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No Appointments Found

I just wanted to post a slight edit to the concluding paragraphs of yesterday’s post. Thanks:

– # –

Right now, in September, it’s not very likely that many Trenton voters are paying much attention to the upcoming city elections next May. There’s a lot going on right now on the state and national level that demands attention on a daily basis. Man-made and natural disasters compete for eyeballs at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up. For instance, who’s even had a chance to think about the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas over the last week, while Irma marched through the Caribbean archipelago and up the Florida peninsula? I can’t blame Trenton’s electorate for mostly ignoring local politics.

But now is the time that candidates for Mayor and Council – presumably including Eric Jackson – are planning their campaigns and reaching out to supporters for contributions and volunteer work. These are the people, both inside Trenton and elsewhere in New Jersey and surrounding areas, who are paying attention. They are opening their checkbooks, or deciding to whom they will open them, and weighing endorsements.

EDIT: Or they may wondering whether a political endorsement given by Eric Jackson is worth rewarding the man with an appointment to the possible incoming Democratic state administration in January, should Phil Murphy’s campaign prove successful in November.

They include the private citizens, and union locals, and Democratic Party organizations, and law firms, and contractors who gave money and time to Eric Jackson’s campaigns in 2010 and 2014. They include other public officeholders and local clergy who have made donations or who offered campaign endorsements

They may have even continued to donate money to Jackson since 2014; if so, we have no way of knowing, since Jackson hasn’t filed a single report since November 2014!

It’s all of these people in particular who I hope have been paying close attention over at least some of the last three years to the record that Eric Jackson has been writing as Trenton’s mayor.

It’s all of these people who I hope will realize that all of their donations, and effort, and endorsements, have gone to support a man who repeatedly fails to comply with – or even to show basic respect for – campaign law, business regulations, tax regulations, or municipal management.

To me it’s not about whether the man or those around him are criminally corrupt. I have no particular reason to believe he may be, but as I wrote the other day his multiple failures and silences and lies when he does speak have ruined whatever residual credibility he may have had left. We can no longer accept his assurances of personal integrity unless he provides us – after three years of failure to do so – written and audited proof of financial integrity with his charity and his campaign.

It’s all of these people who I hope will re-evaluate their support of this man, and conclude as I have, that Eric Jackson is not what Trenton needs for four more years,  

EDIT: nor is he what the State of New Jersey needs in its future.

No Charities Found

Thank Goodness the folks on Facebook are on the ball.

After publishing my piece two days ago commenting on the news that the tax-exempt status of Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson’s nonprofit charity “Moving Trenton Together” (MTT) had been revoked last Spring by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), readers rushed to set me straight on one major point I’d made. In my piece, I had stated that the particular nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and the dollar-volume size of MTT would have required the annual on-time filing of a Form 990-N to the IRS by Mr. Jackson. Also known as an “E-Postcard” form, the information I stated that MTT would have to file each year amounted to little more than a name and address.

Trentonian Iana Dikidjieva set me straight on Facebook. Not true, she said. Since Moving Trenton Together had been organized as a “Private Foundation” nonprofit, that meant that the organization was obligated to file a Form 990-PF on a timely annual basis. That 13-page form requires a good deal more information, as you can see below from a screenshot of Page 1:

form 990-pfPoint taken! And thank you, Iana. The effort required to properly prepare this form is extensive, and will take time, as Mr. Jackson explained when he spoke with Trentonian reporter David Foster last week. So I will grant him that.

However, another point that Ms. Dikidjieva made on Facebook tends to reinforce the main point of my Saturday post: that Mr. Jackson’s explanation of the timeline surrounding his foundation is not factually correct. On Saturday, she wrote:

Small orgs CAN file the full 990, and the full 990 really is long and confusing and you CAN make mistakes with it.

HOWEVER, the nonprofit’s status got automatically revoked. This happens when you fail to file AT ALL. Filing with mistakes is not failing to file. It may require you to resubmit stuff, but that’s not failing to file. The IRS puts your org on the list his is on if they HAVE NOT HEARD FROM YOU AT ALL. [Some emphasis mine - KM]

So if they tried to do the full 990 and ran into trouble, which is possible and I do sympathize (most orgs do have to do the full 990 and someone may have told them ‘that’s the thing you do’!), whatever they did did not get to the IRS.

It’s very possible that “whatever they did did not get to the IRS” once or twice. Stuff happens. But for three years straight?!?! That strains credibility.

As do Mr. Jackson’s statements to the Trentonian that “With the filing, you get an initial couple years to file it. We had attempted to do it internally. There were some errors with it. It came back rejected and we didn’t get it back timely.” You DON’T get “an initial couple of years” to file; you must file in the first year of a charity’s organization. And if a filing “came back rejected” it would, as Ms. Dikidjieva stated, NOT have led to the IRS yanking tax-exempt status. If something is rejected, it means you at least filed SOMETHING. It is increasingly clear that Mr. Jackson has filed NOTHING in the last three years. If his statements about this are – from all the available evidence – wrong, can we also trust his assurance to Mr. Foster that “there’s not any improprieties” with this organization?

Not as of now.

For further evidence that there is very little -  if any – about Moving Trenton Together that is legit and proper, look to records on file (or not, as it turns out!) with the State of New Jersey. Thanks to research done by former Trenton resident Jim Carlucci, we can see that Mr. Jackson and his organization failed to comply with state regulations as well.

When one goes to this page on the NJ State Division of Community Affairs webpage, and enters “Moving Trenton Together” in the Search field, the search returns a “No Charities Found” message, indicating that there is not even a registration for the charity with the State:

nj charities

For a comparison, try entering “Mayor Palmer.” You will see this information:

nj charities 3

You can see that “Mayor Palmer’s Trenton First Initiative Inc,” created during Doug Palmer’s time in office, is both registered with the State and currently compliant with all operating  and reporting regulations.

Want one more example? Well, for grins and giggles, you can try entering the name “Tony Mack.” Come on, I know you can’t help yourself.

Surprise:

nj charities 2

It turns out that the “Tony Mack Cares Foundation” was properly registered with the NJ Division of Community Affairs. However, it is not currently compliant with state rules because, well…

So, Tony Mack was more conscientious regarding state regulations than Eric Jackson?!?! Well, in this regard, yes. Yes, he was. Go chew on that a while.

And, just in case you need any further evidence, here’s the current status of the NJ Business Registration for Moving Trenton Together:

moving trenton together nj revoke

Yep: On July 16 of this year, its business status in NJ was “REVOKED FOR NOT FILING ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2 CONSECUTIVE YEARS.”

Yikes!

In the grand scheme of things, “Moving Trenton Together” is really nothing but a footnote in the story of the last three years of Eric Jackson’s mayoralty. It was never a large organization, and wasn’t engaged in any crucial irreplaceable charity work in the city of Trenton.

But the story of this charity is greatly illuminating of the character of the man who has been Mayor of Trenton for the last three years. The story of the utter neglect of the bare minimum of compliance with state and Federal tax and business regulations for over three years is of the same pattern as many other incidents in Eric Jackson’s career. To review just a few of them once more:

  • Eric Jackson has also failed – for three years each time after two separate political campaigns four years apart – to file legally required campaign finance reports with the State of New Jersey.
  • Eric Jackson oversaw eight months of receipt of dozens of delinquency and warning notices from the IRS and the State about payroll tax irregularities, which should have tipped him and his administration to the fact that $5 Million Dollars was being stolen in slow motion over several months in 2015. And when this theft finally came to light in early 2016, Mr. Jackson in his few public statements on the matter repeatedly provided information that proved to be entirely incorrect. I have gone as far as to say he and other city official lied, repeatedly. Nothing we have learned since leads me to change my judgment from two years ago.
  • Eric Jackson did not publicly reveal that the City was losing $3.3 Million in Federal funding until that fact was revealed in this space, five months after the fact.
  • Eric Jackson and his Administration came under heavy criticism throughout Mercer County last month for failing to inform Trenton Water Works customers of water quality problems, other than with a single, uninformative letter to the utility’s customers countywide. That criticism includes the introduction in the NJ Assembly of legislation that would require folks like Mr. Jackson to do what they failed to do on their own last month: provide timely and relevant information to their customers about matters involving the public safety of their water supply.

