Monthly Archives: February 2009

UPDATED: Petition filed, water sale at risk

Trenton residents filed a protest petition that seeks to block the pending $80 million sale of Trenton Water Works infrastructure in the outlying suburbs with the city clerk on Wednesday.

The petitions, which carried the signatures of nearly 1400 Trenton voters, now face scrutiny from City Clerk Juanita Joyner.

She will be responsible for certifying whether the petition sheets carry the 1170 valid signatures or more necessary to suspend the sale ordinance, and give it back to City Council for further deliberations.

If the ordinance carries once again at council, it would be put to a referendum, in which voters will decide whether an $80 million cash infusion that will be spent within two years is worth the sale of a revenue-generating asset.

If the clerk decides the petition does not contain enough valid signatures, the petitioners will have an additional 10 days to gather sufficient signatures to suspend the effort, according to local attorneys.

Residents file protest petition in the City Clerk's office Tuesday.

Residents file protest petition in the City Clerk's office Tuesday.

Petitioners, led by Trenton Council of Civic Associations President Mike McGrath, mounted a concerted effort in the final days before today’s deadline.

They did so in the face of a citywide public relations campaign that threatened residents with 1000-percent tax increases and other privations in the event of a successful petition, which some residents saw as fear mongering by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

The campaign saw the city post additional materials on its Web site Wednesday night, as Mayor Palmer had his communications team working overdrive to defeat a group he called “McGrath and his co-conspirators” in both The Times and The Trentonian on Thursday.

The city materials labeled the petition as reckless and irresponsible while again threatening all property owners with massive tax increases, in excess of what is legally permissible under New Jersey’s tax cap law.

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Suggestions for the Burg

Chambersburg, while a very different place than it once was, is not as downtrodden and dysfunctional as some who lament the decline of the area’s Italian populace would have you think.

In fact, if the city actually promoted the heavily Hispanic neighborhood in the same manner as it promoted the area during its Italian heyday, the area could attract people from outside the city in a similar manner to how it once did.

There are numerous Hispanic eateries in the neighborhood – easily outnumbering the Italian ones – yet the city refuses to repaint signs that point the way to now-defunct Italian eateries with the names of thriving Hispanic eateries.

Also, the lighting in the neighborhood has deteriorated significantly, with many streets suffering from extremely dark conditions during the evening and nighttime hours when potential restaurants patrons from the suburbs could be trolling the street, looking for a bite to eat.

Upgrading the streetlights in many areas, say to the level of lighting on stretches of Roebling Avenue, might make the neighborhood more attractive to both restaurants patrons and residents.  Conversely, better lighting would make Chambersburg less attractive to the criminals who are apt to pray on the immigrants who now live in the area.

Officials have made little effort to reach out to owners of many of the eateries to make their establishments attractive to both indigenous Hispanic city dwellers and suburbanites sick of eating at On The Border or Chevy’s.

The city could organize a restaurant week or some other type of event that could jumpstart economic activity and improve the neighborhood’s image in the minds of suburban residents, who might recall eating at the area’s fabled Italian eateries.

The city seems to have bought into the mantra that says the death of the Italian majority in Chambersburg means the death of the neighborhood itself, when all it means is Trenton once again has a neighborhood in ethnic flux.

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Guv names federal oversight team

Gov. Jon S. Corzine said Monday that his chief of staff, Ed McBride, and state Comptroller Matthew Boxer will lead the group charged with administering the state’s expected $17.4 billion in federal stimulus.

The announcement came as Gov. Corzine completed a three-day meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C., that concluded with a governors-only meeting with President Obama and top administration officials.

New Jersey is set to receive some $17.4 billion in stimulus, according to the Center for American Progress, with $7.2 billion in tax cuts planned to provide relief for more than 3.5 million state taxpayers.

The tax cuts could take effect as soon as next week’s paycheck for some residents, according to the governor’s office, which released a statement outlining planned use of federal stimulus dollars for replenishing state unemployment benefits, which have come under increasing strain as the economy continues to sour.

 Other programs benefiting from the stimulus include other social benefit programs along with a variety of construction projects and infrastructure investments, including millions of dollars’ worth of work in the City of Trenton alone.

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The worst of many bad deals

The clock is ticking loudly on the Trenton Water Works deal, which will mean the sale of miles of piping and infrastructure and 40,000 suburban ratepayers to New Jersey American Water Co. for $80 million.

Citizens circulating a petition aimed at killing the deal have until early next week to accumulate 1100 signatures of registered voters, which would put the deal to a vote in a future election.

There continues to be outright confusion among many members of the public in Trenton, especially in light of scare tactics and misinformation courtesy of the city’s public officials, mainly regarding imminent catastrophic tax increases that would allegedly ensue should the deal not go through.

Opponents of the deal, however, continue to argue from a place of business sense and logic.

The $80 million generated from the sale – to be exhausted within two years – is ultimately worth far less than the value of  having those 40,000 extra ratepayers and a legal monopoly in the water supply business in perpetuity.

The pegs many deal supporters hang their hats upon, cost of maintenance and a stipulation that will have New Jersey American Water Co. buying water from the city for a fixed price for 20 years, are dubious.

Retaining the suburban ratepayers would provide a strong foundation for paying for future improvements and maintenance, and the water deal is surely worth less than the revenue generated from maintaining complete control of the suburban pipes for many years to come.

