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“Step Aside From This Issue!”

When I posted yesterday’s piece about the “Staton/Holly-Ward Report” discussed at Trenton’s City Council meeting on Thursday night, I had done so before this story by [Correction!] Kevin Shea had appeared in the Trenton Times.

That was some session, according to the newspaper!

First, council members debated several aspects of the incidents between Deputy Clerk Cordelia Staton and Councilwoman-at-Large Phyllis Holly-Ward and if Holly-Ward should be taking part in a vote on a resolution to accept the $25,000 investigative report.

Later, residents lambasted the council, saying the incident continues to give the city a black eye. And three former city council members rose to the microphone to offer their opinions on the matter.

And then the council sparred over a council-formed committee they revealed had been formed to investigate leaks of information about the incident to a local newspaper.

One councilman left during the meeting without explanation, another said she was not going to “deal with this BS anymore,” and the city clerk rejected a councilman’s request to have something read into the record…

“This is not bringing investors here,” said Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, saying she has just toured the Roebling Lofts project that day. The city does not need this dominating headlines, she said.

“Step aside from this issue,” Reynolds-Jackson said to Holly-Ward.

Whew!  Folks seemed to be awfully upset about this whole kerfuffle.

Except, “the issue” here – that seems to have been entirely forgotten during Thursday’s meeting, at least according to Ms. Rojas’ account – is not the one that Councilmember Reynolds-Jackson wants us to “step away from.”

It seems to me that the Administration of Eric Jackson, which is suppressing the Report and three members of Council – President Zac Chester, Duncan Harrison and Ms. Reynolds-Jackson – are primarily concerned with both keeping a lid on the Report, and tracking down sources of leaks to media. This has been bubbling since late October, when we first heard about this matter when it was disclosed that the Administration requested the Mercer County Prosecutor to investigate Ms. Holly-Ward after she tried to make a photocopy of the Report – a Report which, remember[on Thursday night], is about her – in City Hall. And now, Rojas reported “a council-formed committee they revealed had been formed to investigate leaks of information about the incident to a local newspaper.”

Neglected in all this, by the Administration and by Council, is what the Report actually contains! At this point we do not know any specific details about what this 30-page report includes, but on Wednesday an article (poorly written, but that’s par for the paper) by David Foster in the Trentonian contains some pretty serious hints about what’s in there. “There’s harassment in it, there’s theft in it, there’s talk about somebody taking unauthorized money in it, and the mayor is mentioned in it,” the paper quotes Ms. Holly-Ward as saying. Foster reports, “[Councilmember George] Muschal said the clerk’s office is ‘totally out of control’ and the employees who work in the department are ‘crying’ over the situation. He also said Clerk Richard Kachmar even released a letter stating that Staton faces insubordination charges.”

THIS, I suggest, is “the issue!” Not a word was said of this on Thursday night, nor at any time since at least last October. This report, written at a cost of $25,000 by the law firm DeCotiis Fitzpatrick, has been completed and in the City’s possession for over 3 months. We know it contains serious allegations about improprieties in the City Clerk’s Office, and its findings have now been officially accepted and endorsed by Thursday’s vote at City Council. So it is a legitimate report, professionally investigated and carefully written.

And what has the City done with it? Has any action been taken on the substance of the report, to fix an office “out of control” with several “crying employees?”

Nope! Not a thing.

Instead, the Administration has suppressed the report. It sought to investigate and prosecute the Councilmember who was a subject of the report. And Council formed a Committee to investigate leaks, not the Clerk’s Office.

This sure seems like a classic case of a cover-up to me.

How else to explain that a 30-page independently-investigated report with serious allegations of professional improprieties and malfeasance in a major City Department has sat on the shelf for over 3 months with no action at all, other than to make sure the report stays on that shelf?

A lot of people who spoke at City Hall on Thursday night wanted Council to move on from this matter, and resolve what everyone seems to want to continue to characterize as a personality conflict at its heart. Even some Councilmembers, such as Ms. Reynolds-Jackson want to “step aside from this issue.”

But as long as the Administration and Councilmembers Chester, Harrison and Reynolds-Jackson continue to cover up the substance of the 30-page DeCotiis report; as long as they conceal its allegations and charges from the public; as long as they fail to take any actions to address serious and documented problems in the Clerk’s office, just as they continue to fail to address problems in the City that aided and abetted the $5 Million theft in the Great Payroll Robbery; this is no time to “step aside from this issue.”

Instead, it’s time to Step Up to it.

Skewed Priorities

Let’s review.

A long-running dust-up between a Trenton City Council member and the city’s Deputy Clerk leads to an investigation by one of the Trenton’s many outside law firms, resulting in a 32-page report, several closed Executive sessions of Council, and a bill from the law firm which is reportedly in the $25,000 range.

THIS is worth all this effort, according to the City. THIS requires a Report!

Trenton’s payroll service steals nearly Five Million Dollars over at least a six-month period. During that time, and for months beforehand, several warning notices and bills are sent to the City of Trenton by the Internal Revenue Service and the State of New Jersey. Apart from a few email exchanges between one city clerk and the payroll service, nothing seems to have happened for almost a year. Clearly, a combination of People, Policies and Procedures all failed. On a massive scale. Five Million Dollars worth.

THIS, however, doesn’t get an investigation. THIS doesn’t get a report!

Oh, sure, last March Mayor Eric Jackson announced an “audit” and “internal review” of what led to The Great Payroll Robbery. But that was the last anyone has heard of that. There has been no Report, no Council Executive Sessions, no firings, no restructuring. In fact, the City was very emphatic that recent staff hires had nothing at all to do with the aftermath of the Payroll Robbery.

Seems to me that the Eric Jackson Administration and City Council have some pretty skewed priorities, when an intramural conflict gets a Report, and a Five Million Dollar robbery doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. The so-called “Staton/Holly-Ward” report strikes me as serious. The allegations made by Councilmembers Phyllis Holly-Ward and George Muschal about what is contained in the report are serious. It does sound like there are major problems in the City Clerk’s Office that were uncovered by the investigators from the DeCotiis Fitzpatrick law firm, and written up. It also seems to me that the City is anxious to keep the 32-page report closely under wraps because its findings and conclusions probably differ from those the Administration hoped it would discuss. This report probably finds fault with the person the City did not want to find fault with. All this secrecy reflects major embarrassment on the part of the Administration, if you ask me.

