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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mortgaging the city's future

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but for a city like Trenton, laying off 69 low-ranking municipal workers is a poor way of dealing with a million-dollar budget deficit.

Yet that is exactly what the city administration under Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has proposed to deal with a budget deficit that could become as large as $28 million, should a proposal to sell outlying Trenton Water Works infrastructure fail to pass muster with the state Board of Public Utilities.

The layoff plan, like the water deal, is highly indicative of the type of the reckless problem-solving offered by those great minds in the Palmer administration. It would be much better to cut a much lower number of high-paid and unnecessary positions in the administration - perhaps 10 - than to cut this rather high number of low-ranking positions.

Trenton has a residency ordinance, so it is safe to say that a high proportion of those 69 employees who face being laid off probably live within the city limits. The higher ranks may make more money but they also likely have tenure in excess of 15 years of service, exempting them from required residency and joining the taxbase.

Despite being at a lower position in the municipal hierarchy, the layoff-prone employees' municipal work makes them relatively well-off given Trenton's income levels and cost of living. It probably means they are contributing to the tax base through the ownership of city homes and property.

But due to Trenton's overall economic and social conditions, it is also safe to say that many of those employees will seek work and shelter elsewhere once they are laid off and freed from residency.

In sum, the city is reducing future tax revenue to deal with a shortfall in present revenue, by allowing property owners and taxpayers to flee the city when there are better-paid and unnecessary positions available for cutting. These higher positions are just one of a host of other cost-saving measures that don't carry nearly the same economic penalty as layoffs. Culling the city's municipal vehicle herd is a good example.

This whole layoff plan is very similar to the strategy the city is employing in eliminating the future revenue generated by the outlying water infrastructure from future use to fulfill a need for present revenue, by selling off that same infrastructure.

Both plans illustrate a reckless disregard for the city's future financial stability, in that both are examples of dealing with long-term financial problems with short-term, one-time solutions.

It may be fine for Mayor Palmer and his cronies, who seem to have already begun departing to faraway places where they won't have to deal with Trenton's fiscal woes. But sadly, their solutions fail to take into account the welfare of the 80,000 people who will remain in Trenton. What about us?

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Another consequence of layoffs: if, as seems likely, at least some of the services provided by workers to be laid off are sub-contracted to private firms (such as Inspections), there is little likelihood that the contractors will be city residents, or even New Jersey residents. So even more monies will be shipped out of town.