres to your paradigm. She must eliminate wastefulness and patronage jobs and think about attrition in a serious way. The loss of some jobs is inevitable, but we live in an automated society and some of the functions of the municipality can be done more efficiently now than in the past. The city has to become computer-literate. That is one if the biggest problems in Plainfield. There are people who work here who have no idea how to use a computer and who are unwilling to learn how. Being computer-literate would help with efficiency. Dare I say that many in the administration and staff and in the various departments still don't even know how to use email.

There are many things to cut and jobs that can be eliminated. The council and administration have more often than not been penny wise (not really, though) and pound foolish in service of an agenda that doesn't seem to have the residents in mind.

It's time to eliminate true waste, but let's not regress in terms of infrastructure repairs like the road project. This project affects everyone who lives in Plainfield as well as those who come here to conduct business, visit, and potentially move here.

Anonymous said...

keep preaching to the choir Cory.. you're on your way out the door and either your pride or ignorance wont even allow you to see that..

i'm not saying this to be mean really, i just would rather you read it here than to read it when you are not elected for another term..

Rob said...

Well written and to the point..very refreshing to hear ANY politician at any level of NJ Government speaking plainly and honestly. Would love to see you call out your fellow City Government workers on their opinions of this exact subject. The machine that is the government of NJ is very hungry and can only be tamed by refusing to feed it any more. Please don't blink and please don't let your fellow council members blink. We do need people who are able to lead..not just stand there with the smug "I'm part of the county party's favored few" smile that so graces all of her photo opp's.