There are at least two statements over the last few years made by Mayor Jackson that absolutely can be taken at face value. The more recent one came in David Foster’s story last week: “[W]e’re not timely into filing.” The other came in an article last year about the appointment of the mayor’s sister to a position with the Trenton Housing Authority. Denying he exercised any undue influence in that appointment, he said, “I’m a hands-off guy like that.”

Is this the kind of guy who deserves another term as Trenton’s Mayor? Hell,no!!!

But right now, in September, it’s not very likely that many Trenton voters are paying much attention to the upcoming city elections next May. There’s a lot going on right now on the state and national level that demands attention on a daily basis. Man-made and natural disasters compete for eyeballs at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up. For instance, who’s even had a chance to think about the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas over the last week, while Irma marched through the Caribbean archipelago and up the Florida peninsula? I can’t blame Trenton’s electorate for mostly ignoring local politics.

But now is the time that candidates for Mayor and Council – presumably including Eric Jackson – are planning their campaigns and reaching out to supporters for contributions and volunteer work. These are the people, both inside Trenton and elsewhere in New Jersey and surrounding areas, who are paying attention. They are opening their checkbooks, or deciding to whom they will open them, and weighing endorsements.

They include the private citizens, and union locals, and Democratic Party organizations, and law firms, and contractors who gave money and time to Eric Jackson’s campaigns in 2010 and 2014. They include other public officeholders and local clergy who have made donations or who offered campaign endorsements

They may have even continued to donate money to Jackson since 2014; if so, we have no way of knowing, since Jackson hasn’t filed a single report since November 2014!

It’s all of these people in particular who I hope have been paying close attention over at least some of the last three years to the record that Eric Jackson has been writing as Trenton’s mayor.

It’s all of these people who I hope will realize that all of their donations, and effort, and endorsements, have gone to support a man who repeatedly fails to comply with – or even to show basic respect for – campaign law, business regulations, tax regulations, or municipal management.

To me it’s not about whether the man or those around him are criminally corrupt. I have no particular reason to believe he may be, but as I wrote the other day his multiple failures and silences and lies when he does speak have ruined whatever residual credibility he may have had left. We can no longer accept his assurances of personal integrity unless he provides us – after three years of failure to do so – written and audited proof of financial integrity with his charity and his campaign.

It’s all of these people who I hope will re-evaluate their support of this man, and conclude as I have, that Eric Jackson is not what Trenton needs for four more years.


Word Salad

I guess we know why it’s so difficult to get Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson to speak on record with the press. When he does, he doesn’t make sense. Either that, or he lies.

Case in point: On Wednesday of this week, the Trentonian published an article, based on information found and released by former Trenton resident Jim Carlucci, reporting that the Federal 501(c)(3) non-profit status of Mr. Jackson’s non-profit charity Moving Trenton Together had been revoked by the US Internal Revenue Service in May of this year because the Mayor had failed to file federal tax returns for three consecutive years. Ever since the charity was founded, in fact, in 2014.

Along with Mr. Jackson’s history of similar financial difficulties – failure to file required campaign finance disclosure reports with the State of NJ for three years after his failed 2010 mayoral run, failure to file similar reports for three years running after his successful 2014 campaign; numerous financial screwups in his Administration of the City of Trenton; and even allegations of personal financial problems including bankruptcies and foreclosures as charged by a campaign rival in April 2014 – the story of IRS problems didn’t put Mayor Jackson in a very favorable light. Presumably the man will stand for re-election next year, and bringing up all these related stories painting him as a deadbeat will not help his prospects. In normal times., that would be true, although similar tarnish and worse no longer precludes election to the Federal presidency. But I digress.

Anyway, by yesterday, Eric Jackson apparently realized that he has to start to address some of these issues. But only some of them, for now at least. He spoke by phone with Trentonian reporter David Foster, who wrote Wednesday’s story for his paper.

Frankly, he may have been better off not talking to Mr. Foster. His explanation of the situation with Moving Trenton Together and the IRS only, to me, digs himself deeper into his hole of denial and dissembling. Let’s examine what he said and unpack it a bit.

“With the [initial] filing [of nonprofit status with the IRS], you get an initial couple years to file it [ the annual tax return].” – I don’t know where he got that information. On the IRS website, one reads, “In general, exempt organizations are required to file annual returns, although there are exceptions. If an organization does not file a required return or files late, the IRS may assess penalties. In addition, if an organization does not file as required for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its tax-exempt status.” Mr. Jackson’s charity doesn’t appear to fall into any of the listed exceptions. Even if it had, Jackson would have had to file to qualify as an exception, which he doesn’t seem to have done. In that absence, he would have had to file a return for his first year of operation, 2014. Since that is the first of the three missing years for which the IRS yanked his exempt status, it sure sounds like he had any kind of grace period to file his return. He just missed the deadline.

“We had attempted to do it internally. There were some errors with it. It came back rejected and we didn’t get it back timely… It’s on a form that was completed wrong and we are putting it in the hands of people who do this all the time so that they can do it correctly for us and get us back on the right path. You can clearly see where the funds go.” – This doesn’t ring true with what the IRS rules state. Elsewhere in the article, we read, “Annually, Jackson said Moving Trenton Together brought in ‘$20-something thousand.’ Much of that money is used to put on his big Christmas concert held at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial.”

If that’s the case, and MTT is only around that size, the IRS rules say this:

irs 1

“$20-something thousand” is comfortably under the $50,000 threshold, which means Mr. Jackson had to file using the Form 990-N. This has to be the form he used, and apparently had so much trouble with, right? It has to be a difficult form, since “There were some errors with it. It came back rejected and we didn’t get it back timely…It’s on a form that was completed wrong and we are putting it in the hands of people who do this all the time so that they can do it correctly for us and get us back on the right path.”

This Form 990-N really sounds like a beast, right? Has to be really hard. No wonder Mr. Jackson and his “people” had so many problems three years running?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the IRS Form 990-N. In its entirety.

irs 2That’s it! That’s the entirety of the form you have to file, and you can only file it online. An “E-Postcard.” If you miss the deadline to file, this is the reminder that the IRS sends:

irs 3

There is something I am not getting with Mr. Jackson’s explanation. If his charity was as small as he says, the sequence he lays out doesn’t make any sense. The IRS, despite its fearsome reputation, goes out of its way to make it easy for small charitable organizations such as Mr. Jackson’s to comply with the law.

All he had to do was file a postcard once a year, with the name and address of the organization. That’s about it. he didn’t even need a stamp or envelope.

Perhaps Mr. Jackson mis-spoke about the size of his charity. Maybe he didn’t bring in only “$20-something thousand.” Maybe it was more, in which case he gave incorrect and misleading information to the Trentonian’s reporter. That’s another problem.

For now, I just want to focus for now on the story that Eric Jackson told David Foster on the phone yesterday. As I hope I demonstrated above – and which you could probably figure out yourself by just reading through the article; hey, try reading out loud the mayor’s word salad in a Donald Trump voice, it’s a hoot – the Mayor’s narrative does not make sense. He couldn’t have had all that trouble with the annual filing requirements for his organization if it all is truly what he says it is. Maybe his group is larger than he claims. Perhaps there are financial improprieties and shenanigans.

Or, perhaps he unwittingly gave the real explanation for his troubles when he said, ““It’s not any question of improprieties but it’s a question of timely filing, and we’re not timely into filing, It’s a compliance issue. That’s really what it comes down to.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

“We’re not timely into filing.” Perhaps that’s just it. Perhaps he’s not a detail-oriented guy. Maybe he’s disorganized. It could be he doesn’t care about compliance. That could explain why he ignored three years of IRS late notices about his charity.

