Monday, May 17, 2010

The 2010 Municipal Budget

With the barrage of media coverage this year with everything related to local BOE budgets, the Dumont 2010 Municipal Budget seems to have received little attention.  Introduced on April 6, 2010:

The 2010 budget will require that municipal taxes increase $1,309,205 for support of municipal operations.  The 2010 municipal tax rate will increase 6.2 tax points or $237 on an average home assessed at $382,000.

Is my math incorrect or does that translate to a tax increase of 8.96% over last year?

Where is the outrage?

Recently the Council in Tenafly tried introducing their 2010 budget which had an 8% tax increase.  What happened?  According to the Record,

(Tenafly) Residents shared their concerns about a proposed 8 percent municipal tax levy hike at the May 6 budget workshop, causing the governing body to delay introduction of the spending plan.

The Dumont council held two hearings since the introduction, one at the senior center and another at borough hall.  Only one resident was present at borough hall to ask questions about the budget.  When asked whether the introduced budget reflected any cuts, the answer was no.  A number of other questions revealed that the Finance Committee seemed just as forthcoming as the BOE when it came to their respective budgets - if at all.  In addition, many practices seemed troubling as to how the municipal books were maintained.

When a request was made for the municipal budget's background information, this was the response:

...request for OPRA #29-documents that provided the background, details and basis for Dumont’s 2010 municipal budget introduction-is denied. The Borough attorney stated that it is considered deliberative work product and is not discoverable under OPRA and common law right of access.

Upcoming resolution being voted on the May 18, 2010 meeting appears interesting:

#10-156 Self-Examination of Dumont Municipal Budget *

How does that look when the council wants to "self-examine" a budget that they have refused to open to the public?  What does that say about their credibility?  Why are the budgets of Englewood and Mount Olive completely open and easily downloadable?  Is this similar to the BOE budget, where one resident thought it was "planned to fail"?

Since the council is reviewing the defeated BOE budget and suggesting further cuts, would it be fair to have the BOE review the municipal budget and suggest further cuts as well?

Every day I thank our Police for keeping our streets safe and our DPW for keeping our streets orderly.  I even thank all the staff in Borough Hall from Administrator to administrative assistants in all the various departments for keeping the borough's house in order.  Having said that, does this mean that our elected officials are relieved of their responsibility to negotiate new and re-negotiate existing labor contracts at every level to reflect the "shared sacrifice" currently experienced by residents?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Should the highest bidder get my vote, Parts II and III

In early February this year I wondered if the generous contributions of a borough professional influenced a council member's vote for the professional's re-appointment.

Apparently, two other council members seemed also to be beneficiaries at that vote.  On the February 2, 2010 council meeting, councilwoman Zamechansky could be heard praising the resident engineering firm:

Over the past year, I really have to commend especially Dominic for all the extra time that he took to stick with us to explain things, to do walkthroughs not just for the mayor and council, but for all the residents in town that the board members and I asked to do for them, the walkthroughs, really this helps everyone with the process, how, so that's my comment.

Councilman Manna chimes in later:

On the NJEIT Phase I project, uh, they've brought the project in ahead of schedule and the budget, so you know, uh, when we're looking at inputs and values and dollars saved, I can certainly, uh, both of us, Mr. Mayor, do thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Gentle readers, please feel free to correct for the record if I have misheard what the council members actually said.

Of the elected officials who spoke advocating the re-appointment of T&M Associates as the borough engineer, ELEC records show that a check for the state legal maximum of $2,600 was received by the primary campaign account of Ms. Zamechansky dated 01/11/10.  Records also show a check for the state legal maximum of $2,600 dated 01/05/10 was received by Mr. Manna's primary campaign account even though his primary election is not until June 2011.  Each campaign transferred $2,000 each to Mr. McHale's primary campaign account on 01/18/10, $525 each to Dumont Victory 2009 on 01/23/10 and $75 each to Mr. McHale's primary campaign account on 02/17/10 even though the mayoral primary election is not until June 2011.  All reports were filed with ELEC dated April 15, 2010.

If the endorsements were monetized, what was each word worth?  Ms. Zamechansky's statement came in at 68 words; approximately $38.24 per word.  Mr. Manna's statement came in at 46 words; around $56.52 per word.  Expensive words indeed.  Think that residents do not pay for this?  Think again.  Here is a recent quote for anyone wishing a copy of the proposed NJEIT Phase III project who wishes to take home a copy of the proposal plan and drawings since one need only look at the stack of documents and drawings to conclude that it seems hardly reasonable to review it in the clerk's office:  $63.50 for hardcopy and a whopping $276.00 for an electronic copy.  Apologies to folks who, like me,  received a letter that their property is affected by this construction project.  I would have considered shelling out $63.50 from my pocket for an electronic copy and sharing it with my neighbors, but $276.00 is a bit too rich for my budget.  Besides, what good is the borough website anyway, if it costs the borough $1500 per month for something that costs neighboring municipalities nearly 70% less?  I guess I will have to save that discussion for another day.

I must emphasize that the campaign contributions and the account transfers in this discussion, also known as "wheeling", are activities currently legal in the state of New Jersey; however, the Ordinance and Resolution Committee chaired by Councilman Stylianou is attempting to enact local legislation based on model ordinance supplied by Citizen's Campaign that would outlaw this practice.  The ordinance is already on the books in nearly a dozen Bergen municipalities and dozens of NJ municipalities and counties. 

One would think that coming off the heels of the Record investigative report and follow-up, council members might express concern in being seen as dragging its feet.  After two months and four meetings, green shoots of progress may finally be emerging.  But one has to wonder whether the green shoots cultivated by Mr. Stylianou can survive the trample of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), concerns expressed by Mr. Manna and Mr. McHale, both advocating the proposed ordinance's perfection over speedy adoption with future updates if and when needed.

Mr. Stylianou's excellent idea proposing the ordinance to be retroactive to 01/01/2010 signals his commitment to reform.  Will he prevail, or will he be unable to overcome opposition from other council members appearing either unable or unwilling to kick the habit of generous campaign fund injections  in 2010 and beyond from firms doing business with Dumont?

Connect the dots...