Layoffs and unfilled vacancies are only two of the strategies Plainfield must employ in the new budget year while still keeping up vital services, City Administrator Marc Dashield
told the City Council Monday.
The council will be asked to vote Nov. 16 on introduction of the State Fiscal Year 2010 budget year, after which the governing body can have its say on the final budget. Factors impacting their decisions will be the national recession, decreased revenues, increased pension costs and the slim possibility of receiving extraordinary state aid to offset a tax increase.
As it is, the owner of an average home valued at $113,000 is looking at a projected tax increase of $400 just for municipal taxes. But in a pitch to the state for more than $3 million in extraordinary state aid, the administration said county and school taxes are also expected to increase for a combined tax increase of perhaps $618 on the average home.
Last year, the city received no extraordinary state aid and lessened the tax impact only by taking a "pension holiday" to defer costs which now must be paid in full, plus an increase.
In the face of hardship, Dashield said the city's three main priorities in the SFY 2010 budget are public safety, continued investment in road improvements and investments in information technology.
Naming crime reduction as the number one priority of the administration, Dashield said public safety costs take up 36 percent of the projected budget. Insurance and pension costs are second at 28 percent, followed by Public Works at 10 percent.
The presentation caught both City Council President Rashid Burney
and new Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services Director Bibi Taylor
unaware. Council members also raised questions and objections to the administration's submission of the request for extraordinary aid before budget introduction. Dashield explained the discrepancy as an accommodation made by the state Division of Local Government Services to allow the city to meet the deadline for applications.
"What concerns me is the lack of openness with the governing body," Councilman Adrian Mapp
said. "We as the governing body deserve more respect."
Dashield said a call had been made to Burney as council president, but Burney said he thought it was just an informational call and agreed that council members should have been informed of the circumstances before a vote.
The budget, which was whittled down from an initial projected 19 percent increase to a 9.6 increase, will be studied both by the council and a budget advisory committee for further refinement. Meanwhile, half the budget year starting July 1 has elapsed with temporary or emergency appropriations.
During the public portion of the meeting Monday, some city employees spoke out about being residents and taxpayers whose home ownership would be on the line if they were laid off. For 2010, layoffs "in the teens" are forecast unless relief comes from somewhere.
In other business, the council discussed the disposition of Dudley House, which may not be resolved until past the New Year. Plaintalker will report later on this topic.
Mapp inquired about two memos he said he never received, one regarding the chief finance officer and one on communications from the Union County Improvement Authority, which was designated in 2006 as the city's redevelopment entity. The state Department of Community Affairs has challenged the city's use of acting or interim CFOs and has demanded the naming of a temporary CFO as required by state law. The nature of the UCIA communication was not revealed at Monday's meeting.
New Cable Television Advisory Board Chairman Lamar Mackson
updated the governing body on improvements in both the composition, mission, goals and more of the board. Council liaisons to the board commended Mackson for his efforts over the past two months. Plaintalker will also break out a separate post later.
Other speakers Monday had issues about recreation and sports programs, with some making personal challenges to council members about their commitment or participation in community athletics and voluntarism.
Speed humps on Kensington Avenue raised the question of why other speed-prone streets could not get the same traffic-calming devices. But some said the safety factor for possible damage to police and fire vehicles had to be considered.
All in all, this meeting gave rise to many issues that deserve amplification. In coming days, Plaintalker hopes to oblige.--Bernice Paglia