Monthly Archives: June 2007

Problems All Around

In the past few hot June days, two men were shot dead in the street one block away from each other on Stuyvesant Avenue, while the mayor of Trenton was off in Tinsel Town being crowned King of Urban Decay by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer made remarks on a PBS TV show about Trenton’s rich history, even saying “If it wasn’t for Trenton, we would all be talking with English accents right now.”

While Mayor Palmer seems to be very loud about praising the New Jersey capital’s historic past, he has failed to give its historically dangerous present equal praise. Trenton’s 2007 murder rate is rapidly approaching that of 2005’s record totals, and people are being robbed and mugged in the street frequently.

Trenton residents frequently appear in Trenton City Council chambers, complaining of rampant violence and sometimes inept, or even absent, police coverage. Where is Mayor Palmer through all of this?

Trenton truly needs a full-time mayor that can give it constant attention. It also needs a City Council that is willing to stand up the administration, and at the very least perform its official duties. Legislation overhauling the city’s housing inspections has taken nearly a year to come before council, and liaison and board seats have spent nearly a year unfilled, something that recently came up in council.

Legislation that would amend the city code’s provision for a minimum number of police officers recently came up, and should be debated again at the July council meeting. This legislation must pass. Not only will it help reduce an annual million-dollar police overtime bill, but it will make the streets safer, and relieve officers who are currently overworked.

In July there will be a meeting of Trenton activists trying to develop a path of progress to help the city out of its current condition. Information can be found at http://www.trentonrising.blogspot.com/.

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Budget Passes but Core Problems Remain

The NJ State Budget passed well before the constitutional deadline this year, avoiding last year’s week-long government shutdown.

Despite the seemingly easier job it was to pass the budget this year, the deep-rooted problems of NJ’s obsolete property tax system remain, with little prospect of resolution.

A solution probably won’t come from an administration where the governor can’t even buckle his seat belt or a legislature that can’t even pass a complete ban on double-dipping practices without protecting those who are currently robbing the public through double jobs and double pensions.

New Jersey’s heavy reliance on property taxes to fund school districts and its outdated school funding formula pose quite a problem. While some say rethinking the state aid formula – which is five or six years old – is the solution to relieving school funding and therefore taxes, this solution misses the point.

Where does state aid come from? Taxes. So basically this solution, offered by some, would have us create a new formula for state aid, and then use that money to offset some of the property tax bills.

They say this would be especially helpful in school districts like Montgomery Township in Somerset County, where school budget reports demonstrated an 86 percent reliance on property taxes to fund schools, translating into an average tax bill of around a bajillion dollars for the average house, assessed at $500,000.

But wouldn’t this form of relief mean taxing more in the form of the state taxes that are the source of this state aid? This is simply substituting one tax for another.

While some would surely benefit from this change over, the overall effect would be minimal, bringing us back to square one.

Maybe the solution is like many others are doing…stay in town while your kid is in school, and then hightail it for the Outer Banks upon high school graduation…

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Rent Stabilization Board

According to testimony given by city officials Tuesday, a body that will be crucial to fighting the war against slum landlords only meets when it actually has cases, as opposed to regular meetings.

This important weapon in the city’s arsenal – which ensures that housing inspections fines aren’t passed along to renters – is a body known as the Rent Stabilization Board.

This body has the ability to hear complaints from tenants when their landlords unfairly or illegally raise rent in a manner not stated in the lease agreement or with a lease than contains more than a three percent annual increase, as allowed by law.

One problem with this – and other measures meant to protect renters – is that residents probably don’t know about it, or think it no longer exists. Having a regular schedule of meetings would make its presence better known within the community, and probably shore up its ability to protect renters.

This in turn would lead to more effective inspections, more effective enforcement, and eventually better quality housing as landlords made the decision that better upkeep of residential units is less costly than facing fines from the inspections department.

Going right along with this reasoning is the ordinance that Councilman Coston circulated in City Council this week, which would have increased inspections from every five years to every year.

This every five years is a joke. A landlord could rent out a house, let it fall to complete shambles, and abandon the property having made his money in the five years since the inspection guys last came through.

The administration’s new plan for housing must include a proviso like this, otherwise Mr. Coston’s revision must be passed.

