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Friday, January 4, 2008

Tax hike for T-Town

Trenton residents face a 5.2 percent increase in taxes this year - meaning an extra $120 in tax bills for residents living in homes assessed at the city average of $100,000 - according to testimony given by Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and administration officials Thursday night.

Most of the increase - which means the municipal tax rate increases by 12 cents to $2.45 per $100 of assessed value from $2.33 - was linked to costs that Mayor Palmer said were out of the city's control, citing salary and benefit increases for city employees.

The budget is around six months late, after the city scrambled to find revenue to make up budget gaps that Mayor Palmer blamed on all of the parcels of state-owned, tax-exempt property in Trenton, for which the city only receives payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that make up only a fraction of what Trenton would get in property taxes on what is frequently valuable downtown property.

The other major point of the mayor's presentation at City Council's Thursday meeting was that the hiring of an additional 25 police officers took up three cents of the total 12 cent increase, despite the fact that 13 of those officers will be simply filling vacancies instead of actually meaning an increase of manpower in a crime-plagued urban environment.

For the net gain of total of 25 officers - and a net gain of 12 - Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said the city had budgeted $600,000, which she said covered salary and benefits for only half a year for the officers.

Another peculiar fact in the new budget was that $5 million was earmarked for paying police overtime money.

That came despite the fact that residents and those on council who had been pushing for the additional officers had always cited the city's multimillion dollar police overtime budget as one of the prime reasons why additional officers should be hired, presumably to take up some of the overtime hours and relieve an overworked police force.

It seems this addition of 12 officers to Trenton's police force is the first installment of 50 promised by Mayor Palmer in his state of the city address.

One bright spot last night was council's tabling of a contract to be awarded to the city's gang consultant, Barry Colicelli, who normally gets a lucrative $91,000 contract and usage of a city vehicle and city hall office.

Council members failed to pass the measure after observing that Mr. Colicelli had not been before them more than once on city business for nearly an entire year.

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