Friday, October 25, 2013

Robbing Peter to pay Paul - Unintended Consequences of Tax Reform

New Jersey real estate taxes that fund municipalities and county governments are among the highest in the nation.  To try and stop the ever rising tide of tax bills, NJ voters passed a cap that keeps real estate taxes raising above a certain percentage of the previous year's rate. The cap can be manipulated somewhat by using bonds for capital purchases such as building improvements, etc.

Newfield was already in a tight budget situation before the recession because the biggest tax contributor - a corporation called ShieldAlloy - closed.  Along came the recession and the budget got even tighter as more local businesses closed and fewer people were spending money to upgrade their houses.

The Newfield Public Library has been partially supported by funds from the Newfield Borough budget to in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 each year.  Gloucester County funds and fund raising efforts have provided the remainder of the needed operating costs.  The Library is open 6 days a week and holds special events for children of the community as well as computer/internet access for individuals who need it, especially tweens and teenagers doing homework.

Occasionally, donors give a large enough gift that allows the Library to take on a large project to expand its support to the community.  One of these gifts provided sufficient funds to add a meeting space for town organizations such as the Cemetery Board and photography clubs, etc.  So, the Borough made a proposal to the Library Board that would help with the town budget.  In exchange for not providing the customary yearly funds for two years, the Borough would float a bond and pay funds towards the building expansion.  The gift funds would be used for operating costs.  This would help the Borough Budget and rate stay under its expansion cap.  In two years, the town would return to paying its previous obligation towards the Library operating expenses.  As anyone knows who has been managing a household budget, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The two years are almost up and no surprise, "The Borough is broke."  The suggestion was made that Gloucester County could take over the Library and make it one its branches.  From a Borough Council viewpoint, they thought that would end their financial obligation and problem solved.  From a library patron perspective who has noticed that as Newfield is the farthermost most municipality from the county seat and very, very small to boot, this was not an ideal situation.  Library hours and functions would be controlled by the County and would lose the close connection that the Library Board, and hence the Library, has to the town.

It turns out this "solution" would not dissolve Borough Council's financial obligation to the Library and might even raise the stakes.  So, this solution will not be taken.  It still leaves the town "broke" and the Library Board wondering if any funds will be forthcoming in 2014.    The funds needed are way beyond what can be raised by normal funding raising activities such as coin drops, bake sales, chocolate festivals, and used book sales.

Another solution is to drastically cut the hours the library is open.  Of course, that is a double edged sword since county supplemental support depends upon the number of hours the library is open.   It would also drastically affect the community's children who use the Library for finding information for homework assignments. 

Personally, I think Borough Council needs to revisit budget priorities.  Does the 1.7 square miles that constitute Newfield require the level of police coverage presently provided?  Circumstances have changed since that level was established.  Other services are suffering budget shortfalls that may be of higher value to the community now.  Neighboring towns don't seem to have such a high level of police service as Newfield does.    I believe the Library is more important - of course, that is my bias.

This is not an attack on the police force.  They are all professional and provide the service they are being paid for.  When I have needed them they have been there - the possible gas leak, the snake incident, and EMS calls.  I appreciate all that and I realize that I would receive slower service when the Sheriff's office has to cover if Newfield cuts back police service.  It's just that I am willing to make that trade to provide the same level of library service we have right now.

If you feel like I do, tell a Newfield Borough Council member.  Their names can be found here.  They don't know what we want unless we tell them.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Borough Council and Fire Company working out a compromise

At last night's Borough Council Meeting, the Mayor took a brave step and seized on a comment by the Fire Company's lawyer about a contract to forge a means of compromise.  The next reading of the ordinance was tabled.   The Fire Company is to provide a strawhorse of a contract between the Fire Company and the Borough, which will then become the central theme for negotiations.  Any ordinance would then reflect that contract.  It is not yet finished but the direction is now much improved.  Hopefully, no one will drag their feet and the negotiations will proceed calmly with mutual respect.

There is an on-going investigation into whether a member of Council acted improperly regarding the shutout of the Fire Company prior to the March Council Meeting.  The paper trail lays suspicion but is not definitive.

There was also a forecast of a calendar for the home page of the Borough as well a page of recycling information.  A pdf of the Town Crier Bulletin has already been added.  The intent is to provide an archive of the Town Criers as they are printed.  Hopefully the calendar will show special events as well as recurring events such as trash and recycling pickups and Planning, Council, and Recreation Council meetings.  It will be nice to know ahead when trash or recycle pickups are delayed by holidays as the one-call announcing them often came after I already pulled the cart to the curb.