If Cordelia Staton is, as suggested by Ms. Holly-Ward to the Trentonian, applying for the main City Clerk’s position, then the DeCotiis Report will have to be publicly released. There is no way that Ms. Staton, or anyone in her position, could be considered for a promotion while a major investigative report highly relevant to her performance in her current position is being withheld and kept from public knowledge.

Councilmembers Muschal and Holly-Ward suggest that the findings of the report are so damning that they will make it impossible for Ms. Staton to keep her current position. That may be, or it may not. Without access to the actual report, those claims are hard to evaluate one way or the other. But I feel that further suppression of the DeCotiis report should be a deal-breaker for any consideration of Staton for Clerk. No public release, no promotion.

Back to my main point. All the brouhaha over the “Staton/Holly-Ward Report” from DeCotiis does deserve to be taken seriously, on its own merits.

But all of the attention over the conflict in the Clerk’s Office which led to a $25,000 Investigation and Report only serves to underscore the LACK of equivalent – or more, considering the scale of that disaster!- attention paid one year after to the Great Payroll Robbery and its failures, and the ABSENCE of any investigation and Report on that matter.

That we ARE talking about the “Staton/Holly Ward Report” and NOT talking about any “Payroll Robbery Report” shows that priorities in the City of Trenton are pretty skewed.

No, let me not mince words. The priorities of the Jackson Administration and Trenton City Council are just fucked-up.

Where’s the “Payroll Robbery Report?”

The Revaluation of La-La Land

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.



Now Pitching for the Trenton Blunder...

I meant to post this yesterday, before the news of the property tax revaluations broke. I’ll get to it in a minute. Bear with me for a bit.

Regarding yesterday’s piece on the tax valuations, I want to state again how the figures on the spreadsheet made available by Appraisal Systems, Inc (ASI) should be interpreted at this point. For those folks who commented, on Facebook or via email, that valuation increases on individual properties by themselves don’t mean much until the new property tax rates are set. That’s true as far as it goes. We don’t know what new property tax rates are likely to be.

But, we do know that rates can’t change a great deal, given both the data that was released over the last few days, and what we know of the economic condition of Trenton over the last 25 years.

The total base of tax able property in the City of Trenton has not appreciably changed since the last property valuation in 1992. It is essentially flat. I explained yesterday that, for the sample of nearly 10,000 properties on the spreadsheet (out of approximately 30,000 parcels in the City) values not adjusted for inflation increased only 4.4% over the last 25 years. I felt comfortable in using that yesterday as a representative sample.

This trend has been citywide over the last decades, and can be confirmed in the State of New Jersey’s data on municipalities, found on this page. With this data (which does only go back to 1998, not 1992, but the trend is still consistently flat, flat, flat), we can see that the total tax base (called “Net Valuation Taxable” in the State’s data tables), increased 5.5% from 1998 to 2015. Pretty damned close to the 4.4% in yesterday’s sample.

Let’s wrap this up then. The city’s tax base is flat, after 25 years. The valuation of about half the city’s properties has gone, in some areas significantly.  The city will therefore have to seek MORE money from those whose property valuation has gone up, in order to raise the same amount of taxes to pay for a City Budget that doesn’t change just because of this tax re-valuation. That’s what will happen.

It’s almost a Newtonian law of taxation for Trenton: with a flat tax base, property valuation actions downward in some neighborhoods will have offsetting valuation reactions upward in other neighborhoods in order to raise the same amount of taxes.   Those whose properties are being re-valued at rates 40%, 50% and higher than their current values will have the honor of paying higher tax bills of 40%, 50% and more.

We don’t yet know the actual new tax rate, yes. With a flat tax base, as well as pretty consistent city budget and state financial support number, the rate has really not much room for change one way or the other. Even without a new tax rate, we can confidently conclude  that the property owners who will receive these massive increased re-evaluations we see on the ASI spreadsheet will – if they continue to stand – later receive property tax bills from the City that will reflect their City tax bill increasing by about the same rate.

OK?

– # –

Now. As I was saying, I meant to talk about this yesterday. A couple of news headlines over the last few days have led to updates to the Earned Run Averages of our recent and current mayors. And, I think it’s fair to add two more “pitchers” to the rotation of our home team, what I call The Trenton Blunder.

The City of Trenton has been ordered to pay $968,000 in the resolution of the harassment suit brought against the City by former city firefighter Jesse Diaz. We award that run to former mayor Tony Mack, which raises his ERA to 5.33.

I have added some numbers to calculate an average for reliever George Muschal, who served as acting mayor for a little over 4 months in 2014. A couple of the numbers are estimates, at least for now. Attorney Joseph Alacqua was hired as a special counsel to help unravel the mess caused by City Clerk Richard Kachmar concerning the May 2014 city elections. Barry Collicelli was hired by Mr. Muschal as a covert investigator looking up dirt on some city Directors. I guesstimate those costs. We do know that the City spent $95,000 on legal costs associated with Muschal’s unsuccessful effort to dismiss the city’s Fire Director Qareeb Bashir in April 2014.

George Muschal certainly had a busy and entertaining four months in office. But at this point, the monetary damages he caused are not that substantial, compared to his other mayoral brethren. For now, I calculate his ERA at 1.53.

And this article, reminding us that former Mayor (1990-2010) Doug Palmer somehow believes he is still relevant in politics. And not just locally, but nationally. Mr. Palmer – who apparently is still hoping for a job in the Hillary Clinton Administration – has endorsed former Labor Secretary Tom Perez in his run for Chair of the Democratic National Committee. How lucky for Mr. Perez, to snag such a valuable and distinguished endorsement. Good Luck to him.

Anyway, this story got me thinking that Mr. Palmer’s record is worth a look, and some stats. And so, Douglas Palmer debuts here on the ERA list with a hefty 7.98.

Palmer’s high average is largely attributable to his record of big projects, with mostly negative results.

First and foremost, The Hotel. The City originally bonded $15,000,000. On top of that, during Palmer’s term, the State of NJ took over, in a process called “defeasance” annual payments in lieu of taxes that the City had been receiving for its budget on a property worth $16,800,000, in order to make hotel debt payments. One of the City’s Business Administrator, Dennis Gonzalez, slipped an unauthorized $500,000 to the Hotel as an illegal additional subsidy.