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Drive-by Shooting at Market Street and Broad

Sources say there was a drive-by shooting in the early morning hours Thursday at the Sun Bank ATM at Market Street and Conovers Alley. Apparently one person was struck by the gunfire. It has not been confirmed whether the target was inside a car or standing at the ATM.

…developments will follow…

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Administration Does the Job of City Council and Finally Moves Forward with Housing Inspection Overhaul

The Douglas H. Palmer administration plans on presenting a comprehensive overhaul of the city’s housing and inspections system, according to statements made at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, to which every council member but James Coston and Milford Bethea were late.

The administration announcement came after Councilman Coston, seemingly fed up with the council’s year-long delay on new legislation, handed out copies of an ordinance changing the city’s inspection codes.

Beginning a discussion of the ordinance, Council President Paul Pintella said it could not move forward until there was an examination of what the changes would cost the administration and departments involved with housing inspection.

“I’m less concerned with the costs for the administration than the current cost to residents,” replied Mr. Coston. “Slumlords are an issue, and we have yet to address that.”

Currently, a high percentage of Trenton’s housing stock is renter-occupied, with many landlords frequently making maximum profits off their tenants without investing money into the upkeep of the structures.

This process is exacerbated by the fact that housing inspections only take place every five years, instead of annually as Mr. Coston’s revisions would have stipulated.

Mr. Pintella said he wanted to move ahead with an update of the housing code, except he was simply waiting to approve the schedule of meetings for the 2007-2008 City Council year.

The validity of this excuse has yet to have been established by Trenton Makes logic scientists.

According to Mr. Coston’s Web site, Mr. Coston had presented this revision to the City Council before, during the WINTER of 2006. The administration then said they would put together the comprehensive overhaul of the inspections department that they have now promised again during June 19’s meeting.

Apparently the presentation has been ready, and Council President Pintella simply needed to schedule it, Mr. Coston’s Web site said.

It has taken this additional amount of time to perform the simple task of scheduling the presentation.

This creates a situation where it has taken a good portion of an entire YEAR for the City Council and the Palmer administration to come up with legislation that Mr. Coston came up with, by himself, many months ago.

Ending the discussion, Chief of Staff Renee Haynes told the Council that the administration would present their plans during the July City Council meeting.

In between Mr. Coston’s first introduction of his revisions to the inspection code, and the July 2007 meeting of City Council at which the presentation will take place, numerous properties have probably been damaged or destroyed because the greed of slum landlords operating within the city of Trenton.

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THE SITUATION

…It is amazing me how my complete view of the situation of this city is coming together after living here for only four months (that have gone by quickly), but more and more, I am getting an idea about how some of the powers that be have perpetuated a situation of poverty and reduced possibilities that have helped their political careers. They have elicited the help of a corrupt police head, an inept business administrator, stupid policies, and a City Council where it seems some members owe their positions to political patronage.

Parts of the current legislative branch of the city of Trenton have gone along happily with this process over the years.

These policies have not only helped this faction’s political career, but enslaved a new race of Trentonians to a life of abject poverty.

Along the way they have wasted taxpayers’ money, wasted the aspirations and dreams of people across all colors, and ruined people’s views of each other.

This situation is pathetic for a state capital; in fact it probably distorts views of the entire state as a whole.

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Eerie

Once again I was driving through the eerie place that is downtown Trenton in the evening or at night. Not a soul about, just the occasional police cruiser patrolling the streets or sometimes a bum sitting, staring blankly into the misty night.

I went to the Trenton Public Library, thinking I might as well check out what the struggling system actually looks like.

It didn’t look like a place that should struggle to keep someone at the helm.

It really wasn’t bad. Several floors of books, relatively decent computers, and there were actually about 50 people in there only a half hour before closing…probably more people in there than were out in the downtown district at a pretty early time of night – 8:30 p.m.

There is a definite problem in a regional city when there are more people in the library that’s about to close than there are in the downtown business district. Something is wrong! The administration and the City Council need to take steps to encourage downtown businesses staying open later!

Tax abatements, incentives, public relations campaigns…something has to be able to get people to come into the downtown area to spend their dollars at night. Perhaps the city could offer free transportation into the business district from the surrounding municipalities. If the businesses knew people were coming, they could be convinced to stay open a little later. The businesses on South Warren do this for Trenton2Night.

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