That could explain his three-year failure to file campaign finance reports after his 2010 campaign.

That could explain his three-year failure to file campaign finance reports after his 2014 campaign.

That could explain his failure to heed 9 months of IRS and NJ warnings about payroll tax problems in the City of Trenton, which led to a $5 Million Dollar theft.

That could explain his failure to take any steps to improve management of Federal grants, which led to losing $3.3 Million in future funding.

That could explain his failure to ensure that Trenton’s Water Works is managed well enough to ensure the safety if its customers throughout the County.

“It’s really a compliance issue. That’s really what it comes down to.” That could explain… a lot of things.

What that can’t explain is why in the world we would want to re-elect a guy like this to be Trenton’s Mayor. He is a mess!

I am glad to see the Mayor start to open up about this problem. But it’s not enough. After hearing about his IRS, and the current NJ ELEC investigation under way of his campaign, we cannot be satisfied by his confident assurances on the phone that “Those dollars go directly there to funds it for our community. We’re doing some good work.”

We can’t rely on these assurances anymore. He has to show us the numbers. He says he now has a CPA going over the books of Moving Trenton Together. The paper reports, “Jackson said he has all documentation ‘to the dollar… “You can clearly see where the funds go.”’ Good! Let’s see his CPA’s report!

Mr. Jackson says he’s had long correspondence with the IRS about the matter, forms sent back and the like? Well, let’s see that paper trail!

While the CPA is at it, can he catch up and file all of the dozen or so outstanding ELEC campaign reports, and can we see all of that dats “to the dollar?”

Because at this point, Mr. Jackson, we can’t trust a word out of your mouth unless we see the details in writing, in a form we can trust.

Because, at this point, we can’t trust you.

Time to Pay the Piper?

ELEC EJ

Back during the last Trenton city election in 2014, I introduced readers of this space to Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason. At that time, Ms. Mason had been a Hoboken Council member since 2007. She’d also run, unsuccessfully, for Mayor a few times.

I thought her story would be of interest to Trenton readers in 2014 because, well, rather than rewrite let me cut and paste:

The State ELEC [Election Law Enforcement Commission] filed a complaint against Ms. Mason and her husband (who was her 2011 campaign treasurer), charging the council member with six counts of late and incomplete reporting, all in connection with her 2011 council campaign. According to the Hudson Reporter, “In all, ELEC alleged that Mason’s campaign failed to report a total of $126,199 on time, with the information submitted anywhere between 98 and 276 days late. The amounts should have been reported on reports that were due beginning in October 2011 and April 2012, but were not revealed first until July 2012.”

Of course, the relevance to Trenton affairs three years ago was that the then-leading candidate for Trenton’s mayor’s office, Eric Jackson, had also been similarly tardy with his campaign reporting to NJ ELEC, having failed to submit required reports for his first, unsuccessful run in 2010 for over three years. I drew a direct line between Beth Mason and Eric Jackson, writing,

Back to Beth Mason. According to the article in PolitickerNJ, she has been formally charged with violations and is now subject to fines for reports that were late by 276 days, 276 days, 184 days, 184 days, 98 days and 98 days.

How late are Mr. Jackson’s reports? One of them, the report for expenses through and including the quarter ending June 30 was due on July 15, 2010. That was 1,334 days ago. Many of his other reports are even more overdue.

Will Mr. Jackson be held liable by ELEC for any of this? I don’t know. But given the examples cited above, Councilwoman Mason and Senator/Mayor [Brian] Stack [another officeholder fined by ELEC for late reporting], he certainly is vulnerable.  And his campaign could be exposed to pay significant penalties and fines, should he be charged.

Since he was running a tight race in 2014, Mr. Jackson hurriedly prepared and submitted the late reports, one month before the May 2014 Trenton elections. This apparently worked out for him. He was elected Trenton’s Mayor in a June run-off election against Paul Perez. And he avoided any investigations or charges from ELEC.

Councilwoman Beth Mason wasn’t so lucky. In January of 2015, ELEC followed through with their complaint and fined Ms. Mason $37,000 for her campaign reporting violations. It was far, far less than she was liable to pay: at one point it was estimated she could be fined as much as $2 Million Dollars.

But the damage to her political reputation from that fine was critical. Three months after the ELEC fine, and facing many other challenges, she resigned from Hoboken’s Council before the end of her term.

Is there any continuing relevance to Trenton’s Eric Jackson in the tale of Hoboken’s Beth Mason? Unfortunately for Trenton’s Mayor, I have to say yes. Eric Jackson has surely had a very rocky term.

He’s presided over three years of persistently high crime rates, and he and his Police Director have responded by re-introducing plans first announced three summers ago.

One year into the Mayor’s term, the City of Trenton was labeled as a “high-risk grantee of federal funds” 2 years ago, and largely as the result of an inability to fix chronically broken management and administrative practices in City Hall, the City this spring gave up $3.3 Million in federal grant funds for which it was otherwise eligible.

Due to broken management and administration elsewhere in City Hall during Mr. Jackson’s watch, close to $5 Million Dollars was stolen by Trenton’s payroll vendor over a period of several months in 2015, during which time the City received several warnings of problems from the State of New Jersey and the IRS. Warnings which were all ignored, and which have failed to lead to any visible staffing or management changes in City Hall to make sure nothing like that happens again.

Mr. Jackson presided over a badly-flawed property revaluation that has resulted in massively inflated valuations and tax bills for residential and commercial property owners.

Just yesterday, news broke that a non-profit charity established by Mr. Jackson in 2014, Moving Trenton Together, had seen its tax-exempt status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service this spring after having failed to file required annual tax returns for three consecutive years.

Finally, readers of this space will be familiar with the fact that, similar to his behavior after his first mayoral campaign in 2010, Eric Jackson has failed to file quarterly campaign finance reports, as required by law, since the fall of 2014. But now that Eric Jackson is an elected public official, he must be held to higher ethical standards than the civilian he was three years ago.

And that is why in February of this year the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission opened an investigation into his 2014 election campaign, as you can see from the above scan of a letter dated February 24. He now has one more thing in common with former Councilwoman Beth Mason.

There have no further updates since February on the status of this investigation. NJ ELEC is steadily (we presume) working through a major backlog of complaints and investigations which stacked up for several years due to a lack of a voting quorum of Commissioners. And it is currently working to oversee our major statewide elections this fall. During this phase of investigation, ELEC has a firm policy of not commenting on the status, or even existence of an open investigation. It’s a policy they reiterated to me in a phone call this morning.

ELEC has a full plate, but I do hope they work its way down to Mr. Jackson’s case as quickly as possible. With voters in the City of Trenton looking at the prospect of our next municipal election in only 243 days, I certainly hope that ELEC can review the case of our mayoral scofflaw, who has failed in two consecutive elections to comply with the minimum legal requirements of campaign reporting and disclosure.

Taken along with his abysmal record in office, and a similar disdain in complying with federal tax law regarding his private charity, it’s high time that Eric Jackson be called to account for his multiple failures well before voters are asked to cast their ballots for his presumed re-election effort.

After coasting through three years in office when he has failed to be held accountable for his actions, perhaps now – or soon – will finally be the time Eric Jackson pays the piper?

No Laughing Matter

moving trenton revocation

Thanks to Trenton alumnus (and now Hamilton’s own) Jim Carlucci, we see from the above screenshot that the non-profit organization “Moving Trenton Together,” founded by Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson in 2014, had its 501(c)(3) non-profit status revoked by the Internal Revenue Service last month. As you can read above, this status “was automatically revoked for its failure to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

The delinquency of Mr. Jackson’s charity has been known at least since last December, when it was revealed in reporting by The Trentonian’s David Foster:

During a phone interview with The Trentonian on Tuesday, Jackson claimed the tax return — called a Form 990 — was submitted last year.

“It’s not an annual, but I think it was done last year,” the mayor said. “I think we did one at the end of last year if I’m not mistaken, but I’ll check. I’m almost sure we did because I remember the name of the form. I’ll let you know.”