Yeah, The Hotel by itself really boosts Palmer’s stats. But there are more hits, runs and errors to charge to him.

Two police substations, built without need at $5,000,000 and all but abandoned. $1,400,000 to buy the wreck of the Glen Cairn Arms, which lay dormant until Thomas Edison State U took it off our hands for a song. Massive payments, so far TBD for my stats, for an aborted Trent House Square development project on a state Department of Justice parking lot. And a couple of other miscellaneous settlements and legal fees for good measure.

Welcome Doug Palmer to the rotation! An average of 7.98 over a 20-year career is nothing to be proud of. We are still, as a City, paying for Doug Palmer’s mistakes.

After these additions and updates, of the four pitchers I am following, the leader is still the current guy on the mound, Eric Jackson. 8.93 over only 2 1/2 years is very problematic. He still has some time to improve his numbers, I suppose. But he is still on the mound telling us, “I feel good! I’m getting in my groove!” He’s still never owned up to the Great Payroll Robbery, and never showed us that he’d shuffled up his team in its aftermath.

With headlines such as today’s “Crime was up in Trenton last year, led by 40 percent jump in shootings,” we see that he’s still loading the bases with no outs.

For now, here are the stats.

era 1-19-17

Re-Evaluations are in. You Won't Like Them!

This morning’s Trenton Times, in an article by Cristina Rojas, tells us that “Revaluation notices started arriving in the mail this month for Trenton residents as part of the first citywide revaluation in more than two decades.” Later in the article we read, “Starting in February, the data will be available for property owners to review at www.asinj.com.” That last is slightly off. Data for property owners, at least for 9,258 of the 30,000 properties reported by Ms. Rojas, is available now.

You won’t like what you read. That is, if you are among the nearly 2000 property owners whose assessments have increased by 25%, or more, since the last re-evaluation done in 1992. For some of you, the increase is much, much more than 25%.

Me, I’m personally looking at a 44% increase.And there are another 1500 or so properties facing increased assessments between 10% and 25%.

I told you you wouldn’t like these!!

These draft increases – they are subject to some revision and appeal, but barring any major developments – we’ll get to that in a bit – these increases, or something like them, are likely to take effect, and all at once, soon in the current calendar year.

Before we go any further, I know you are dying to look up your property, and those of your neighbors. You can go here, to the website of the Appraisal Systems, Inc.(ASI) webpage for Trenton, and click on the “Trenton Residential Proposed Assessments (released as of 01-17-17) (xlsx file) link. for the company’s spreadsheet. You can also click on this link, where I have taken the ASI data and added an additional column showing the percentage increase in the proposed property assessments for 2017 over current rates.

Come back after you’ve absorbed the shock.

Back? OK.That was bad, right?

If you can’t find your property, remember this appears to be a partial list, of about one third of Trenton properties. These all appear to be residential, with no commercial data. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, let me know via a Comment or email if you would like me to look to see if your property is on the list.

Next, let me briefly explain what higher assessments COULD have meant. If, at the end of a process that sees a major citywide rise in property valuations, individual property increases don’t mean all that much. If, for instance, the City of Trenton showed a 30% increase in property values in the last 25 years, then an increase to you of 30% would be about par. A citywide increase in the total tax base would likely reduce property tax rates, allowing a bigger base to pay for the same sized city budget as before the re-evaluation. Lower rates would also help draw in new investments, attracted by lower taxes.  Follow?

However, that hasn’t happened here. Of the close to 9260 properties on this website, the total valuation of those properties has barely budged since 1992. All of these properties were worth $656,322,670 in 1992, and only increased 4.45% in all that time, to $685,322,670.

A flat tax base change means – in all likelihood – very little change in property tax rates for Trenton. So an increased valuation of 25% or more will probably mean close to a 25% increase in your property tax bill.

My first look-through of this list shows that the massive increases of 25% or more seem to be highly clustered. I note characteristically large increases in the neighborhoods of Glen Afton, Hiltonia. Berkeley Square, Cadwalader Heights, and The Island. These are all West Ward neighborhoods of largely middle-class single-family households. Massive increases such as the ones we see suggested on this spreadsheet will strike a major blow against what remains of the middle class in this town. Current property owners will have to struggle to pay property tax bills which may rise by a third, a half, or more. Those who will not be able to afford these increases won’t be able to sell their houses.

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.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

The 180 or so properties identified as the neighborhood of Hiltonia,  increased by an average of 32%. Among those properties, I see typical individual increases of 54%, 49%, and 75%.

Glen Afton’s 215 properties average is a more reasonable – by contrast -  21%, with individual increases seen there of 30%, 35% and 44%.

My own Cadwalader Heights, a somewhat more compact neighborhood of 64 properties, increased an average 39%, featuring individual increases of 44% (me), 49%, 105%, 119%, and one unlucky homeowner’s 438%!

Berkeley Square: average increase of 20% for its 59 properties, with individual increases seen of 33%, 36%, and 50%; as well as a few decreases, of -13%, -16%, and -20%. The scattered decreases apparently helped to keep the average down.

That effect is also seen, more pronounced, on The Island. Its almost-200 properties increased by only 3%. But individual re-evaluations there range from decreases of -12%, -22% and -47%; to increases of 37%, 42%, 127%, and 180%.

It’s cold comfort to know your neighborhood “only” averaged a 3% bump, if you are the guy with the 180% jump in your valuation.

For some neighborhoods to have increased so high, and for the total to stay flat, other neighborhoods have to have had major decreases, right? That is, unfortunately the case.A few examples of those.

The Wilbur neighborhood, at least the close to 750 properties designated as “WBR2″ on the spreadsheet was valued 24% lower than in 1992, with decreases typical of -40%, -54%, -70%, amidst scattered increases.

And the West End neighborhood of 620 properties declined by only close to 5%, with large increased valuations next door to large decreased valuations.

Please note that the last two examples total almost 1400 properties, a far higher number than the total number of properties described above. What appears to have happened here is that, the city’s re-evaluation effort – at least for the close to 10,000 properties on this spreadsheet – has effectively resulted in  the decreased valuations from the massive Wilbur and West End neighborhoods of 1400 properties being nearly offset by the major increased valuations to the homeowners of the little more than 700 properties of the neighborhoods such as Hiltonia and Glen Afton. Well out of proportion to their numbers.