Since nothing was said about recycling for businesses, I went up to make that suggestion as I had read just before the meeting that Gloucester County requires businesses to recycle.  Two Council members responded at the same time - one to tell me that carts for businesses not recycling were in the works and the other to put me down for not realizing that the county already gives us credit for business recycling that is reported to them.  And, I heard in the background from a Public Works employee that they are intending to deliver some carts to the apartment building.  The Council member who sought to inform me that Newfield already gets credit didn't realize that some of the businesses don't recycle at all because their dumpster service doesn't support it.  So while I was publicly embarrassed because my reason for justifying Newfield picking up business recycling didn't cover all the cases,  the end result is what is important - more recycling.  I'll take that trade off any day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Suggestion for boosting recycling in Newfield

This one should help out the businesses in town.  Right now, the businesses who pay  a fee for trash pickup were delivered a recycling cart.  They were also told that if they wanted to get rid of cardboard, to call for a special pickup (think liquor store).  Not all the small businesses in town pay a fee for town pickup but rather pay for a dumpster from a private company, consequently their recycling goes into a trash dump. Of course, this is not good for the environment but  I can understand a business point of view of "why should I pay Newfield twice when I already pay real estate taxes?"

My suggestion is that Public Works supply Newfield businesses with up to one free cart of trash pickup in exchange for recycling.  If a business needs more room for trash than what fits in a single cart, then they can pay a small fee per cart for additional trash carts.  If they don't recycle then they pay for trash pickup.

Whether the business is paying directly taxes directly or indirectly through rent shouldn't make a difference.  We need to encourage more business in town and we need to encourage recycling. I can sort of understand the position of forcing the businesses to pay for trash pickup when Newfield was paying someone else to collect trash, but I have a much harder time now. 

Perhaps someone on Borough Council can do a cost/benefit analysis?  There is a least one apartment building in town and recycling from apartments can be a big winner just like it is for households in town.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New recycling cart arrived - so why am I so angry ....

I guess there is something wrong with me.  Perhaps, I expect too much of Newfield having lived in a big city.  Ever since moving back home five years ago I have been rooting (and writing a letter to Borough Council) for better recycling - more frequent pickups and a larger container with a lid. Today, my demands came true.  I now have a larger container; it has a lid; and recycle will be picked up on a weekly basis on Fridays.  Of course, I had provided my own container with a lid for those five years but hey.  So why am I sitting here fuming?

Several issues ago in the Town Crier,  recycling was announced without a timeline.  Mostly, the item talked about how a household would be fined if they didn't turn in their old lidless container at the same time they received the new one.  I saw that as a vague threat and I wasn't the only person.  Real cool way to make sure to increase recycling  !#$!  At the next Borough Council meeting, I asked for a timeline (I knew they couldn't pin down dates) for the process and said that I had found the info already provided vague and anxiety-producing. That is, I alluded the item in the Town Crier was threatening with out calling it a threat so not to offend anyone.  I also asked that they provide written information that updated what we could recycle.  They patronized me and said it would all be explained in the one-call  (reverse 911) system they have in place.

Next Town Crier talked about recycling - vague terms again but no timeline or dates.  Again, I brought up the information issue at the following Borough Council meeting and was again patronized.  The information issue is important because I am sure the rules have changed over five years.  When I first began recycling in Seattle, no plastic was allowed and glass had to be separated from paper and metal.  Paper that was contaminated with grease or meat was a no-no. Think pizza boxes.  I love pizza.  Anyway, here, my sister informed me, we could recycle plastics with a 1 or 2 numeral on the bottom of the container but like glass, the containers had to be free of food.  In Delaware, where my daughter lives, they don't have that rule anymore.  So, what are the rules here?  A new schedule and a new container is the perfect time to update everyone's knowledge and by-the-by encourage more recycling.

Today, I stormed out of the house as the Public Works employees dropped off the new cart in the middle of my soggy lawn (not the driveway) and then had to yell when they paid no attention to my waving.  (1) Did they need my old container?  (2) When would recycling happen?  (3) Where was my info on what is recyclable?  The answers, prefaced by - why was I yelling when I had been told in one-call - (1) later, (2) Fridays, and (3) oh, it was all in the last Town Crier (not!).  Along the way, he implied I should be happy they were dropping off the container when, after all, it was raining.   Oh sugar, you won't melt - trust me.  I lived in Seattle for 24 years where rain is a way of life.  He advised me to call Borough Hall when I said I had no warning and get on the one-call system.