However, the mayor never returned a request for comment about the information on Wednesday, despite letting the newspaper know he would respond late Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

He never responded. Not to Mr. Foster, nor to the public, nor – as we can see now – the IRS. And in return, the IRS has pulled his tax exemption.

Readers of this space know that I have needled the mayor repeatedly on this, as recently as last week, but also last February, and back in December when Foster’s Trentonian piece first ran. Each time, I called the Mayor on this as well as many other of his many, many false steps, but in a (hopefully) mildly humorous and snarky way.

No more.

After this action by the IRS, we can likely expect that “Moving Trenton Together” is dead as a local Trenton entity. But, that leaves three years of financial activity undisclosed. Three years of unknown contributions. Three years of unknown expenses.

Taken alongside Eric Jackson’s similar three-year failure to file legally-required quarterly campaign finance reports with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), we now are faced with a three-year blank hole where transparent financial disclosure should be.

We have no way of knowing – frankly – that Eric Jackson has not used his charity and his campaign for who knows what kind of financial shenanigans.

And after three full years of utterly ignoring the public’s right to know about these things – as required by law -  I don’t believe Mr. Jackson any longer deserves the benefit of the doubt as to his integrity.

It is now incumbent on him to prove to the public that he has NOT used either or both of his charities and his campaign as vehicles for inappropriate transactions.

He needs to prove that his contributions are all legal, and that his contributors have no conflict of interest with the City of Trenton.

He needs to prove that his expenses are legitimate, and supported by accurate and complete documentation.

And he needs to publicly prove that any financial reports and statements he releases at this very late date are accurate. The only way he can do that at this point is by ensuring that any such statements and reports are independently audited.

With this latest development, Eric Jackson has once more demonstrated that he has failed the promise he made to Trenton’s voters four years ago. I return, once more, to a column he wrote in March 2014 for the Trenton Times. In this piece, he presented himself as The Ethical Candidate for Mayor, who would restore trust to City government after the criminal corruption of Tony Mack. He promised us,

Most important, the next mayor has to lead by example. Municipal government is only as strong, ethical and transparent as its leader.

The mayor must make it clear to every employee working for the city and its independent agencies that there is zero tolerance for corruption, personal enrichment or dishonesty.

After the last three years – three years of failure to file his tax returns, which has now led to the loss of IRS tax exemption; and three years of failure to file a single ELEC campaign report; after three years of utter silence and non-disclosure, Eric Jackson cannot prove that he has not used his position for “corruption, personal enrichment or dishonesty.”

The burden of proof is much higher for an elected mayor of three years’ tenure than it was for a civilian candidate in 2014. He was able to say “Ooops” back then to explain his previous three-year failure to file campaign reports. It’s much harder, if not impossible, to make excuses now. Especially since he sits in an office whose previous elected mayor still sits in Federal prison for extortion and financial crimes.

Eric Jackson is in the big leagues now. There are no excuses for this.

Of course, he will likely claim that he is, at heart, an honest and upright man.

After three years of nothing from him, I for one no longer believe him.

1,154 Days In, and He Asks For Time...

jackson scorecard 8-30-2017 p1

jackson scorecard 8-30-2017 p2

jackson scorecard 8-30-2017 p3

Heavy Metal

Here we go again.

Hamilton is pissed. Mayor Kelly Yaede released a statement yesterday that says, in part, “Without advanced notice, we have learned today about the Trenton Water Works letter that residents are already receiving in the mail regarding lead in drinking water. I want our residents to know that we are taking action to gather further details so that you can be better informed.”

Trenton’s Water Works (TWW), as we all know, provides several communities in Mercer County besides the City of Trenton with fresh water, and has done so with varying levels of quality and safety – over the last few years. Shortly after taking office in 2010, the new Administration of then-Mayor, and later Federal Convict, Tony Mack experienced several problems at TWW that affected customers throughout the system. These problems led Hamilton’s then-Mayor, and later Federal Convict (hmm, something in the water?) John Bencivengo to seek a county takeover of TWW. In a December 2010 letter to Governor Chris Christie, Mr. Bencivengo wrote, “Numerous instances over the past several months have provided me with absolutely no confidence that this utility can remain under the supervision of the City of Trenton and be responsibly operated in a manner that protects the safety of Hamilton residents and the fiscal integrity that the consumers of our community are entitled to and deserve.”

One of those incidents was a several day interruption of water service due to brown-water in the system after severe storms. The interruption was first blamed on the weather, but later was revealed to have been caused by human error, according to a TWW whistleblower. Customers in Hamilton, along with Ewing, Lawrence and Hopewell Borough were affected, and upset. More so when Mayor Mack blew off and failed to attend  a meeting that had been scheduled by County Executive Brian Hughes with the mayors of those townships to discuss TWW’s problems.

We’re back to those bad old days, it seems. Without any advance notice, as Mayor Yaede complained, a letter was mailed to TWW’s customers – as required by Federal law – and it started popping up in customers’ mailboxes yesterday. The letter, which is on stationery containing the names of Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson and Public Works Director Merkle Cherry, begins,

“Trenton Water Works found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes/buildings. Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Please read this information closely to see what you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water.”

Later on in the note, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Cherry say,

“Trenton Water Works is in the process of drafting a Request for Proposal to implement a Corrosion Control Study. This will help to reduce lead levels by identifying areas with issues allowing Trenton Water Works to adjust the corrosion control treatment to address these concerns.”

As of this morning, no further information has been provided by the City, nor any further statement by the Mayor or Director. This is what we have to go with. Which, considering that lead in the water supply is a pretty big deal – ask the folks who live in Flint, Michigan – and that Trenton has been dealing with this issue for over a year, is a big concern.

TWW Superintendent Joseph McIntyre addressed City Council in April 2016, in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, and said, “It’s been a pretty hot topic thanks to our friends in Flint. The good news is here in Trenton it’s not a hot topic as it pertains to water. We’ve never had a lead-based problem here in the water [Emphasis mine - KM].”

Yet, barely six months later, we read this headline: “20 Trenton school buildings test high for lead levels.” Even then, we were told that whatever problem there was with the water supply was localized to specific older buildings. Trenton Times reporter wrote in the piece linked just above, “In April, city officials said the water mains are lead-free, but a lead expert acknowledged that the toxin can build up in schools’ aging plumbing when water goes unused over weekends and long breaks. Elyse Pivnick, the director of environmental health for Trenton-based Isles, has said that lead-based paint in the city’s older housing and buildings remains one of the most common sources of lead exposure.”

But now, reading this letter, it would appear that the presence of heavy metal in our water supply is not just limited to Trenton’s school buildings. How prevalent is it? You can’t tell by reading yesterday’s letter.

One clue can be found in this document.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Cherry  actually misspoke about the status of its Corrosion Control Study Request for Proposal (RFP). It’s not being drafted. It’s finished and was published on the City’s website last week, a fact that Trenton’s Scott Miller tipped me to last week. The City is open to receive proposals until August 29.

In this RFP, the City states the problem succinctly. On Page 5, the RFP states, “Lead levels exceeded 15 ppb [parts per billion] for the 90th percentile during the January 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017 monitoring period.”

For perspective, in the height of the Flint crisis, during the 6-month period of January to June of 2016, Flint’s level was 20 ppb. And the 15 ppb threshold is considered an “action level” under Federal water safety rules, which Trenton’s water has exceeded during the first half of 2017. That’s what likely triggered the mandatory warning notice to TWW customers. All we know today is that lead levels in TWW’s water exceeded 15 ppb this year. We don’t know by how much more. Pretty key information, I think.

What caused this? According to the City’s own RFP, “process changes” introduced by TWW itself. The RFP narrates, on pages 4 and 5:

Trenton Water Works obtains its entire supply from the Delaware River. The filtration plant is Trenton’s only treatment facility. This supply is treated by a conventional treatment plant (clarification followed by filtration) located at the intersection of Route 29 and Calhoun Street.

