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Friday, April 12, 2019

Dan makes a HUGE apology

Fact sheet handed out by the Library
at Tuesday's budget hearing. (A good
idea that others might take up.)

CORRECTION: I made a HUGE mistake in reporting on the Library's budget presentation (see below). The president of the Library's Board of Trustees is of course Patricia (Pat) Fleming, whom I have known as an activist in Plainfield causes since her days on the YWCA board thirty years ago. My deepest apologies for the mistake. -- Dan

Plainfield's CY2019 budget talks got under way Tuesday evening (April 9), with the Department of Public Works and the Plainfield Public Library being the first to go.

Here is the schedule for the remaining hearings, all set for 7:00 PM in City Hall Library on their respective days.

Day and Date
Monday, April 15 Communications, IT and Finance
Monday, April 22 Economic Dev., Health & Social Services
Wed., April 24 Police and Fire
The process is one in which a department head makes a presentation about the department and its proposed budget to the Council.

The department head (and division directors if needed) then answers questions from first the Council members and then members of theCitizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC).

Though they are supposed to ask "yes" and "no" questions, things frequently slid into back-and-forths in order to get clarity.

Finance Director Ron West was on hand to answer more detailed financial questions.


DPWUD Director Orren Dabney fielded a number of questions concerning various aspects of his department: Inspections (illegal occupancy amon other things), Public Works (snow removal, street sweeping), and Recreation (Community Pass, the software for managing activity signups).

The CBAC had many more questions than the Council, though they got less time.

Members clearly had gone over the budget document carefully (perhaps even had had a session together beforehand?).

There was considerable back-and-forth over DPW uniforms as they tried to understand the policy of paying the employees to purchase their uniforms (as now mandated by union contract) rather than having the city buy uniforms directly.

There were also questions about the use of seasonal employees and the use of overtime (it's cheaper than hiring full-time employees, who must then get benefits -- a significant expense).

Overall, the CBAC seemed to be getting its bearings with some of the apparent quirks of the budget process and documents (for instance, the July 4th parade, concert, and fireworks appear in a separate section though administered by Recreation).

After a short break it was the Plainfield Public Library's turn.


Their presentation was made jointly by Board President (corrected) Patricia Fleming and Library Director Mary Ellen Rogan. They were later joined at the table by Donna Rajcevic, the Library's financial person (who was able to answer every question instantly off the top of her head).

The Library is an independent agency that -- by law -- receives funding based on the city's tax roll.

The City of Plainfield has always given more than the minimum required, recognizing its central place in the community and the multiple benefits to all residents.

Because of the Library's complicated funding sources (and restrictions), considerable time was spent explaining where the city money goes and how the proposed budget cut would affect hours (Saturdays would be half-day permanently) and services (a bilingual person would be lost and online resources would be curtailed).

It was politely pointed out that the Library had extended itself to install a computer lab for the much-touted Cisco training program but that it is sitting unused, an expense that cannot be recouped.

(Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that the City is allegedly paying $120,000 a year to rent other space for the Cisco training program.)

At the conclusion of the Library portion of the hearing, Council President Mills-Ransome opened the floor to public comment.

Friends of the Library board member C.R. Williams -- a retired high school principal -- delivered eloquent remarks on library usage (12,000 physical visits per month plus untold numbers for online access), saying not only was the Library Plainfield's "living room", for many students who lack computers and online access at home, it was their "kitchen table" as well.

Recently appointed Library board member Steve Holmes, familiar to many Plainfielders, shared a touching story of a young woman he is mentoring as a teacher in a program at Shiloh Baptist Church.

Without resources at home, she is totally dependent on preparing her lesson plans at the Library.

In fact,he said, she sometimes sends her work to him by email for urgent review so she can print it out before the Library closes.

Nancy Piwowar also related how important the Library's online resources are to the work of the Drake House.

Lastly, I asked that staff explain the kinds of databases that would be impacted by the proposed cuts.

Assistant Library Director Tina Doody explained the thousands of newspapers and magazines that were available as well as financial, genealogical and homework help.

Resident Timothy Priano was disappointed that Director Dabney had left before he could ask a question.

Perhaps the chair would consider offering the public a few minutes for questions before the break, or ask the Director from the first half to stay behind for public comment?

The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee is slated to make its presentation to the Council's May agenda-setting session on May 6, and the Council may adopt the budget as early as May 13.

City Hall Library is on the first floor of City Hall, Watchung Avenue at East 6th Street. Parking and access in the rear of the building.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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