By JIM CARLUCCI
Mayor Palmer’s performance at last week’s City Council meeting was yet another example of an elected official blaming others for his own failed leadership. In a petulant display Palmer heaped allegations and invectives on those who have fought to bring the proposed sell off of part of the Trenton Water Works to a public referendum. But all of the podium pounding and verbal jousting doesn’t change the fact that Trenton’s budget problems have been growing for some time and are not likely to get better in the near future, with or without the completed sale of the outlaying water distribution system to New Jersey American Water.
While the Mayor continues to point fingers at those who are fighting for a better resolution, he has steadfastly refused to take serious steps on his own to put Trenton’s fiscal house in order. Instead of fighting the petitioners for a year…at added legal expense to the city taxpayer, he could have agreed to a referendum and let the voters decide once and for all if the sale should go through. While his Business Administrator was busy preparing the layoff plan for blue collar workers during the Spring of 2008, citing the absence of funding, our Mayor should have explained to the Council and his public that he decided it was a good time for a 10% raise for himself and for 13 present and past Department Directors. Instead, without any mention to the public or to the Council, that money was paid out and now is costing the citizens more money paid out to attorneys to try to defend that unauthorized increase.
Instead of railing at Citizens who have exercised their right to protest the sale of a major City institution as a means of plugging a recurrent and growing debt, the Mayor should examine his own options and explain his choices to the public:
Why keep the Chief of Staff (technically a Deputy Mayor) position and support staff on the job when the population of the city is shrinking to the point where it may fall below the 80,000 person threshold that will force the next Mayor to do the job without those positions anyway?
Why resist for so long the economies in drastically reducing the city’s fleet of vehicles and complying with the Internal Revenue Service code by having the employees who take the cars and SUV’s home account and reimburse for their personal use?
Why has the administration not presented a realistic three or five-year budget projection that takes in all of the givens of the “structural” deficit (pension payments, binding arbitration for fire, police and teacher salaries, shrinking state aid) and adjusts expenditures accordingly?
In his closing remarks before city council, Mayor Palmer asked that the citizens work with elected officials in deciding how to spend the proceeds of the water utility sale. What is there to decide?
He knows quite well that by State law the TWW sale proceeds can only be used to pay off existing bonds and for no other purpose. Just as he knows that once the proceeds of the sale are spent the city will again be facing drastic tax increases. Palmer, keenly aware that the days of dependable State aid are gone, appears to be satisfied with privatizing Trenton’s last major asset, the TWW, passing what’s left of his baton to incoming Mayor and Council, holding them accountable for finding new funding sources.
It’s just too bad he didn’t feel the need to apply that same accountability to himself and his administration.
Jim Carlucci is a resident of Trenton’s toney Mill Hill section. He has been an esteemed community activist and has run, unsuccesfully, for a position on Trenton’s City Council. He has distinguished himself this year as one of the few city residents not running for public office.