The treatment plant was constructed in two phases during the 1950s. In the early 1990’s a new disinfection system was installed using Wallace and Tiernan evaporators, chlorinators, injectors, and associated appurtenances. The pretreatment was modified and various plant upgrades were made during a large upgrade project completed in 2010/2011. This upgrade brought the firm capacity to 60 MGD [million gallons per day] with the average daily production of approximately 27 MGD. The treatment plant consists of a river intake, screen house, raw water pumping, rapid mix, chemical feed, SuperPulsators for flocculation and sedimentation, filters, clearwell and high-lift pumping.

During the most recent upgrades the coagulant was changed from Aluminum Sulfate to Ferric Chloride to generate a heavier floc. Also added was a slaking system for pH and Alkalinity adjustment.

Starting in 2017 the water filtration plant is being converted from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite.

TWW has had some operational issues with the slaking system. The system has been maintenance intensive. The most recent contracts for the system include a $227,000 contract for maintenance services, $13,700 contract for a softening system maintenance contract and supply of salt, $101,300 contract for the supply of quicklime. Additionally, TWW is concerned about the impacts of the various process changes on the corrosivity of the drinking water.

The Lead levels exceeded 15 ppb for the 90thpercentile during the January 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017 monitoring period. Any immediate measures would  be sought as part of the study as part of the services. [Emphasis mine - KM]

To this layman, it sure does sound like TWW is admitting, “Hey, we started doing something as far back in 2010 and 2011, and as recently as this year, that’s screwing things up. Any solutions you can suggest that would be helpful right away would be really appreciated!”

This is a problem that’s been developing for quite some time. This most recent RFP for a Corrosion Control Study may be related to deeper and more fundamental problems going on with TWW, which led to ANOTHER RFP issued earlier this Spring, seeking “Management Advisory Services” for TWW.

So, what the hell is going on at Trenton’s Water Works? And why in hell is the first we are hearing of this in the form of a not-very-informative letter mailed to customers’ homes?

Why isn’t TWW’s Superintendent McIntyre telling us what’s going on?

Why isn’t Director of Public Works Merkle Cherry telling us what’s going on?

Why isn’t Mayor Eric Jackson telling us what’s going on?

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede is pissed. So, I imagine, are all of TWW’s customers, including me.

What’s Going On?

Dear Councilman Chester

As e-mailed 8-8-2017:

Good Morning, Councilman -

With all due respect, kiss my ass!

You are quoted in a news story that ran on WPVI/6ABC yesterday on the subject of the recent property revaluation completed in the City of Trenton. Reporter Nora Muchanic reporter included this in her story:

“City Council President Zachary Chester, whose property taxes jumped almost $4,000, says the city doesn’t want businesses leaving.

“‘Let us try to figure out something, ask the state, see what we can do legally, so that people don’t have to close their doors,’ Chester said.

“Chester wants to formulate a plan to help residents and businesses with tax appeals and review the assessment process that led to these jaw-dropping tax hikes.”

Really? THAT is your response at this late date? “Let us try to figure out something?” “Ask the state?”

Please, let me ask you what you have done in the last SEVEN MONTHS, since you were first alerted to the problems and the dangers raised by this revaluation? What have you and your colleagues done over the last HALF-YEAR to “try to figure out something?” Have you ever “asked the state” in the last 200 DAYS since I sent you and the other members of Council the note below?

Did you have any reaction at all when I wrote,

If these preliminary valuation increases in my neighborhood and others in the West Ward  are made permanent, and the remaining valuations do not result in a significant increase to the City’s total Net Valuation Taxable, the subsequent city property tax bills that I and my neighbors receive will be a disaster for the Ward and for the City of Trenton. Who will be able to afford tax increases of anywhere near 40%, 50% or more? Not me. not most of my neighbors.

And, if I may speak directly to you, Councilmembers, not many of you, I would guess. Mr. Chester, your property increased in value by 55%. Mr. Harrison, yours by 43%. Mr. Bethea, yours by a relatively moderate 15%. Ms. Reynolds Jackson, you don’t live in the West Ward, but your East Ward property increased in value by nearly 67%!

Although certainly not a member of your body, I will hope that Mayor Jackson can empathize with these kinds of increases, even though his own property increased in valuation by a very minimal 2.4%, less than the rest of city as a whole, on average.

If you took any action at all in the last half year to address this current situation, I ask you, please, share with the residents and business owners all of what you did. Please release your correspondence to the Mayor, to the Administration, to the State. Please reveal what kind of responses you received. Please let us know what you and yor Council colleagues have done in the last half year on this matter, other than sit on your asses and vegetate.

I am outraged that you can speak to a reporter as if this is a problem that has popped up out of nowhere! I am appalled that your gut reaction is to “ask the state” for help. I am disgusted that the President of my City Council, also my local Ward Councilman, is so unprepared to deal with this.

Along with your comment last week about “riding the gravy train,” your failure to act in the last half-year – hell, your failure to even provide the basic courtesy of a reply to my letter to you back in January – is the last straw for me.

You’ve served well past your ability to make any contribution to the citizens of Trenton with your service on Council. You are unable to even recognize the outlines of a major crisis even when it is carefully laid out to you by a constituent. As a result, the last seven months have been utterly wasted. Now that you have heard several business owners appeal to Council about the damage that this revaluation will do to their livelihoods, only now you begin to realize what this will do to this City.

But I fear it’s too late. You’ve squandered the best chance to deal with this situation before it hit the fan. You’ve wasted the most precious commodity of all, time, as you’ve done nothing for 200 days. If I am misinformed about any work that you have been doing behind the scenes, I will be happy to be proved wrong. However, if your past record is any predictor of what you’ve done in this case, I don’t think I will be proved wrong.

So, Mr. Council President, if your best answer to this clear and present danger to the economic future of this City is to “let us try to figure out something” and “Ask the state” for help, if you haven’t “formulated a plan” by now, then I must again say, with all due respect, Kiss my ass!

Most Sincerely,
Kevin Moriarty

On 2017-01-20 11:54, Kevin wrote:

Good Morning, Councilmembers -

Information released this week by Appraisal Systems, Inc., (ASI) the City’s contractor charged since 2015 with the state-mandated Property Revaluation process, is very troubling. I am personally troubled by a property valuation that has increased nearly 45% from my current one. However, I am more concerned that my valuation and those of my neighbors in Cadwalader Heights as well as the rest of the West Ward and City nay have been calculated as the result of a critically flawed process.

When Council approved the revaluation process in March 2015, the official estimate for completion of the process as given to the press (http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2015/03/revaluation_of_trenton_properties_to_be_reflected.html) by the Administration was that “the new valuation is expected to appear in first-quarter tax bills for 2016.”

We are fully one year late in this process. Why is that? I and many other Trentonians heard anecdotally that ASI staff and resources, which were thin on the ground in our town, were pulled off the Trenton revaluation for one or more other New Jersey municipalities. Upon the conclusion of those assignments, attention was turned back to Trenton as ASI tried to catch up on lost time.As a result, other anecdotes tell me, the resulting effort was rushed and inadequately done, with less than appropriate examination done on several properties and neighborhoods. I hear many tales of non-existent bathrooms and bedrooms allocated to properties, for instance. I am concerned that too much of this revaluation may have done in a very superficial way.

This is certainly the case with my property. In the beginning of the process we received the expected postcard from the assessors, stating the time and date of their visit. Since the proposed was during weekday business hours, my wife and I were unavailable. Unlike the process outlined in the Revaluation Presentation of March 19, 2015 (http://www.trentonnj.org/Cit-e-Access/webpage.cfm?TID=55&TPID=15188), we did not receive a card notifying us of a second appointment. Nor, according to the process outlined in the Revaluation Presentation, did we ever receive a blue “estimate card” summarizing the findings of the assessors. Our assumption for the lack of these cards, for which we blame ourselves for making, was that the process was still delayed and on hold.