And throughout the City, drastic decreased valuations are often side-by-side with massive increases, of 50%, 75%, 100% or more.

Are these realistic or sustainable?

I don’t know. The impact of this won’t be fully felt until all of the 30,000 re-evaluation notices now or soon in the mail are opened and absorbed by individual property owners. It remains to be seen what number of those property owners will seek to appeal their valuations. (Personal Disclosure: I sure as hell will appeal! I can’t afford a 44% increase in my taxes to this town. Are they fucking kidding??)

From what I can see in this spreadsheet so far, as I have tried to briefly show above, is that the impact of these massive increases, as they broadly impact neighborhoods such as my own Cadwalader Heights, Hiltonia, and Glen Afton, will be nearly impossible to absorb. We can’t afford to pay, and we won’t be able to sell.

So what next? Remember that above I talked about “barring major developments,” these increases will probably stick? Well, if the reaction to these draft increases is strictly or mostly on an individual basis, the City will probably be able to wear down and delay individual appeals. Any reaction, opposition or appeal to these increases will be most effective if it’s collective.

Initially, that probably means discussion and or action through your local civic associations. Angry calls and letters to your Council reps and to the mayor.

But, as we well know, civic associations in Trenton possess widely varying levels of commitment, experience and (for lack of a better word) spleen. And our elected officials are mostly non-responsive and ineffective.

This tells me that those who will want to contest this will have to find alternative means of finding each other and fighting.

Let’s see what develops, as the mail is delivered and this news sinks in.

This is a big deal, folks. It really is.

Trenton Makes It Official. PLUS, Updated E.R.A.'s

We read this story in last Thursday’s Trenton Times:

not a reaction

In this article, Trenton Business Administrator Terry McEwen talked to Times reporter Cristina Rojas about a new position in Trenton’s payroll department to process transactions for employee payroll and Human Resources activity. Ms. Rojas reported that Mcwen explained that this new person “would have nothing to do with making sure that payroll taxes are paid to the state and federal governments.”

City spokesperson Michael Walker agrees with BA McEwen. The Times quotes Walker as saying, “”What payroll does and what finance does are completely and totally different. The internal controls that are in place so the taxing authorities are being paid on a regular schedule are very different than payroll.”

So. Are we all clear on this now? The City of Trenton is very emphatic that this proposed (Council must approve the 2nd Reading of an Ordinance authorizing this new position at a future meeting) new payroll position is, in the words of the above headline, “not a reaction” to the Great Payroll Robbery of 2015, in which the City’s payroll vendor at the time, Innovative Payroll Services (IPS), embezzled in excess of $4,700,000 of city funds intended for deposits due to the Internal Revenue Service and the State of New Jersey for payroll taxes in the second half of 2015.

Got that?

That means that the City of Trenton has made it official, and crystal clear for the world to see:

  • Since IPS started ripping off the City in the summer of 2015;
  • Since Eric Jackson told us,”breaking his silence” of weeks on this subject, on February 18, 2016 that city “Staff internally reconciling, looking at recordkeeping documents said something looked awry and began to look further and said to their director, ‘Something doesn’t look right here. We’re finding some inconsistencies’ and they kept elevating;”
  • Since March 8, 2016, when Ms. Rojas published a piece asking “How many red flags were missed over Trenton’s payroll problems?” in which she described – based on reporting in this space – how the City ignored several invoices from the IRS and the State about tax irregularities from at least April of 2015;
  • Since March 14, 2016, when Rojas reported, “Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson said Monday that the city’s outside labor counsel is reviewing its internal controls and any steps that can be taken to ensure there is no repeat of its payroll fiasco… ‘Not only are we taking an internal audit, but we’re having an outside legal firm look at the processes that not only took place during that period, but the organization that’s set up so we can avoid having similar things,’ Jackson said during a media roundtable. He said the firm is taking a detailed look at how it occurred and what safeguards can be put in place to protect the city in the future;”

Since all of these things, the City of Trenton has announced NO “reaction to [this] embezzling scheme.”

There have been NO reported results of these so-called “audits” and “outside counsel review.”

NO ONE has been fired or otherwise disciplined, as far as we know, for their role in falling asleep at the switch and ignoring nine months of “red flags.” NO ONE has been held accountable, and NO ONE has accepted any responsibility.

There have been NO publicly-announced changes in administrative procedures and policies  as a result of the massive internal failures that led to frequent and repeated thefts over a half-year period totaling nearly FIVE MILLION DOLLARS!!

There has been NO explanation given to the fact that what public statements about the Great Payroll Robbery were made to the press by Mayor Jackson and city officials such as Council President and West Ward Member Zachary Chester described a narrative that varied greatly from the version of events that the City described in its legal brief filed in Federal Court in support of its lawsuit.

In summary, from last year to this, Nothing Has Happened in the aftermath of that debacle!

And, as the news story published last week about this new position seems to Officially Confirm, as far as the City of Trenton is concerned, Nothing Will Happen.

Got that?

OK, then. The City is simply moving on.

– # –

UPDATE: After my piece on Friday, several readers responded to my request for additional data to calculate the Earned Run Averages for our previous two mayors. Thank you!

A couple of you pointed out that the Westside Plaza deal, for the abandoned grocery store rented by the City as part of a plan to put Trenton’s Municipal Court there, was the brainchild of former Mayor Douglas Palmer. I was certainly aware of that, but judged that it was Tony Mack’s unilateral cancellation of the lease in July 2010 that led to the eventual settlement of the case for $1.325 Million. So I charged that “run” to Tony Mack.

I have since reviewed that ruling. Upon consulting the official Rules of Major League Baseball, I find that Rule 9.16 governs this situation. That rule states, in part, “In determining earned runs, the official scorer shall reconstruct the inning without the errors (which exclude catcher’s interference) and passed balls, giving the benefit of the doubt always to the pitcher in determining which bases would have been reached by runners had there been errorless play.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

In this case, Mack’s inept handling of this lease led directly to a $1.3 Million payout during his rotation; he is definitely charged with an error. But Doug Palmer put that runner on base. The underlying deal was so bad, and the courthouse plan so unrealistic, that I can’t envision a scenario in which that deal would not have bellied up,. and in which we would have avoided a lawsuit and settlement.

That runner would have scored had there been errorless play. So I take that settlement out of Mack’s ERA and charge it to Doug Palmer.

