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Friday, November 21, 2008

Dollars and development

Trenton’s future rests on using the power of the city government to pursue realistic redevelopment projects to increase ratables and city revenue.

But the current fiscal condition of the city presents a major roadblock to this, perhaps the city’s only salvation, and correcting these fiscal imbalances should be the first priority for any future administrations or aspiring politicians, not pie-in-the-sky laundry lists that are completely unrealistic.

Without pursuing this fiscal sobriety, nearly any other worthwhile initiatives or causes will be severely compromised, because Trenton simply has no money to properly fund them.

Trenton doesn’t even have enough money to cover its own service costs in a good year, and when things get bad, the problem grows to epic proportions. Just look at how annual, more modest shortfalls have morphed into a $28 million budget shortfall today.

Although the city government has to make ends meet and cover current service costs before it can even begin to consider pursuing any kind of redevelopment projects, such a path seems to mortgage the prospect of any future improvements.

The process is similar to the struggles of families in poverty, where persons have to pay off daily or monthly costs that leave them penniless to pay for the education, career advancement, or other pursuits that could lead the way out of poverty.

Similarly to how Mitt Romney described starving off automobile research and development to cover regular costs, this forced fiscal neglect to development because of a need to pay off operating costs is like a population relying on agriculture for future sustenance making a decision to eat the seed corn.

We need to start using our seed corn to plant future improvements, and that reality leads to the conclusion that Trenton’s government and its public officials’ way of life is too grandiose and too costly for the city’s own good.

The city can’t even pay for its own services and is forced to resort to begging for emergency funds from state and federal governments that are now experiencing their own fiscal problems. The spigot of emergency money might soon get shut off, and then the city will really be up a creek.

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to free up capital for development purposes, although some may be painful for the cadre of entitled public officials that have prospered under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer’s leadership.

They may not like it, but all perks must end.

A good place to start would be the elimination of the provision of municipal vehicles to employees without any overall policy dictating their use. Those vehicles need to be taken away and sold off to the highest bidder, eliminating fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs and freeing up millions for other purposes.

All unnecessary staff working in support of city administrators must be put to work in more critical city departments or be taken off the payroll, and layoffs need to fall on support staff that are overpaid and provide little obvious service to the city instead of other low-ranking municipal workers.

The funding of unnecessary pet programs and junkets for municipal officials must stop as well. City gang czars and police officials that are perfectly well-educated must not be allowed to attend lengthy crime seminars and governmental meetings in faraway places on the city’s dime.

There are surely other areas of great savings to be found within the city’s municipal budget. If they’re found and eliminated, the city government might actually be able to pursue redevelopment projects and other revitalization that will actually increase ratables and work towards addressing the city’s underlying fiscal problems.

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