From what we hear, our experience was not unique, and is pretty typical at least for our part of town. The detailed, individualized process we were promised, and told would be “expected to appear in first-quarter tax bills for 2016″ did not happen.

I don’t know on what basis the revaluation of my property was done. I have requested my Property Record Card from ASI as suggested on the ASI website, but have as of today received no response, again.

Examining the 1-17-17 spreadsheet of residential property values on the ASI website, I see that similar significant  valuation increases have been calculated not only for my neighborhood, but nearby West Ward neighborhoods such as Hiltonia, Glen Afton, The Island and Berkeley Square.

Councilmembers, I well know that the rate of these valuation increases in my neighborhood and throughout the West Ward do not represent the eventual increase of the property taxes that will be charged to my property in the next tax year and going forward. I do know that the new tax rate will be based on the citywide revaluation. If the total rateables base of the City increases by a similar percentage to that of my property and those of my neighbors, the impact of the individual valuation will be moderate. That is how the process is supposed to work.

However, on the ASI spreadsheet, the significant increases in valuations seen in my and other local neighborhoods are nearly offset entirely by significant valuation decreases in other Trenton neighborhoods across the City. Nearly half of the properties on the spreadsheet show valuation decreases, some as much as 50%, 60% or more. Many of these are likely to be properties demolished or abandoned since the last valuation, but surely not the over 3100 thousands showing decreased value of 10% or more.

Taken as a whole, the total valuation of the nearly 10,000 properties on this spreadsheet has increased – city-wide – by only a little over 4.4%. If the increase on this spreadsheet is, as I believe, representative of what the eventual total increase will be for the entire City, then the total rateables base will not increase to the total necessary to moderate the massive increase in valuation of my property and those of my neighbors. My tax bill, and theirs, will rise. Significantly, painfully, and unsustainably.

Why do I believe that this spreadsheet, containing only about one-third of the total number of parcels in the City, is a representative sample of what the eventual total will be? Why am I so concerned now, before the new tax rates are calculated?

First, the size of the sample of this spreadsheet, at one-third of total of the City, is a large enough sample to be statistically significant.

Second, the increase in the total valuation since the last valuation in 1992 of this sample, at 4.4%, tracks very closely to the annual trend line shown in the city’s total annual valuation data since 1998, as summarized in the state Department of Community Affairs annual Property Tax tables (http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/resources/property_tax.htm) From 1998 (the earliest year posted on the State website) to the most current year of 2015, the City of Trenton’s total Net Valuation Taxable increased by only 5.5% That tells me that ASI’s spreadsheet, though still incomplete, is an accurate representative sample for the purposes of forecasting the end result of the revision of tax rates based on this revaluation.

Third, most of the City’s more valuable residential properties are located in neighborhoods already on this spreadsheet. Many of the West Ward neighborhoods listed above are numbered among the city’s largest residential lot sizes, and their higher values. Hiltonia is already on this list. Cadwalader Heights is already on this list. Glen Afton, already on this list.

As are many of the more recently constructed residential developments, some of whom are showing new valuations for the first time after expiration of many initial PILOT agreements. K Hovnanian is already here, as is 350 South Broad.

I am concerned that – even with all of these neighborhoods and new developments already baked in to a spreadsheet that shows Citywide property values increased only by 4.4% – the residential properties to be added to the City’s valuation will end up showing net valuation decreases, and therefore pull the City’s total rateables base further down from that 4.4%.

And I will only mention the City’s commercial properties to ask you all if you really think that over the last 25 years you will expect to see the total value of Trenton’s commercial property to lift the total tax rateables off the flat, flat floor they have been sitting on for the last quarter-century?

So, Councilmembers, for all those reasons, I do feel justified in being extremely concerned, as an individual property owner and as a Trenton citizen, about these preliminary results of the ASI process.

If these preliminary valuation increases in my neighborhood and others in the West Ward  are made permanent, and the remaining valuations do not result in a significant increase to the City’s total Net Valuation Taxable, the subsequent city property tax bills that I and my neighbors receive will be a disaster for the Ward and for the City of Trenton. Who will be able to afford tax increases of anywhere near 40%, 50% or more? Not me. not most of my neighbors.

And, if I may speak directly to you, Councilmembers, not many of you, I would guess. Mr. Chester, your property increased in value by 55%. Mr. Harrison, yours by 43%. Mr. Bethea, yours by a relatively moderate 15%. Ms. Reynolds Jackson, you don’t live in the West Ward, but your East Ward property increased in value by nearly 67%!

Although certainly not a member of your body, I will hope that Mayor Jackson can empathize with these kinds of increases, even though his own property increased in valuation by a very minimal 2.4%, less than the rest of city as a whole, on average.

Can any of you afford higher  tax bills any where near those kinds of rates? Remember, the City as a whole looks set to increase in value very little if at all. A rising tide of City wide property value increases will not allow you, or me, to absorb the pain of higher assessments by the benefit of a lower tax rate.

If the current results of the revaluation stand, the significant increases that seem to be concentrated in specific neighborhoods – Hiltonia on average increased by 32%, Cadwalader Heights by 39%, those neighborhoods  and many of their homeowners will hurt.

It will be hard to absorb heavy tax increases. Foreclosure will likely rise, and resale values will collapse. Who will want to buy my house -  or yours, Mr. Chester, or yours, Mr. Harrison, or yours, Ms Reynolds-Jackson – and pay even more of Trenton’s notoriously high property taxes, from which we see so little value?

In the lean years since 2008, my neigborhood has seen foreclosures and abandonments, and burnouts. I fear there will be more.

Councilmembers, I urgently and respectfully ask you to look into the way the revaluation process was conducted. As I discussed above, we know for a fact that the process was delayed. We need to know that this delay did not  produce – as my personal experience and many anecdotes attest – a rushed, incomplete and flawed process that will harm thousands of your constituents, and perhaps even many of yourselves.

If you find this to be a flawed process, please suspend it and if necessary, begin it again.

Thank you,

Respectfully,

Kevin Moriarty

The Revaluation of La-La Land - Revisited

I hate to say “I told you so,” but…

Last Night’s Trenton City Council session was marked by several indignant commercial property owners complaining to the Councilmembers about their new tax bills received in the mail this week. These tax bills were based on the recently-completed property revaluation conducted for the City by Appraisal Systems, Inc. (ASI), the city’s first comprehensive revaluation since 1992.

They weren’t happy. As narrated by Trentonian reporter David Foster,

Numerous Trenton businesses said their taxes have tripled after an assessment was done at their properties.

“Mine alone was increased almost $33,000,” Brian Hawkins, owner of Hawk’s Towing told city council on Thursday night. “My son’s shop was increased $29,900, which is around the corner.”

A friend of Hawkins had his taxes shoot up an absurd $100,000, the owner said.

Yeah, I’m hearing you. I started writing about this back in January of this year, when the first draft residential numbers were released on ASI’s page. Even before the first commercial numbers were released I noted,

Who in the world will buy Trenton property at anything close to current market prices that come with a property tax burden so astronomically high? We already are burdened with some of the highest property taxes in New Jersey, and the value we get for those high taxes is abysmally low. If these tax valuations stand, sale prices for many neighborhoods in town will collapse. This will probably result in increases in foreclosures and abandonment in neighborhoods that – so far – have managed to avoid too many of either.

Nothing that has happened since has changed my mind on this. My feeling is that this entire ASI revalution process is fatally flawed, and will lead to the ruination of many of the City’s residential neighborhoods, and all of its privately-owned commercial base. Business owners get that, and made their feelings known to Council last night.

I also made my feelings known to Council months ago. On January 20, I wrote to each member of Council a long note, concluding with this urgent appeal:

Councilmembers, I urgently and respectfully ask you to look into the way the revaluation process was conducted. As I discussed above, we know for a fact that the process was delayed. We need to know that this delay did not  produce – as my personal experience and many anecdotes attest – a rushed, incomplete and flawed process that will harm thousands of your constituents, and perhaps even many of yourselves.