In addition, I was reminded that at least one other lawsuit was filed that may eventually impact Mack’s ERA. Roberto Perez, brother of unsuccessful mayoral candidate Paul Perez, filed suit against the City in December 2015, alleging sexual harassment by his supervisor back in 2012, during the Mack Administration. As of today, I can’t find any reference to any settlement or resolution to that case. Should it result in a cash award, that will be charged to Mack. I’ve included this case as Pending, against Tony Mack.

With these adjustments. I’ve recalculated Mack’s ERA down to 3.80. Jackson’s remains unchanged at 8.93. I’ve also been reminded that we had George Muschal as a Reliever for 4.75 months in 2014, after Mack was pulled from the game. That’s a reasonable amount of time for a reliever, so I will look at pulling some stats for him. Stay tuned.

Since this will be a semi-regular feature going forward, I’ve put all the player stats to date in a spreadsheet, the easier to summarize them. The current numbers are below, and will be updated as circumstances require, and as news stories and/or reader submissions come in.

Thanks for playing!

era 1-9-17

1/9/2017
Tony Mack – July 1, 2010 to Feb 7, 2014
Item Note Amount
Mike Davis Settlement park ranger bumped for Chico Mendez $195,000
Westside Plaza Settlement: UPDATE Hermitage Avenue store rented as Municipal Court building; project charged to Doug Palmer $0
Kenneth Howard wrongful death while in police custody in 2011: UPDATED to reflect portion paid by insurance $417,585
Darren Horton wrongful death 3-year-old who drowned in city pool in 2010 $1,200,000
Kenia Leiva excessive force settlement 2011 incident $43,000
Mayor’s Learning Center Libraries WAG (Wild-Assed Guess) Estimate in lieu of dependable data $500,000
Lafayette Yard 2013 funding $295,000 cash flow funding plus $200,000 transition costs in connection with sale $495,000
Youth Stat Costs disallowed by Feds frm US Dept of Justice Grant $55,000
Heritage Days/Thanksgiving Parades WAG Estimate $100,000
National Night Out 2012 Cost Overrun $12,000
Cadwalader Park Vanity Sign Tony F. Mack® $17,000
Maria Richardson Settlement Parks & Rec whistleblower employee fired by city $350,000
Roberto Perez: NEW Sexual Harassment suit filed in 2015 for 2012 incident: Action Pending as of 1/9/17 TBD
Maximo Rodriguez-Torres settlement 07/2013 police-caused traffic accident $35,000
TOTAL $3,419,585
Calc of ERA: divided by 43.25 IP (months served), x 48 full-term mos, divided by 1,000,000 3.80
George Mushal – Feb 7 to July 1, 2014
Item Note Amount
TBD TBD TBD
TOTAL TBD
Calc of ERA: divided by 4.75 IP (months served), x 48 full-term mos, divided by 1,000,000 TBD
Eric Jackson – July 1, 2014 to Present (calculated to 12/31/16)
Item Note Amount
FCC Consulting Services 3-year premium to be paid compared to lower qualified bids received $500,000
2016 Public Swimming Pools contracts Additional costs over 2015 season, due to canceling one vendor and hiring another $100,000
2015 City Audit findings disallowed and unauthorized administrative spending, per findings of city auditors $105,000
Lael Queen settlement Police excessive force incident 2014 $175,000
The Great Payroll Robbery of 2015 Innovative Payroll Services embezzlement of federal and state tax payments $4,700,000
TOTAL $5,580,000
Calc of ERA: divided by 30.00 IP (months served), x 48 full-term mos, divided by 1,000,000 8.93

E.R.A.

As in Earned Run Average.

Wikipedia defines this as:

“In baseball statistics, earned run average (ERA) is the mean of earned runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings pitched (i.e. the traditional length of a game). It is determined by dividing the number of earned runs allowed by the number of innings pitched and multiplying by nine. Runs resulting from defensive errors (including pitchers’ defensive errors) are recorded as unearned runs and omitted from ERA calculations.”

This has running in my mind over the last few days, after seeing this story about the City of Trenton’s $195,000 out-of-court settlement with Mike Morris. Morris is a City employee who brought suit for his treatment during the Administration of Tony Mack, which included on-the-job harassment and layoff from his job as city Park Ranger to make room for a friend of Mack’s. I wrote about this case back in 2013, but it is just now coming to resolution.

The $195,000 cost of this settlement, approved last night by City Council, should really be counted against the record of the Mack Administration, which created the problem cleaned up during Jackson’s term. Which is just like a pitcher in Baseball who puts one or more men on base and is then removed. If any of those runners score, the runs are charged to the previous pitcher, in most cases. He put the runners in play; they get charged to his record.

So, that’s gotten me thinking. We’re still paying for the disasters incurred in Tony Mack’s Administration. Those should definitely factor into his ERA.

But what about our current hurler, Eric Jackson? He’s running up quite the score himself, and he’s only 2 1/2 years into his current rotation. He will no doubt leave men on base when he leaves office, but we can start to set up a running scorecard to assess whether he’s bound for the Hall of Fame, or whether we should release him in favor of a new left-hander.

Let’s take a look. I’ve briefly gone through a number of stories over the last seven years to compose this first pass list below, based on the reported or otherwise estimated dollar costs of these Hits, Runs and Errors. It’s certainly incomplete, but something I will refine and update as circumstances change and as more stats from previous seasons are dug up.

Hey, anyone can play! For items I have not listed here, please send me the info and a link (if you can), and I will update the info. Thanks!

Tony Mack (2010-2014):

  • Mike Davis Settlement – $195,000
  • Westside Plaza Settlement (closed Hermitage Avenue grocery story rented as Municipal Court building; project abandoned) – $1,300,000
  • Family of Kenneth Howard wrongful death (while in police custody in 2011) – $690,000
  • Family of Darren Horton wrongful death (3-year-old who drowned in city pool in 2010) – $1,200,000
  • Kenia Leiva police excessive force settlement (2011) – $43,000
  • “Mayor’s Learning Centers”/Zombie Public Libraries – $500,000 (? No one really knows how much these cost. Accurate numbers would be welcome)
  • Lafayette Yard Hotel 2013 funding ($295,000 cash flow appropriation, and $200,000 transition costs during sale) – $495,000
  • Youth Stat (Costs incurred under US Justice Department grant disallowed by Feds) – $55,000
  • Heritage Days and Thanksgiving Parades – $100,000 (? See “Mayor’s Learning Centers,” above)
  • National Night Out 2012 – $12,000
  • Cadwalader Park sign – $17,000
  • UPDATE: Maria Richardson settlement (Parks & Rec whistleblower, unjustly fired 2011) – $350,000

I come up with a rough total of UPDATED $4,957,000 for Tony Mack’s ERA over four seasons. Yes, he was yanked before he completed his fourth year, but he left a lot of runners in scoring position. Remember, this is a preliminary number, before all you amateur statisticians keeping score at home have a chance to weigh in.

