Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Grows in Darkness?

As reported by the Finance Committee Chair (cue to 16:15), as of March 10, the borough received 22 foreclosure letters.  This raises the foreclosure total to 34 year to date. 

Yet the borough administrator reported in February (cue to 64:00) that "delinquencies are down" and "tax payments have gone up to 98.75%... a record in years".

The Finance Committee Chair continues (cue to 18:05), that the committee has already met five times, "looking at each line item and talk about... responsibilities going forward". 

Sounds like official business, right?

Yet a recent inquiry to the Borough Clerk as to the status of the next Finance Committee Meeting returned the following response:

The budget committee is scheduled to meet Monday. There will not be a quorum and no official business will be conducted. Therefore, it is not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act and not open to the public.

Two things stood out:
  • No Quorum;
  • No Official Business.
For the first point, when asked to confirm whether the committee comprised of three council members and inquired as to what constituted quorum, the response:

A simple majority of 4 members of the Governing Body constitutes a quorum for the purposes of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Huh?  Does that mean that when the full membership of the Finance Committee meets, it will never achieve quorum and thus not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act?

A further request to confirm whether there were three members in the Finance Committee has been unanswered as of this posting.

For the second point, if "looking at each line item and talk about... responsibilities going forward" does not constitute official business, what is?  Personally I do not care if council members want to shoot the breeze, but why meet at borough hall?  This seems to contradict the Sunshine Act provisions.

Why make such a fuss?

On March 16, when significant parts of Dumont was struggling with a power outage caused by the weekend storm, borough finance were far from everyone's mind.  Yet it was at this sparsely attended public meeting that the Finance Committee Chair reported that municipal revenues have decreased 23.15%, necessitating a proposed 9.99% municipal levy increase for 2010/2011.  Of course, we now know the assumptions of no change in state aid and keeping the surplus intact were far too optimistic.

How about the statement that taxes collected have increased?  Here is a pie chart of 2009 municipal revenue distribution.  If "delinquencies are down" and "tax payments have gone up to 98.75%... a record in years" (cue to 64:00), how could we have a overall revenue decrease of 23.15%?  What entire categories of revenue have we lost?  Even with the 20% loss in state aid, the share is still 7% (from 9%) of total revenue. Something does not add up here.  Does this make sense?

Would you vote on a 3.5% tax increase sight unseen, let alone 10%, especially if prices for consumer goods have decreased over the last year?

There is absolutely no way that in this down economy any additional tax levy requiring passage of a separate resolution be allowed without full disclosure!!!

Whatever happened to the mayor's pledge to open and transparent government?  Is there only openness and transparency when convenient? 

If there is nothing to hide, then prove it.  Show me the budget details, in advance.

Attention Finance Committee Chair Carl Manna, are you listening???