Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer likes to blame the city’s fiscal woes on the people at the Statehouse, for this year’s freezing and reduction in the level of municipal aid dollars Trenton and other municipalities receive to augment municipal budgets and school budgets.
But this is an argument based upon fantasy. Mayor Palmer and his wasteful administrative habits are really what’s to blame when it comes to the city‘s $27 million budget deficit and looming 10-percent budget cut.
This budget deficit and ensuing reduction in valuable city services comes at a time when the City of Trenton, which gets most of its money from the pockets of state taxpayers, has seen consistent property tax hikes and increases in rates for municipal water in recent years.
Just last year the city received emergency aid money from the state to add to all of these increased revenue streams, yet the Palmer administration just cannot seem to get a handle on anything.
That leads to the conclusion that the current administration is unable to manage the city’s finances. It is time for the other branch of the government, City Council, to take a crack at the budget and make difficult, but necessary cuts.
This process needs to happen quickly, and that means circumventing the administration’s plans of submitting the budget as late as possible.
Allowing that to happen, like last year, will effectively tie the hands of council members behind their backs, as the money and services they decide to cut out of any budget will have already been spent and rendered.
Starting early this time, council could do what most responsible Trentonians would like to see done with the budget: cut the unnecessary and bloated city administration to shreds.
This does not mean the elimination of lower-level positions, which come with insignificant salary and benefit costs, but refers to the deletion of the totally unnecessary lineup of highly compensated administrative positions that solely exist to support one man, Mayor Palmer.
A chief of staff is a prime example.
This position – usually paired with the mayors of the nation’s large cities and with national politicians – did not exist in previous administrations.
It only became necessary because Mayor Palmer, he of the frequent absences from Trenton, needs a high-level, high-paid executive to carry out the mayoral functions whenever the mayor is out gallivanting around the country or hamming it up in Africa, on the taxpayer’s tab.
Trenton already has a position that performs the functions of the chief of staff, and it’s called the mayor. The city certainly doesn’t need two mayors, with each being paid over $100,000 a year with generous benefits.
Another step in the right direction would be a comprehensive new vehicle policy. All municipal vehicles should be sold, except for a handful for those positions where having a city vehicle is actually necessary for the job.
The rest of the modern municipal fleet of hybrids and other cars should be given the heave-ho, with the cash put back into the city’s operating budget. Employees can keep track of mileage incurred while driving on city business and receive a reimbursement for their troubles, instead of having the free use of new vehicles in a system with little built-in accountability.
There are many other areas where Trenton can save money, but it all starts with reining in the administration and fashioning a smaller, less-bloated government bureaucracy appropriate for a city of Trenton’s size.