Now, Eric Jackson (2014-present):

  • FCC Consulting Services (3-year premium over competitors’ lower IT bids) – $500,000 (will go up if options are exercised for Years 4 and 5)
  • 2016 Public Swimming Pools Contract – $100,000 (Estimate of actual 2016 costs over those of 2015 after mid-season vendor replacement nonsense)
  • 2015 Audit findings – $105,000 (disallowed city administrative expenses as determined after annual audit)
  • Lael Queen police excessive force settlement (2014) – $175,000
  • The Great Payroll Robbery of 2015 – $4,700,000 (cost of funds stolen by Innovative Payroll Services. Number does not include interest costs on bond floated to replace money owed to IRS and State of NJ, nor legal costs of lawsuit filed to recover part of this amount. This amount might go down if any funds can be recovered, but any likely recovery will be pennies on the dollar.)

Jackson’s total – for only 2 1/2 out of 4 years, remember – comes to $5,580,000.

Let’s drop a couple of zeroes to look at in a way somewhat similar to what we’d see with an actual pitcher. Let’s call it at 4.95 for Mack, and 5.58 for Jackson. Pretty mediocre numbers on their own. Neither of them bring any heat to their game, and we know that Mack was taking money under the table.

UPDATE: Yikes! The ERA calculated for Jackson was just for his 2.5 years served. If I had figured it properly, I should divide that number by 2.5 and multiply by 4, to allow for the effect of a full 4-year (9-inning) term. Doing that, Eric Jackson’s 5.58 becomes a withering 8.93. Unless the guy can hit, he should look for another line of work.

Now, a couple of notes. I’ve only looked at these two pitchers. I haven’t tried calculating the ERA of Doug Palmer. His role in getting the City involved in the Lafayette Yard Hotel debacle in the first place would give him an astronomical average all by itself, if the total cost to the city could ever be accurately calculated.

And I have only looked at dollar amounts here. During the time of Tony Mack the inestimable cost of human life and misery paid by Trentonians during a horrid rise in violent crime simply cannot be calculated, and I won’t even try. But I will say that although the dangerous environment which led to the loss and injury of so many lives during the years of 2010 to 2014 was fostered in large part by the massive 2011 layoffs in Trenton’s Police Department. The man who signed those pink slipss was Mayor Tony Mack, without a doubt. But the guy who has to share a big part of the responsibility for that decision is Governor Chris Christie. By gutting the City’s finances in 2010 by the outright elimination of much of the annual state subsidy of the city’s budget and replacement with an inadequate “Transitional Aid” grant, Christie directly caused much of the financial stress that the utterly incompetent Mack chose to respond to by the horrible (and, in the end, unsustainable) public safety reductions of 2011.

With that said, I think that there is a strong case to be made that, as far as the damage done to the City of Trenton’s well-being by mis-management of its meager financial resources is concerned, the current Mayoral Administration of Eric Jackson is at least as bad, and – on many important measures – much, much worse than Tony Mack’s.

Who would have thought such a thing possible?!?!

If this were a real baseball game, the manager would have walked to the mound a long time ago to send Eric Jackson to the showers.We, unfortuately,  have to wait until May, 2018.

We’re only in the fifth inning, folks. Gonna be a long game.


Jacksonian Excuses

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, explaining how he thinks his non-profit organization, “Moving Trenton Together,”  filed annual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, despite all currently available evidence to the contrary:

“I’m almost sure we did because I remember the name of the form.”

I’m sure you agree that this statement is very flexible, and may be used in a number of circumstances. Please feel free to use it yourselves!!

For instance:

“I’m almost sure I did my homework because I remember the name of the textbook.”

“I’m almost sure I paid the mortgage because I remember the name of the bank.”

“I’m almost sure I remembered my anniversary because I remember the name of my wife.”

“I’m almost sure I parked my car here because I remember the make and model of the car.”

“I’m almost sure I got dressed today because I remember the color of my suit.”

“I’m almost sure my city paid its payroll taxes because I remember the name of the IRS.”

Hmmm, perhaps you may not want to actually use that last excuse. Unless you are absolutely, positively certain you paid your payroll taxes, don’t mess with the IRS. Just don’t!

Listen, this won’t be too terribly long a piece. Basically, because there’s really not much that’s new in this latest news about Eric Jackson.We know he is careless about basic  management and proper fiduciary responsibility of the funds of others, whether they are contributions to his political campaigns, contributions to his personal non-profit foundation, or the taxes of ordinary Trentonians and New Jerseyans and Americans which pay for the government of the City of Trenton. There’s nothing new here that we haven’t known for years.

We know that the Trenton Water Works, part of the Public Works Department run by Eric Jackson under former mayor Doug Palmer, was a hotbed of corruption in at least some of the years prior to 2010.Timecards were abused to pad overtime. Direct cash payments were made to City employees to do under-the-table, off-the-books work while on the City’s clock. City equipment was brazenly stolen during a period there were minimal controls on city property. A Grand Jury investigated. Employees were indicted and convicted. Mr. Jackson testified in open court about problems during his tenure. And one of those employees convicted for corruption, himself brother to a disgraced former mayor convicted and still serving Federal time corruption, dismissed Mr. Jackson as ineffective and directed by others: “And so him being a decent person, he’s a pretty decent person but his hand was tied. He really just did what (then-Mayor) Doug Palmer and them told him to do.” When you’ve been dissed as ineffective by “Muscles” Davis, you’ve been dissed by the best!

We know that Mr. Jackson was pretty casual about filing legally-required campaign financial reports for his unsuccessful 2010 mayoral campaign. He didn’t file those reports until 2014, nearly four years late, and only after being publicly and repeatedly scolded, in the local press, by opposing candidates in the 2014 election, and in this space. His excuse in 2014 for ignoring the law for four years, until he decided to run again? “My mind was other places losing. You’re despondent.”

