The needler in the haystack.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Plainfield budget spaghetti nightmare

I've been having this spaghetti nightmare.

As Plainfield's City Council sprints through its budget hearings to try and meet a self-imposed deadline of November 15 for a public hearing, I am having a troubling nightmare about budget 'spaghetti'.

Plainfield's fiscal situation has gotten progressively worse over the past few years, fueled by ever-growing health and pension benefits costs on the one hand and precipitously declining state aid on the other.

(State aid recently has been of such little help, and the conditions placed on it so onerous to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs that she would prefer foregoing it altogether.)

But nightmare concerns a budget process in which the Council is precluded from finding a course of action -- short of layoffs upon layoffs -- that would help the City get 'out of the budget ditch'.

The spaghetti aspect?

When all you see is a bowl of the stuff all twisted up, you never know what is connected -- or NOT connected -- to what.

This was highlighted on two separate evenings last week.

In the Fire Division's presentation, an argument was made for software that would make it possible for the Division (which is responsible for fire safety inspections of properties citywide) to share information mutually with the Inspections Division (which is responsible for enforcement of zoning and other regulations).

The cost to the City is significant in terms of the time fire officials must currently take to go and physically check out the Inspections records. Very commonsense. Long overdue. The same acknowledged by the Council. But who will see that it happens?

The next evening, the matter came up again in relation to the Inspections Division, whose turn it was to face the Council.

Reporting on the budget discussions, Bernice noted that City Administrator Bibi Taylor introduced the 'S' word -- not Dan's infamous eff-less 'shifts', but the other 'S' word: SILOS.

That is one of the nubs of Plainfield's persistent budget problems.

And that night my nightmare began. Everyone is well-meaning, everyone can see the value of solving the issue. The Council could see the benefit. The Administration says it see it, too. But two questions have emerged --

  1. Why has the Robinson-Briggs administration not grasped the issue firmly and done something long before this? and

  2. What's the guarantee something will be done now?
That would require a plan, and sadly there is no plan. This is not a knock on Bibi Taylor, who does the best she can under the circumstances, but it is a FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP AND VISION on the part of Mayor Robinson-Briggs, who is responsible for steering our little ship of state.

Tonight the Council will take up the financial side of the city's affairs: tax assessment, tax collection, purchasing, and audit and control.

Can we ever end the budget spaghetti nightmare?

Tomorrow, I will take up the SILOS matter with a possible solution.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Rob said...

Lack of a plan will not change. Sharon reacts not acts. Her local fan club will attempt to decry me as a Sharon hater but it means they are simply not willing to look at her objectively. I have no emotion toward her other than disgusted amazement as we have all seen people with zero skills - professional or people skills - rise to positions that are well beyond their mental capabilities but she is benefiting from the fact that she is a Democrat supported by Jerry. That's her qualification.
For her to actually come up with a plan for any rational action on saving money, consolidating jobs or realigning departments, it would require a plan and acknowledging she needs help to do it. Both are well beyond her grasp professionally and personally.

Anonymous said...

Rob, your comments could have more credibilty if they were not so attack-oriented. Objectivity was lost in what apears to be partisan politics. How well do you know the mayor that you could pass so stern a judgment on her personally? We are all entitled to our opinions but I was a little let down by your rancor.

Rob said...

I am a Democrat. Not a New Democrat, Democrat Lite or Democrat of the month club. Had the mayor been an Independent propped up by the Indepedent Party..the commentary would have been the same. Should I have stated that she is propped up by the Republican Party in NJ and that's her only qualification?