If you find this to be a flawed process, please suspend it and if necessary, begin it again.

Apart from ONE note from ONE Council member, I received NO RESPONSE from any other member. Apalling. From January to this week, as suggested by the Trentonian’s article, NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE by anyone on Council or in the Administration to investigate or address a critically flawed revaluation process. NOTHING.

I really don’t know what happens from here. A number of residential and  commercial property owners filed tax appeals, which are working their way through the system. Me, I got so dispirited and disgusted at the lack of accountability at City Hall I didn’t even bother to file. I figured, and based on last night’s meeting perhaps correctly, that once commercial property owners got their first bills, all Hell would break loose and that the entire revaluation would be thrown out. Either that, or the results would stand, businesses would fold left and right, residential property values would crash and we’d all end up walking away from our investments anyway.

So, here we are. Let’s see what happens now that the owners of Trenton’s last commercial property parcels have absorbed the impact of being told that their assessed values have increased by nearly 70% while residential property has remained, on net balance FLAT, even though individual residential valuations have mostly either been slashed or skyrocketed; also literally unbelievable results.

That this mismatched result is fundamentally both unfair and highly unlikely is something I discussed in depth in my post of January 26. I compared ASI’s analysis of other NJ towns comparable to Trenton that they had worked in recently, and found that Trenton’s revaluation results were, what’s the technical term, Real Fucked Up. Since the numbers reported then have remained almost exactly the same, this piece remains as current and relevant now as it did in January. I post it in its entirety below.

Perhaps THIS time someone in City Hall will pay attention???

Nah, that’s way too much to ask. These guys are useless.

— # —

“The Revaluation of La-La Land” – Originally published January 26, 2017

More information has come available about the current property revaluation and re-assessment process coming to a conclusion in Trenton. As is true of many things about this town, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. In fact, it’s downright screwy. The results that are coming online seem to indicate a massive economic disconnect in the City between its residential properties and its commercial/industrial ones, a disconnect that I can’t frankly believe. Either the company that has done the assessments, Appraisal Systems Inc (ASI), or the City of Trenton, think we are living in a fantasy town with limited connection to economic reality, a La-La-Land-on-the-Delaware. Compared to a number of other NJ towns with comparable property values, Trenton’s numbers are extremely odd.

So what else is new?

First off, ASI has updated the spreadsheet listing Trenton’s residential properties, from the one that was posted last week. This one now seems to be more or less complete, with 21,371 individual properties listed with a total current 2016 assessed value of $1,359,802,270. You can find the spreadsheet, called “Trenton Residential Proposed Assessments,” at this page. Or, along with a column calculating the % increase or decrease in assessed valuation for each property, at this location. The net result of this updated list shows, as was suggested from the data in the first version and as I wrote last week, that the change in valuation of Trenton’s entire residential property has been flat, without adjusting for inflation, since the last major assessment in 1992.That’s flat, flat, flat. Trenton’s residential property is worth 99.26% of last year’s value, which is largely based on the 1992 numbers.

OK? So far, that’s nothing new from last week. The substantial individual property valuation increases of 60%, 70% and more that we saw last week are almost exactly evenly offset with substantial valuation decreases, to end up with no appreciable impact to the city’s total residential values. We are, as in so many things, a town of extremes.

We now know – without any level of detail comparable to that of the 21,371-line residential spreadsheet, though – what the results are for the revaluation of Trenton’s commercial and industrial properties. Before I get to that, a few words of background and context.

Now, one shouldn’t expect residential and commercial properties to increase or decrease in value in any kind of synchronized way. There are a wide number and variety of different factors at work that determine if a given town is considered an attractive – and therefore, valuable – place to live compared with a place to do business. Those factors don’t change in lockstep for the residential and commercial/industrial side of things.

And yet., there are many ways in which both sides do relate somewhat closely with each other. Both residential and commercial properties are located, literally, in the same world. They share the same streets, utilities, access to highways and railroads, are protected by the same police and firefighters. The fortunes of businesses established to serve local residents – such as groceries, laundries, restaurants  and bank branches – rise and fall in some direct relation to the rising and falling prosperity of their local neighbors.

So, even though you wouldn’t expect the numbers or the trends in valuation for commercial and industrial properties in Trenton to be identical to those of the city’s residences, you’d expect some correlation, right? That is, in the normal world, you would. And in most instances, even in New Jersey, you’d be right.

Welcome to Trenton. It’s a very special place all its own. The result of the very same property revaluation process that states that the total value of Trenton’s residential properties FELL by 00.74%, basically flat as we’ve seen, tells us that the value of commercial and industrial property in Trenton INCREASED by 69.50% in the same time period!

How can this be, you ask?

Damned if I know! But here, take a look!

trenton tax impact 1

This is an excerpt from another document on the ASI website, called “Trenton 2017 Revaluation Tax Impact,” which you can download by clicking on the link to the left, or view or download here. You can see in the excerpt above the differing valuations for the different classifications of property in the City, and how they have increased or decreased. The GRAND TOTAL for the City indicates an overall increase in the total valuation of property in the City as being 22% higher than the previous valuation. However, because residential properties have stagnated, the entire amount – ALL of it – comes from commercial and industrial valuation (plus some Apartment properties). As a result of that net increase of 22%, the provisional draft tax rate for the City – as seen in the full version of this sheet – has, for the time being until valuations have finalized after appeals, and after the new city budget (for the current year more than half over) has been adopted, dropped from $5.753 per $100 of valuation, down to $4.732.

In the hypothetical example shown on the sheet, a property owner previously assessed at $64,100 and now assessed at a lower $63,500 would come out owing $682.73 LESS in Trenton property taxes. If you are among the nearly 12,000 residential property owners whose valuation went down, Congratulations! You stand to save some tax money.

However, if you are among property owners – residential or commercial – whose valuations increased, Too Bad! you are going to pay. In my own case, my valuation increased by 44.68%, but my taxes will rise by a somewhat lower 20%. I stand to be paying about $2,100 extra under this scheme.Ouch.

For a hypothetical commercial property owner, the bite is likely to be much bigger. We don’t have a spreadsheet showing individual increases, but we know the aggregate increase is close to 70%. If you own a commercial property currently assessed at $100,000, a 70% bump will bring that to $170,000. Your tax bill will jump 40%, a bump of $2,300 per year. Yikes!

Of course, as we have seen in multiple examples of residential valuation, especially in the West Ward, some increases are as high as 80% or more, even though the city as a whole averages out to 0%. It’s safe to assume that several commercial property owners have been opening envelopes this week revealing individual increases WAAAY higher than the average 70% for that classification.

A lower tax rate by itself is generally a good thing, and may help draw in some new investment. But from what can be seen from the currently available numbers, it looks to me that the lowered tax rate was made possible only by massive residential property tax increases assessed on a small number (15% of the total) of residential property owners, and the entirety of the commercial and industrial sector.

The revaluation disconnect between the total residential and the commercial/industrial sector seems highly distorted to me. I can’t tell based on what we now know whether this process has been manipulated in any way, but we can see that this distortion – 0% increases in the residential sector and 70% in Commercial – is not seen in other New Jersey towns of similar valuation who were reassessed by ASI in the last several months.

Below are charts for the Tax Impacts from the revaluation processes conducted in three NJ towns: Ramsey, Passaic and Maplewood. I chose these three samples for a few reasons. 1) they were all reassessed by ASI; 2) similar Tax Impact charts were available for them, as opposed to other ASI clients; and 3) their aggregate property values, as well as the residential/commercial mix, are similar to Trenton. Take a look. (Please note that ASI doesn’t format their sheets the same way for all their clients, which may cause a little confusion. Bear with it, though. These tell a story)

ramsey 1

In Ramsey (you can see the entire form here), we see a town initially valued at $2.853 Billion, compared with Trenton’s $2.022. It was re-valued at $3.474 Billion, an increase of 22%. In this town, Residential properties went up by 19.12%, and commercial up by 32.57%. Not in sync, certainly, but hella closer to each other than 0% and 70%!

passaic 1

Passaic’s total valuation spiked, from $1.320 Billion up to $3.085B, a whopping 233% increase. Here again, though, the increase of the Residential sector, at 216%, bears some relation to the Total Commercial sector’s increase of 262%.

