The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Budget: An update from a Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee member

The Robinson-Briggs administration's sloppiness has made a mess
for the Council to clean up.
Below is a personal email received from Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) member Jeanette Criscione catching us up on some of the details and the status of the 2012 budget --

I want to make you aware of the city budget and how your tax dollars are being used.

First, some background.  The Plainfield budget transitioned from a fiscal year to a calendar year (January 1 – December 31).  The budget process starts with the mayor and the department heads preparing the budget.  The budget is sent to Trenton for review and presented to the City Council.

The budget was sent to Trenton, and the City was notified by the State on April 5th  that there were errors and omissions in the administration's 2012 budget, which meant that the governing body needs to find ways to come up with an additional $1.5 million or more in revenues.  A State review of the Mayor’s budget statement introduced in March revealed the flaws.  Errors included $550,000 allocated for various kinds of insurance when the actual amount should have been $1.7 million.   In addition, individuals were left out of the budget, including a prosecutor and Municipal Court staff as well as police personnel.

Adjustments must also be made for salary increases due to union settlements.  The amount of retroactive pay put in the 2011 budget was less than required. Even 2011 employees who have since left must receive the retroactive pay for that year.

 The administration was advised of the errors by the State on April 5th .  The budget meetings started April 12th, with neither the City Council, nor the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee knowing about the State’s report that that Mayor’s budget was short from $1.5 to $2.0 million dollars.
As there is a 2% cap on tax increases, the money will need to come out of surplus and budget cuts.
In light of these events, the Mayor asked for an INCREASE for her department and she choose to fund the library with the minimum funding required by the State, thus cutting the library’s budget by 40%.  Her reason for cutting the library was that austerity was needed in these times.

The Recreation department has a $775,000.00 budget, which does not include pension and benefits.  The Recreation Department reaches less than 10% of Plainfield’s children (I am being generous with that percentage – with the figures we have gathered it actually looks more like 1% - 4%).   The YMCA has indicated that they can absorb the children into their programs.   The YMCA has tried for 3 years to reach the Recreation Department to try to discuss shared services and they have received no response.

Bi-lingual Day care services 69 children.  This social service, as well as Plainfield Action Services, and Women Infants and Children, can be run by non-profits.   Many of these services are funded by grants, which are still our tax dollars, and the Plainfield taxpayers pay for pension and benefits for all the employees of these programs.  Why does the administration not look into relieving the citizens of this tax burden and allow a non-profit to run it?  Dudley House is an example of a service that was on the Plainfield City pay roll, and transferred to a non-profit.  It continues to operate in Plainfield and offer services to those who need it.  Again, I am NOT talking about eliminating services, just getting them off the city payroll.

The list goes on and on.

If you are as outraged as I, please send your feelings to your council member (link below provides emails, although I believe not all members read their emails)
The mayor
Hon. Sharon Robinson-Briggs

Office of the Mayor
515 Watchung Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
908-753-3310 / Fax: 908-753-3634

And the city administrator

Eric Berry
City Administrator
515 Watchung Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
908-226-2574 (F)

[It's always a good idea to CC or BCC yourself on any email communications with public officials -- DD]
Also, if you can, please attend the special budget meeting on May 31, where the Finance Committee will present its recommendations to the full council, and at another special meeting on June 6, where the council hopes to adopt amendments (some pertaining to the budget).  The council hopes to pass the budget on June 18.

The blog below will have the locations of the meetings [see the Community Calendar section].

Please email me if you have any questions.
Thank you.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

Needless to say, not much research shows how the city can save a lot of money and still serve its citizens. Why the mayor can't see this is beyond me and is another reason this mayor and her cronies/friends need to not be involved in the running of our city. Think about it!

Anonymous said...

Dan, Please let me clarify - I did not send this as part of the CBAC, but rather a private citizen. The other CBAC members never saw it, they had no input in the email, and they never saw it.

So I want to be clear that my email was from me personally and not part of the CBAC.


Anonymous said...

Also, Dan, some information came from Bernice's May 25th posting. She writes much better than I and deserves the credit.

Apologies to Bernice that I did not point this out in my email.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment "I believe not all members read their email" -
then why do they have an email address? Also of intereste, why does the mayor have a .com address and the city administrator have a address?

Dan said...

Jeanette -- I don't think there's any confusion; the first paragraph says it's a 'personal email' and the title says 'from a CBAC member'.

I think it's great you sent it around; seems to me the original intent of the CBAC a couple years ago was to keep the public in the loop as the budget process went along.

Of course, when you're thrown a curveball as in this year, that's difficult to do.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:57 -

Might be a changeover issue. A lot of companies change over to a new email domain, but leave the other one as an alias (with emails sent to the old being forwarded to the current email address).