Also, there is no telling what happens to the sale of water at the end of the 20-year period, although there is a strong indication that New Jersey American Water will have little trouble piping in water from its surrounding jurisdictions at the close of the deal.

As Olga Kaganova and Marilee A. Utter wrote in The Washington Post back in 2006, get rich quick schemes and one-time cash infusions from such asset sales need to be looked at very carefully, especially when politicians “whose horizon may be limited by the next election, talk about disposing of assets for short-term budget relief rather than about the community’s long-term needs,” like Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

More so, such deals need to be looked at extra carefully when pushed by politicians like Mayor Palmer, who has routinely sold off valuable assets like the city’s interest in the Trigen energy plant and numerous downtown parking facilities, only to head off potential tax increases.

Ominously, it appears that such a thorough vetting has not happened, and the deal’s near completion will have dire consequences for more than city residents left with a town of broken finances.

It is safe to say that the majority of City Council members, city activists, and others who support this deal are going to be wearing a huge albatross around their collective neck in two years, when budget shortfalls of a greater magnitude than the one currently facing the city emerge, without the benefit of a revenue-generating asset and 40,000 suburban ratepayers to shoulder some of the burden.

At that time the people who authored this deal could very well be far away from Trenton, bathed in the glow that comes when one gets safely away from a complete disaster, like this city’s finances.

The rest of us will be crushed beneath it.

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Coston: South Ward center will reopen

A South Ward community center that the Palmer administration inexplicably shuttered without warning this year will be reopened, South Ward Councilman Jim Coston announced on his blog Thursday.

The South Broad Street facility, which also houses some police-related offices, was closed in late January as part of a consolidation plan that saved the city approximately $50,000, while casting out groups of seniors that frequented the center.

Mr. Coston, who was not aware of the closure plan until the last minute, wrote that there were some positive developments regarding the center’s potential reopening.

“Never fear, I’m working on this and there are some very hopeful developments,” he wrote.

He also guaranteed the center’s reopening.

The January closure forced seniors to make the trip to the Samuel Naples Senior Center on Chestnut Avenue in Chambersburg, approximately a half-mile away from the South Ward center’s location at 870 South Broad Street, near the intersection of South Broad and Cass streets.

The continued use of the facility by several special police units eliminated any possible cost savings from the building’s closure, Mr. Coston has said.

The continued employment of most of the South Ward center’s employees at other locations also mitigates much of the potential savings in personnel costs, according to the councilman.

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Hamilton votes no

Hamilton Township Council took a bold step Tuesday night in rejecting the planned sale of outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure to New Jersey American Water Co., through a unanimous five-member vote.

The implications of the action remain unclear.

It does appear that Tuesday’s vote will slow down approval of the sale, which delivers water pipes and 40,000 Trenton Water Works customers in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, and Lawrence to a foreign-owned water company for $80 million.

Governing bodies in those other towns originally in opposition to the deal have voted to approve it.

The city plans to exhaust the sale money in a one year, using half to plug budget shortfalls in the $20 million range.

Larger shortfalls will reemerge in the 2011 budget and those following it, when the city no longer has the benefit of 40,000 suburban ratepayers to provide extra revenue through their water bills.

Residents are fighting the sale with a petition, although that effort has not been completed and no one knows exactly how far those circulating the petition are in their drive to secure 1,170 signatures from registered voters.  Doing so would delay the sale and subject it to a public referendum, which would surely become quite messy and political.

In response, city officials have threatened residents with 40-percent tax increases.  They say such increases are the only avenue to securing $20 million to plug the shortfall that would be filled with money from the deal.

How long the Hamilton vote delays the approval of the sale could be crucial, in that the City of Trenton delayed its budget introduction to account for the sale money.  Without the sale, it remains to be seen what would happen to Trenton’s budget, as introduced.

A budget without the sale money would have to be completely reworked, and the deadlines for a variety of budget actions loom.  Failing to meet such deadlines can result in state action, like the installation of state monitors and other oversight mechanisms.

If Trenton were only so lucky…..

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Empty promises, empty threats

It would be interesting to know what Gov. Jon S. Corzine thinks of a potential lieutenant governor/gubernatorial running mate’s decision to threaten residents with massive tax increases.

He does happen to be the governor who pushed through the local tax levy law that capped increases over a previous year’s levy at 4 percent.

Maybe Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s threats of tax increases that appear to be well in excess of 4 percent of last year’s $50 million levy would rub the professed financial wizard the wrong way.

Besides that possibility, one thing is certain.

With a running mate selection of Mayor Palmer the mayor’s previous statements, among other things, could come back to haunt the Corzine-Palmer ticket.  They would surely provide valuable campaign fodder type for Republican opponents, whomever their candidate ends up being.

These warnings of unbearable tax increases come as citizens gather signatures on a petition that could put a stake through the heart of a plan to sell off part of the Trenton Water Works for cash to plug budget shortfalls.

The threats continue to ring hollow in Trenton, as The Trentonian’s Joe D’Aquila pointed out today, judging from the potential lieutenant governor candidate’s past predictions of doom and gloom.

There were the predictions of the imminent collapse of the city with the departure of former Police Director Joseph Santiago, or the temporary ousting of gang czar Barry Colicelli.

Last I checked, the city is still here.

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