Monthly Archives: January 2009

Break out the boots

Hopewell Township officially became the first township to roll over on the Trenton Water Works deal Monday, when the Hopewell Township Committee’s membership approved the final version of the deal.

The deal, which delivers 40,000 customers and miles of pipeline and infrastructure to New Jersey American Water Co. for $80 million, is a real stinker for Trenton.

It represents the sale of portions of one of the city’s remaining assets for money that will evaporate in two of three years, leaving Trenton with the same massive budget deficits and less ability to plug the gaps.

Many residents in both Trenton and the townships have come out against this deal, which still needs to be consecrated by the approval of an ordinance by Trenton City Council at some point in the next week or two.

That event provides an opportunity to renew a call that was made earlier to city residents and those from the townships who also oppose the deal – get out your petitions and your walking boots.

Thanks to the City of Trenton’s asinine court fight against a citizen’s petition protest years ago, the state’s highest courts have ruled that nearly any ordinance is subject to challenge by citizen petition, except for some planning and zoning ordinances.

Given Trenton’s dismal voter turnout, it appears that as little as 1100 signatures from registered voters in Trenton could stop this deal in its very tracks and put it to a vote by city residents, where it would surely fail.

Getting signatures is certainly not easy, but a dedicated group of as little as 30 or 40 people willing to canvass the city’s streets could get that many signatures in a weekend’s time.  That’s good, because such an effort would have to conclude within three weeks of the ordinance’s approval.

Just a little food for though for those who don’t like this deal.

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All is not well at 319 E. State Street

Things aren’t looking good for Trenton, but that’s probably not news to anyone living within the city.

Fiscal data released by South Ward Councilman Jim Coston on Friday confirms that most of the benefit of selling off outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure will be exhausted within two years, after which Trenton will suffer ever-larger budget shortfalls with a more limited capacity to plug the gaps.

The water deal, which will net Trenton approximately $80 million after it is consecrated in the coming weeks, actually provides only $39 million that can be thrown towards satisfying some of the city’s outstanding debt. In being split evenly between the debt service load in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 at $19 million each, this money seems to provide very short-term relief of some of the fiscal crunch the city has suffered recently.

After that, things just get worse.

A fiscal year 2009 budget deficit of around $21 million – reduced from $28 million through uneven layoffs and other policies – grows to $29 million in 2011, then $31 million in 2012, without the presence of a large and valuable water utility that can be sold off to patch the holes.

Compounding that worrisome arrangement is that local revenues fall by around $2 million a year, according to the budget documents, presumably from the reduction in the number of customers buying Trenton water due to the sale of the water utility.

These documents, if this rather basic analysis is correct, confirm everyone’s worst fears about this sale, in that they show it is nothing more than a short-term gimmick that will provide fleeting relief to the city’s fiscal situation.

Can you guess who will be left holding the bag?

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Water is not oil

You gotta love this “water is oil” argument.

Being used rather frequently by Trenton city officials, this statement is meant to somehow reassure city residents who see their cash-generating outlying water system being sold for $80 million to pay off debt and close budget gaps caused by official mismanagement.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has emphasized the long-term importance of this deal, yet even acting Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez has said that there are many restrictions on how the money can be used, and that the funds will likely be exhausted by 2011.

I guess that leaves us with the water is oil argument, but even that statement doesn’t hold water, oil, or any other liquid.

This statement assumes that New Jersey American Water, the company purchasing the system, cannot get water from anywhere else besides Trenton, and that the company will not interconnect its new ratepayers and all of the pipes that serve their homes with the rest of the company’s massive system.

Such an assumption is a lie, because interconnections are detailed within the amended water agreement, and so are stipulations that the water company can bring outside water into the system under certain circumstances.

Water doesn’t equate to oil when it can be had from multiple sources other than Trenton and the city’s water works.  Further, water is not as valuable as oil when this very deal allows New Jersey American Water to pipe in increasing amounts of water at a point starting 36 months after the deal is complete.

This deal is a fire sale meant to smooth out the exit of Mayor Palmer and Co. from the scene, who, like locusts, have successfully consumed much of the value in Trenton and are ready to move on to greener pastures.

God help us.

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N.J. high court upholds pay-to-play

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld an earlier Appellate Division ruling on a legal challenge to the state’s pay-to-play law on Thursday.