One more example, Maplewood:

maplewood 1

The total valuation of Maplewood increased by 27%, with the residential sector going up by 25.92% and Total Commercial by 38.93%. Once again, and for the third of our examples, there is some correlation between the new values assigned to Residential properties, and to Commercial.

To look at these summaries for the results of the revaluation processes for Ramsey, Passaic and Maplewood, you can easily get a sense that the commercial and residential sides of these communities are located in the same towns. There’s a solid impression that you get that these numbers make sense, they come close to reflecting a credible reality in these communities.

When you look at Trenton, you see two different towns. One, economically struggling, town in which increases in residential property values are utterly flat – on average, but which individually careen wildly from decreases of -80% all the way to +100%.

And a second, pretty successful commercial and industrial city, with market assessments up by a healthily average 70%.

Do these look like the same town to you?

Which one is real?

Which one has been accurately recorded by the revaluation process coming to a conclusion in the next few weeks?

The residential one? The commercial one?

Both?

Neither?

Right now, to me, both Trentons depicted by this revaluation seem equally fantastic and not very credible. These are fairytale versions of the town we think we live or work in, thanks to ASI and the Jackson Administration.

Welcome to La-La Land.



The Christmas Mayor

If he seeks re-election next May, Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson will likely run on a record of bringing redevelopment money into Trenton. He has to hope that he will get all the acknowledgement, and votes, that he needs from getting money in, because he has been horrible at managing it once it’s here.

Like a benevolent Santa-Claus-in-Chief, the man relishes the opportunity to announce presents and gifts to the people of the City of Trenton, even when he is only standing by the people who actually make them possible. That’s Mr. Jackson standing behind Governor Chris Christie as the governor announced a grant of $13 Million in state money to tear down abandoned buildings in the City. That’s him again, standing behind the Governor as Christie gave another $9 Million to the City for new housing. Hey, how about when Christie gifted the City with $18.5 Million for a new park and a (snicker!) Bridge connecting this park to downtown Trenton? Yep! Another $2.4 Million for the City’s Cadwalader Park? Hmmm,  there doesn’t seem to have been a press conference for that one.

There’s been a lot of largesse from the State of New Jersey in the last few months, almost $43 Million Dollars in the preceding paragraph alone. How come? Is all this money really due to the diligent efforts of our Mayor and his Administration? Perhaps, but I think these grants have more to do with Chris Christie than Eric Jackson. Whatever the reasons he may have – creating a “legacy;” banking some political good will for another possible presidential run in 2020; giving back to Trenton a fraction of the $150 Million or so in aid the City would have received from the Capital City Aid program he canceled in 2010 when he took office; or perhaps rewarding Mr. Jackson for not rocking the boat during his doomed presidential campaign and for not opposing the state’s plan to downsize the state’s downtown building footprint, a plan bitterly opposed by a group of downtown business owners – Chris Christie is the reason for these recent grants, and not Eric Jackson.

Enough about Christie. This is supposed to be about our Mayor. Governor Christie has done a huge favor for Eric Jackson, gifting him with several sizeable grants to Trenton at a time that will help Jackson’s own re-election campaign, which so far remains unannounced. Mr. Jackson, in turn, gets to give presents to the City’s voters, playing Santa in the Summer.

It hasn’t been just government grants that Mr. Jackson is happy to publicly promote. When a developer announced plans last fall to re-develop the old Trentonian newspaper building on Perry Street as a Dunkin Donuts bakery, the mayor couldn’t wait to pull that be-ribboned box from under the tree. He very prominently tore the wrapping off that one at a MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce meeting in October of last year. “They’re planning to create almost 200 new jobs in our city. When Trenton attracts new business and jobs our local economy is stronger, people go to work and our city gets stronger.”

But, as often happens the day after Christmas, if the presents are the wrong color or the wrong size, or need different batteries, or need to be returned, it’s hard to find this mayor to go back to the mall and face the crowds. For instance, last night The Trentonian published an article that described the Dunkin Donuts project as “dead.” In that piece, reporter David Foster wrote, “The mayor did not return a message seeking comment.”

Similarly, last year in the middle of an upsurge in violent crime in the City the Mayor staged a big outdoor press conference with local, county and state law enforcement and elected officials to announce a “bold” plan to combat that upsurge. However, as described in this space last year, that plan itself had significant problems.

A year later, this fuzzy plan – announced with great fanfare and public pomp – has had rather predictable results. Crime in Trenton is again spiking, and the Mayor’s response this summer has been… a press release. Rather than make another public appearance on the matter that might leave him vulnerable to awkward questions and comments about the lack of progress over the last three years, Mr. Jackson instead released a mealy-mouthed statement after the recent shooting death of 15-year-old Kyler Bragg. In that statement, Jackson devoted only three lines to Kyler Bragg and his family, before pivoting away: “This local and national crisis requires a significant alignment of interest that are working comprehensively toward a solution to end this violence. I believe that complex public-policy challenges cannot be solved exclusively by elected officials.” He talked briefly about 12-hour shifts for police officers, a task force of more than 30 officers, and hey! “the help of funding authorized by Governor Chris Christie and New Jersey State Attorney General Christopher Porrino” to install video surveillance cameras around the city. New money! Grants! He finished up by reminding us, in case we didn’t know, “Unfortunately, crime is ever-present in our society.”

No shit!

It’s easier for Mr. Jackson to invoke the “ever-present” nature of crime in this “local and national crisis” than it is to face up to things that need attention in his own administration. As one recent example of this, last week a year-old video surfaced of Public Safety Director Ernest Parrey using racially-loaded language to describe some of Trenton’s residents. Mayor Jackson took no action with Director Parrey, dismissing the incident as merely a “bad and extremely poor choice of words” as reported in The Trentonian.

Just as no action was taken by the mayor a year ago, when Mr. Parrey was the subject of a City Council disciplinary hearing.

Just as no action has been announced by the Mayor in the aftermath of a report issued last week by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that last month’s water quality incident affecting thousands of Trenton’s residents was caused by “‘technical, managerial, and operational deficiencies’ within the Trenton Water Work’s Water Treatment and Distribution systems ‘that need to be addressed.’” As The Trentonian’s David Foster wrote last week, “In a statement at the time, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson said that the problem arose from a technical issue at the city’s water treatment plant that caused chlorine levels to temporarily drop.” DEP has shown the mayor’s “technical issue” to be one that also involved “managerial and operational deficiencies;” that is, people and process issues that can be addressed and hopefully fixed.However, this Mayor, a former Trenton Public Works Director with prior direct responsibility for the Trenton Water Works, a utility that’s had more than its share of problems over the last several years, has been silent over the last week about issues that DEP reported “need to be addressed.”

Just as the Mayor has been silent about problems with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that led to the City having to give up over $3 Million in future grants because of past inappropriate spending and the Jackson Administration’s three-year failure to fix managerial and operational deficiencies in its administration of Federal grants.

Just as the Mayor was silent for a year after it was revealed a city vendor had been able to swindle nearly $5 Million in City payroll tax deposits, because of managerial and operational deficiencies in its financial departments.

Just as…

You get the picture.

Over and over again over the last three years – and at a pace that is likely to accelerate over the next year as we approach the next municipal election cycle – we’ve been treated to many virtual Christmas mornings, as our mayor has brought great tidings of joy, and new money, and grants, and grand initiatives.

But over and over again, we’ve seen how this mayor and his administration have been utterly incompetent in the day-to-day management of the City of Trenton. We’ve seen that all too frequently over the last three years, and again over the last week.

Eric Jackson is a Christmas mayor, great with glitter and fancy wrapping, horrible with everything else.