“You’re despondent?” For four years?

We know Mr. Jackson’s 2014 campaign itself had several problems. The campaign was sloppy in its accounting and reporting during the election. During and extending well after the election, there were several questions about questionable donations to his campaign, leading to some – but not all – of them being refunded. And, as David Foster reminds us in his report for The Trentonian today, “But even after winning the 2014 mayoral race, Jackson has not submitted mandatory campaign finance reports for eight quarters, according to information on the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission website. His last quarterly filing was submitted on Oct. 15, 2014, showing a closing balance of $5,208.” This space has also frequently criticized Mr. Jackson for his neglect of state campaign finance law in both of his campaigns.

We know the same whimsical approach to finances that he displayed as a candidate he has repeatedly shown as mayor.

One example: in an audit of 2015 expenses the City was “cited for over-expenditures tallying nearly $105,000, failing to maintain proper payroll records, and hiring consultants and professions without the required state approval. In an attempt to avoid lengthy repetition of charges we are only too familiar with, let me simply summarize some others of Eric Jackson’s Greatest Hits from an earlier post of mine:

  • A bad Information Technology deal.
  • A bungled pair of contracts for the City’s public swimming pools.
  • Being designated by the US Justice Department as a “high-risk grantee of Federal funds.”
  • Getting swindled out of $5 Million Dollars of tax deposit funds over several months, despite many written warnings and red flags

So today we read, “since the 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed in 2014, Jackson has not filed a tax return for Moving Trenton Together, raising concerns about where the money is coming from to organize the free events and bring in the big-name talent.”

And we are Just. Not. Suprised. One. Little. Bit.

For his campaign style, as well as his management style as Mayor since 2014, I called Eric Jackson “Mr. Hands Off” in May. Seven months later, we can easily add “Mr. Careless” and/or “Mr. Deadbeat” to those nicknames.

Oh. One last thing to note about the newspaper article this morning about “Moving Trenton Together.”Mr. Jackson may in fact “remember the name of the form,” IRS Form 990 which is is the main document needed to file a tax return with the IRS.

But Eric Jackson is mistaken – big surprise, right? – when he says “It’s not an annual” form. According to the IRS website, “In general, exempt organizations are required to file annual returns.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

So, Mr. Jackson, once again, Oops!

Are you really sure you’re cut out for this line of work? I’m not. Even more than ever.

Do the Math

Arithmetic, actually. It’s not that difficult, at all.

This morning, the Trenton Times printed an article by Cristina Rojas on the current effort to overturn Ordinance #16-50. Council passed this Ordinance, as well as Resolution #16-591 which the Ordinance authorized, on October 20. This Ordinance created salary ranges for Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson as well as its Business Administrator, Chief of Staff, Municipal Judges, and Department and Division Directors. Within those ranges, the Resolution set specific salaries for most all these officials (excepting the Chief of Staff, whose salary can be set by the Mayor directly).

Those salaries are 3% higher than their current salaries. These raises will be retroactively calculated to January 1, 2016. They won’t become effective until 20 days after the Council passage of these measures. That would be November 9.One more point: this action has been taken well before we have an approved Annual Budget for the Fiscal Year that began on July 1 of this year and runs until June 30, 2017. So we don’t even know what the impact of these raises will be to the City’s finances.

You follow so far? Good.

The Jackson Administration’s first proposal was presented to Council as a 15% raise over three years. City Council, of course, passed this original plan on its First Reading by a vote of 5-1 on August 18.

But then again, our City Council is a little dense sometimes.

After Council passed the first reading of this plan, after a very shallow examination of the plan and no budgetary analysis of this plan at all ( I was there, I know!) , there was a great deal of public pushback from several Trentonians, including myself. Pushback that included the formation of a citizens committee to, should  the proposal have passed, lead a petition drive to force a public referendum to overturn the raises.

After a few weeks of criticism, Mayor Jackson “clarified” his plan. There was a lot of “confusion ” about it, according to the Mayor. There was “no way in heck” he meant 15% increases. Heavens, no! “”I would never do that.”

Except that his own Business Administrator Terry McEwen had done exactly that. On August 18 he explained to Council on August 19 that exact proposal.

Well, after the Mayor threw Mr. McEwen under the bus, his Administration came back with what they publicized as a more reasonable, a more “modest” proposal. This would be nothing more than a cost of living increase, of 1.5% a year for this budget year and the last one, calculated to be retroactive to January 1, 2016.

Certainly this revised plan sounded much more reasonable to Council., who rubber-stamped, umm, approved, it on October 20 (In order to avoid any political fallout from their vote, however, they removed their own raises from the plan. That’s ok. We’ll remember anyway).

We still oppose this plan.

On September 16, when Council was first scheduled to vote on the proposal (they postponed action to October), I spoke to Council on behalf of the citizens committee. I said that we had no problem with the principle of raises for all of these officials, as long as they were fair and equitable. I concluded those comments this way:

Be assured, we will support such a fair and equitable plan – one that provides only Cost-of-living adjustments, is considered as part of the approved Annual Budget, and which only goes forward from the date of adoption of that Budget, providing for no retroactive payments. We will oppose a plan that does not do these things.

The plan as passed by Council does not fit those criteria, and so we continue to oppose it, and are circulating a petition to repeal Ordinance 16-50. That’s what Ms., Rojas was reporting in today’s Trenton Times.

We seem to have pressed a few of the Administration’s buttons with this opposition, because the Mayor released a statement today intended to defend, again, the “modest” nature of this plan. Unfortunately, the Mayor (or his spokesperson Michael Walker, whose name is also on the statement) and his Administration seem to still be as confused as they admitted to being last month. Because today’s Statement reveals a lack of understanding of municipal accounting, and even of arithmetic.

The statement is very brief. It’s worth posting in its entirety.

jackson 10-28-16

Here the Mayor states that this is a “one-time three percent increase for 2016.” He continues to justify this as a 1.5% increase for Fiscal Year 2015 and 1.5% for FY 2016. This is all it is, according to the Mayor. Increases for the fiscal budget year we are currently in, 2017, and 2018 “must be presented via resolution to City Council for its approval.” This will be an action that can be taken at a later time, presumably. The Mayor is reserving the right to propose yet further increases in this current fiscal year, since these raises only go to December 31, 2016. There’s still six months of budget year to go at that point, remember. What would be so wrong with another 1.5%, or even more?

