Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Mayor's Responsiblity for Plainfield Recreation

The Mayor and her Administration have the managerial prerogative to continue recreation programs without adding money into the budget if that is their goal. Below are Mayor Sharon's three options:

1. During the absence of a Department Head or Division Head, the Mayor has the ability to assign the City Administrator or another Department or Division Head to cover the duties and responsibilities of that office. The Mayor has used this approach before to cover top level management responsibilities (i.e. As City Administrator, Bibi Taylor was assigned the responsibilities of the Director of Administration & Finance and CFO. Currently, the new Director of Administration & Finance, Al Restaino is assigned the responsibilities of CDBG Director and PAS Director. Additionally, Jacques Howard, the UEZ Coordinator, is also assigned the responsibilities of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.) So, the million dollar question...why is Recreation any different?

2. The Mayor has the ability to create the Recreation Superintendent's position on a part-time basis versus full-time thereby extending or cancelling the April 15, 2011 lay-off. When the new fiscal year begins on July 1, the budget reduction would then be spread out over 12 months instead of 2 months. This option allows the Mayor to work within budget and still have the current Superintendent of Recreation maintain his position.

3. The Recreation Committee is a committee created by ordinance and comprised of concerned residents to provide guidance and recommendations on City-wide recreation programs. Its important to note that all Committee members were appointed by the Mayor last year amid controversy surrounding Queen City Baseball League and the Division of Recreation. Should the Recreation Superintendent's position become vacant, the Recreation Committee's services are still needed. The Committee could fill the service gap and provide the much needed citizen input into the type of programs our community deserves.

Each of these three options would work if the administration made a commitment to work within the resources provided by the approved budget. That has been the way every year including the last two years in which layoffs created staffing gaps that had to be filled. When there is a will, there is a way. These three options can be also be used in combination. All it takes is the usual effort expected of a Mayor.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Jersey Redevelopment Forum

I attended the annual Redevelopment Forum held by New Jersey Future last Friday (fyi - no cost to Plainfield for my attendance). This full day learning and networking event had much information relevant for Plainfield.

Of great interest was the New Jersey economy report by Rutgers/Bloustein School economist Joe Seneca. He shared some sobering data on jobs and real estate markets. New Jersey (and the nation) may have seen a Wall Street recovery but a jobs recovery will take at least 10 years before we gain back the jobs lost in the last three years. And the new jobs will be mostly lower paying ones than the ones lost. This has already had a negative impact on the real estate market. Seneca believes we are on the verge of a triple dip in residential home prices - the double dip happened last April with the expiration of the federal tax credit for home buyers.

At the same time, rental vacancies are down so rent costs are rising for residential. Rentals will also rebound because much of the new construction in the last four decades has been for owners, not renters - so the rental market is underbuilt. We are seeing this unfold in downtown Plainfield with the difficulties selling condos at the Monarch and with West 2nd St Commons being planned as rental units.

Seneca's predictions for the future:
1. 2011 - 2020: a slow, lengthy and painful economic recovery in New Jersey
2. 2011: accelerated foreclosures, financing is scarce
3. 2012: the beginnings of a housing recovery, redevelopment planning off the back burner
4. 2013 - 2017: Generation Y peak home buying years, economy slowly recovers, redevelopment projects shift back into gear

Seneca drove home a point about "rail towns" and transit villages. They are an emerging market and development outlook and real estate value is better in these areas than for New Jersey in general. He shared data to prove his point. He responded to a question from a Somerville planner regarding the Hudson River tunnel, saying the the new tunnel proposal is a real opportunity for the Raritan Valley. Even though there are fewer new "slots" going to Manhatten than with the canceled ARC tunnel, Bergen and Passaic counties are not included in the new proposal. Still there will be competition among rail lines and Plainfield will have to have a strong presence within the Raritan Valley Coalition.

For me the take home lesson for Plainfield: we are on the right "track", having started our planning with the vision study and having a developers agreement with Landmark for downtown projects. Planning for the future must continue, particularly on the economic development, transit area zoning and downtown parking fronts. The downtown streetscape improvements begun under the McWilliams administration must continue. We must re-organize citizens and legislators to advocate for the Raritan Valley Line (remember CLANG? - we need it back).

Seneca's look into New Jersey's future included the following statement: WINKs (single women with no children) and minorities will lead the way with residential housing demand.