So, I called the Town Clerk.  I told her they just dropped off the cart without my getting any warning.  She asked what she could do and I said put me on the one-call system that I seemed to be dropped from ( I used to get calls) and to complain to the Council member that had promised me I would get printed recycling information ahead of the cart for me.  She said she would send an email. I know she will follow through on the email as I did get the one-call about the recycling about 45 minutes after I hung up with her.

Then I got a phone call from the Council Member who does the one-call calls to ask if it had come through.  I was able to say "yes".  I told her I used to get calls and hadn't for awhile.  She admitted that she had had other complaints about people being dropped off.  So then I remarked on how the written material that I was assured I would get had not arrived.  I tried to explain how this information is important if they want to get the level of recycling to increase.  Her response was the typical how wonderful the Borough Council is - saving money because (1) Newfield is no longer paying another municipality to do the recycling, (2) the cart is bigger, (3) recycling pickup will happen once a week, and with my prompting (4) the cart has a lid.  The fact that money was spent to buy the truck and the containers seemed to go out of her head - along with the fact that at current rates it will take 10 years to recoup those costs from the cash Newfield will get for the recycling material.    To be fair, amortization of cost may not be a concept with which she is familiar.

I tried really hard to get her to understand we need a refresher on the rules.  Seattle used to have a big sticker on the inside of the recycling cart and a frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) page on its web site.  Periodically households also received updates in the mail with no other topics but recycling to dilute the message. She is the Council member responsible for Communications, so telling her is entirely appropriate.  Actually, I was begging and pleading but I'm not sure she understood my frustration or urgency. 

As far as I'm concerned, the Borough Council had a perfect opportunity to make this fun by involving families in some sort of special event while increasing recycling rates.  They blew it.  Instead one of the strongest supporters of recycling is sitting here aggravated and disappointed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two more events in Fire Company/Borough Council dispute

Here's a "letter to the editor" from Linda Graumann, a Newfield Borough resident. Essentially it is another plea for mediation, however, it specifically details a proposal for how that mediation should be conducted.  Worthy idea.

Also, there was a "stay" in the on-going legal suits/countersuits as reported here. The Fire Company filed an appeal in NJ Superior Court that would invalidate the earlier court's decision that the firing of Bill Mason by the Borough Council was legal.  Until this appeal is decided upon, the subsequent suit by Borough Council against the Fire Company will not be heard.  This should mean that the ultimatum given by the Fire Company is no longer needed and they will stay.  I hope the Fire Company members will see it that way.

Just to be safe, continue to let the Fire Company know you want them to stay.  Here's one way to do that.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The authority of Newfield Borough is invested in the residents of voting age

The real authority of Newfield Borough is invested in its residents of voting age.  Sign a recall petition or not, its your choice.  You can also use your own authority to tell the Fire Company you respect them and ask for their respect back by their choosing not to follow through on the ultimatum.  Send email to ""; send a note or letter to PO Box 610 Newfield, NJ 08344; or drop one off at 18 Catawba Ave. Newfield,NJ 08344.

Sample text:

I/We respect all you do for us as firemen and emergency responders and all the hours you have freely given of your time to be firemen.  Please ignore the actions of the Newfield Borough Council and Mayor.  In this instance, we are speaking for ourselves.  We need you and appreciate you.  Please show the feelings are mutual by staying.

Letter from Borough Council and Mayor to all Newfield Residents - Legal?

Letter from Mayor and Borough Council to Newfield Residents

This explains what action they took and their position relative to the Fire Company ultimatum.  They remain as ideologically fixed in their position as the Tea Party Congressmen who have shut down the federal government over a piece of legislation that was already passed by Congress.

Most interesting is the final paragraph which asks that residents do not sign a recall petition.  This has been done on official stationary and mailed out using Borough funds to pay for the letters and the postage.   The letter does say  "Postage paid by Mayor and Council" and I am interpreting that to mean Borough funds not private funds of the members of the Council and the Mayor.

I wonder if that is even legal for them to use Borough funds to put out a message urging the residents either way on a recall petition.