You still follow? It sure sounds simple, right? What’s the problem? I’ll tell what the problem is. And I will warn you, it’s an important point., so I will yell.

THE CITY CAN’T COUNT THIS AS INCREASES FOR FISCAL YEARS 2015 AND 2016!

ALL OF THOSE YEARS ARE LONG PAST, AND THE BUDGET BOOKS CLOSED.

ALL OF THE INCREASES WILL COUNT IN THIS YEAR, 2017, AND NEXT YEAR 2018. THE INCREASES ARE MORE THAN 1.5% PER YEAR.

THEY COME TO 4.5% THIS YEAR, AT LEAST. AND THAT IS EVEN BEFORE ANY FURTHER INCREASES THAT MAY BE PLANNED, ACCORDING TO THE MAYOR’S OWN WORDS!!!

Whew. Sorry for the shouting. But I wanted to make sure that I got this point across. When the Mayor (or Mr. Walker) say they are calculating this increase against two old fiscal years, he is either greatly confused, or HE IS LYING!

Sorry, did it again!

Back in August, when Council first discussed it, in the one -and only! – discussion of how this might affect the City’s budget, North Ward Councilmember Marge Caldwell-Wilson had the following brief exchange with Business Administrator McEwen. These quotes have been transcribed by me, from the audio recording of the August 18 meeting made by the City Clerk’s Office. The numbers before each quote indicate the timestamp of when the comments were made during the meeting. Comments in [brackets] are mine.

2:52:40           Caldwell-Wilson: This is based on doing retroactive [to January 1, 2016, in the prior FY 2016]. So in the last budget [FY 2016], I don’t recall us being apprised that there was money put into the budget to cover the retroactive salaries.

2:52:54           McEwen: We put it in this year’s budget [FY 2016/17], because it’s retroactive in this year. So it’ll still be in this year’s budget.

2:53:00           C-W: But I don’t recall, we had temporary budgets, we’re just now putting this in?

2:53:03            McE: We would if this is approved.

There you have it. The City’s BA admits these payments will all be in THIS YEAR’S BUDGET, WHICH WE DON’T CURRENTLY HAVE

Dang! Still yelling!

Anyway, Mr. McEwen admitted to Council that the fiction that Mayor Jackson continues to tell us – up to and including today – about “1.5% in FY 2015 and 1.5% in 2016″ is Bullshit. And, I believe, that is even the proper Accounting Terminology for that.

Another aspect of this: the impact to this year’s budget will not be the 3% the Mayor is telling us. It is going to be 4.5%, at least.

How does that work? Although the Salary Resolution sets the salaries as being in effect from only January 1 to December 31, 2016, these salaries will remain in effect beyond that date, unless there are further increases, as I will describe below.

So, these individuals will enjoy a 3% increase – at least -  for the 12 months of the fiscal year July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017. Since this Resolution is retroactive to January 1 of this year, they will be paid a 3% increase for an additional six months! Therefore, an effective increase of 4.5%, all chargeable to this current year!

Let me quickly illustrate, using Mayor Jackson’s own salary.

His current (before the raise) salary is $126,460 per year. His new salary will be $130,253. That’s an increase of $3,793. Three Percent. Yep. That’s what he will get for the current budget year from July 1 to next June 30. But, the new salary is retroactive to January 1 of this year, so he will receive an additional bump of around $1,897 for that six-month period of time.

That makes his total increase $3,793 + $1,897, or $5,690. That’s eighteen months of raise to be paid over 12 months, or an actual, effective raise of 4.5% over his current $126,460 salary.

That’s also true for the other officials getting raises under this plan.

Do the math!

And that’s only if this is the last increase we see during this budget year!

Mr. Jackson calls this a “one-time [his emphasis] increase for 2016,” a budget year now closed, as we have discussed above. He also says that increases for the fiscal budget year we are currently in, 2017, and 2018 “must be presented via resolution to City Council for its approval.” This will be an action that can be taken at a later time, presumably. The Mayor is reserving the right to propose yet further increases in this current fiscal year, since these raises only go to December 31, 2016. There’s still six months of budget year to go at that point, remember. What would be so wrong with another 1.5%, or even more, right?

The Mayor is today clearly telling us he is keeping his options open to do exactly that: Go back to Council for more raises in this budget year.

Or maybe he will do it in the next budget year, and make THAT one “retroactive,” too!

That is why we are circulating our petition!!!

We do not believe that this Mayor and this Administration deserve any increase over and above a cost of living adjustment. One Percent. One-and-a-half, tops.

Not after all of their failures over the last few years.

We do not believe that these raises should be retroactive. As demonstrated above, “Three Percent” becomes FOUR-AND-A-HALF PERCENT when you count – as you have to, as Terry McEwen admitted to Councilmember Caldwell-Wilson – the “retroactive” portion in THIS YEAR’S BUDGET.

And, oh yeah, a reminder. WE DON’T HAVE A BUDGET.

I’m done yelling. Honest!

I’m done writing. For now.

Sign the Petition, before November 9!!!

If you would like to know how, send an email to trentonpetition2016@gmail.com

That’s trentonpetition2016@gmail.com

Petitions are Ready!

Petitions are ready!

Trenton’s City Council approved Ordinance #16-50 on Thursday evening. This Ordinance sets salary ranges for the Mayor, Chief of Staff, Business Administrator, Municipal Judges and Departmental & Division Directors. By separate Resolution, Council authorized 3% raises, retroactive to January 1 for all the above, excepting the Chief of Staff.

We believe 3% is too much for these officials, in the middle of a term of office that has seen Millions of Dollars stolen over a period of months.And we don’t believe raises should be retroactive.

We intend to let Trenton’s voters decide whether these raises are justified and have been earned. Between now and November 9, registered Trenton voters (only) can sign an official petition calling for this Ordinance to be overturned.

If you would like to sign, please contact me or any other of the following individuals.

Dan Dodson
Tyrone A Gaskins
Gino Nicolas Hernandez Villavizar
Mike Ranallo
Jacky Vargas
Joseph Harrison

If you signed the unofficial Change.Org Petition a few weeks ago, we will contact you.

If you have any questions, please ask any of us. Thanks!