In a 7-0 ruling the high court affirmed that eliminating the appearance of corruption in the awarding of state contracts outweighs free speech rights in making political contributions.

Earle Asphalt Company, which was disqualified from a state contract after making political donations to Monmouth County Republicans, challenged a 2005 amendment to the state Campaign Contributions and Expenditure Reporting Act that established pay-to-play restrictions.

The amendment prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts worth more than $17,500 to businesses that have contributed more than $300 during the preceding 18 months to a gubernatorial candidate or any state or county political committee.

Walter Earle II, president of Earle Ashpalt, made a $1500 contribution to the Monmouth Republicans in June 2007, after being solicited by former State Senate President John Bennett. Earle Asphalt then bid on a contract to repair 10 miles of Interstate 195.

Upon learning of a potential pay-to-play conflict Mr. Earle requested a refund, but the state determined the refund was received after the expiration of a 30-day refund period and denied the contract.

The Supreme Court decision this week upheld an Appellate Division opinion by Judge Stephen Skillman.

Judge Skillman reasoned that “the state’s interest in insulating the…award of state contracts from…contributions that pose the risk of improper influence…is a sufficiently important interest…”

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Palmer-rot is spreading

Disdain for the rule of law, which Trenton’s mayor exhibits so frequently, seems to be taking seed among a variety of residents and officials in the city.

City leaders and others who were so stalwart during the residency fight over the former police director, Joseph Santiago, are now backing off when it comes to his successor, Irving Bradley Jr., due to Mr. Bradley’s activities since gaining the office.

They are taking a position that Mr. Bradley’s success in de-politicizing the department and taking it in a completely different direction somehow merits bending or breaking of the residency law – a wholly un-American concept.

Mr. Bradley deserves extra consideration, they say, of a kind not granted to dozens of other employees who broke residency and were properly and summarily terminated by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s administration, without regard to their work record.

Such trampling of an important city law is a despicable activity, but it serves one good purpose. Unless they are doing so out of misinformation or incompetence, anyone who takes this untenable position is revealing their lack of integrity and a lack of respect for the rule of law, for all to see.

They are wrong, and deep down they know it.

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Sign those cars away

The widespread usage of city vehicles by employees required by law to live within the City of Trenton is so absurd that many of these employees are willing to literally sign away their use of such vehicles.

This has been demonstrated in an ongoing petition drive orchestrated by the Trenton Residents Action Coalition, whose membership seeks to get a vehicle control ordinance on the ballot for possible passage by city voters.

The ordinance would require periodic vehicle inventories to be conducted by the city administration, with the proviso that the only employees who should be provided with such a benefit are those who need a city vehicle to effectively perform their duties.

Since most employees use their vehicle for personal travel and a short daily commute to City Hall, the latter stipulation means that the vast majority of city employees would lose their vehicles.

The willingness of city employees – one of whom signed the petition standing next to her brand-new city-owned Ford Escape hybrid – illustrates the absurdity of such a perquisite, which is of absolutely no benefit to the taxpayers of Trenton.

Even some of the people who are using these vehicles think the practice is stupid, although many other employees are of a different mindset. They believe that somehow their employment entitles them to driving a city car.

Maybe such a notion could have validity in some rich suburb or affluent metropolis, but the fiscal instability of the City of Trenton means that having these vehicles is no longer an option.

Support the car ordinance.

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Christie files to run

Calling New Jersey “broken” in an e-mail announcement, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie filed papers to become a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of New Jersey Thursday.

“New Jersey’s taxes have become so unaffordable that more families are leaving our state than moving here. Our state’s business tax climate is ranked 50th in the nation and has become so unattractive to employers that only government jobs are growing in New Jersey,” wrote Mr. Christie. “Yet nothing in Trenton gets done to fix these problems.”

Mr. Christie, 46, compiled an incredible record as a U.S. attorney, convicting more than 130 public officials for various corruption charges, including people like former Newark mayor Sharpe James and Wayne Bryant, at one time among the most powerful state senators in New Jersey.

But some Democrats have criticized the Republican for opening what they see as politically motivated cases, like those that went nowhere against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-Union, in the midst of the 2006 senatorial campaign.

Mr. Christie joined Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Mendham, and former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan as a Republican candidate for governor after he officially filed papers with the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission around midday Thursday.

Mr. Christie told The Star-Ledger that he will formally announce his candidacy sometime in early February.

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