Feeling Unsettled Montclair?

Montclair is moving in “a disconcerting direction” financially says the latest report from the Operating Budget Advisory Committee (OBAC) issued yesterday.

OBAC took town leadership to task about the local budget process and possibility of a tax increase.

“OBAC believes that swift and strategic action should be taken by the township leaders to review the overall organizational structure of the municipal operations and on a department by department basis for possible restructuring,” the report states. “All cost areas and revenue streams should be scrutinized and steps should be taken to minimize costs and maximize revenues; fiscal policies and procedures should be dramatically improved and implemented to ensure prudent and responsible spending; a concerted effort to control and reduce the town’s reliance on debt should be implemented immediately; and more transparency with township spending should be made to show taxpayers how their tax dollars and the township operations are being managed.”

“The organizational structure of Montclair’s municipal operations should be reviewed for consideration of potential savings in all employee related costs,” the report states. “Employee-related costs and the dramatic increases in such, are draining township resources. Outsourcing substantially all services provided by the Municipal office, restructuring operations and performance-based approaches have been successful in reducing costs in other towns and cities. Montclair’s leadership should consider a study be done to determine the savings that could be attained through this type of approach. This would provide a goal of potential savings for the township, whether such restructuring are implemented or not.”

The report from OBAC called for salary reviews, demotions and reductions as well as department consolidation. OBAC also cited the township’s neglect of non-taxpayer revenue.

“There have been several examples of weak, and possibly non-existent policies for revenue opportunities,” the report states. “The examples include the town reportedly forgetting to bill for at least one PILOT of agreement in 2010, undercharging for shared services or entering into agreements allowing businesses to be up and running, but not paying fair and appropriate taxes or amounts under PILOT agreements.”

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  1. I have read through the “final” report from the Operating Budget Advisory Committee, titled “2011 Budget and Financial Recommendations Report.”

    I wholeheartedly support the report, and its conclusions.

    I have always been committed to fiscal accountability. We are definitely in need of it now! It is the foundation of everything we do. Without financial resources, well meaning social and environmental problems cannot be addressed.

    While strong forecasting, reporting and control plagues many towns in New Jersey, it’s absence is especially unfortunate in Montclair as we struggle to control our taxes.

    I have supported an increased emphasis on finance in Montclair. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, and I have recommended the hiring of additional staff — both in finance and systems — to meet that responsibility.

    While Montclair is not unique in facing these problems., we are unique in that we have many accounting, finance, and information technology residents who are willing to lend a hand. We don’t take enough advantage of their offers.

    Our challenge is two fold. In our form of government the manager is responsible for putting into place systems and personnel. He has to want change and has to make change happen. But the real challenge is that many are satisfied that we can do no better than we are doing today.

  2. “I have supported an increased emphasis on finance in Montclair. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers”

    Yet, you support a million dollar unneeded beautification project. Credibility is getting strained…

  3. RoC,

    It’s *Operating* Budget Advisory Committee (OBAC) … what you are referring to is a Capital expense.

    What this town is eating up are run away operational budget expenses. The Park street project is less than an icing on a cake if you consider additional factors like the debt load.

    If Cary supports the findings of the OBAC, more power to him. His support for the Park St project should not be held against him like that.

    Having said above, personally I do not support the Park st project; instead I would prefer to turn most of church between bloomfield and park into a pedestrian zone. Still a capital expense but less $$.

  4. Mr. Wall, you’ve hit the nail on the head for what the angst going around is: unemployed poverty & I’ll add cat food for dinner in old age.

  5. Roughly 16% of the operating budget goes for debt service (on capital expenses).

    The town has too much debt and we should not be adding to it for unnecessary niceties.

  6. ROC, we know you for one are concerned ( as a citizen) / thrilled (as a political being) that Montclair is mismanaged,
    But do you have a successfully managed township of 30,000 that you think highly of, and that also could serve as an example?
    I’d like to learn about it.

  7. ROC,

    You can keep beating on this, or you can move on to issues where your considerable insight and intellect will be a help (serious).

    OBAC is identifying areas where money is going. We’ll lose perhaps $150K on Sienna for example. And at our last Council meeting we “moved” $400K that was “left over” from some bonds into Operating funds.

    And maybe you want to see just how many trees all those years of setting aside $350K plus for shade trees really did buy (not as many as it should have).

    There’s lots to spend your time on, if you want. I can help direct you.


  8. Carl,

    I absolutely agree with you on the myth of shared services creating efficiencies. In the private sector, the opposite may be true. But, certainly this is not the case in the public sector. For example, in the private sector, one company acquires a second and the majority of efficiency gains come from the reduction of the labor force typically from within the company just acquired. In the public sector, no layoffs of any consequence ever occur. Or at least, not around these parts.

    I have recently had the pleasure of purchasing a home in Glen Ridge and dealing with the municipal office and the school system for various reasons. It is so refreshing to get a call back in minutes after a voice mail is left, or getting help with obtaining various permits from a happy staff member. Getting our son signed up for first grade too was a breeze. If you call the GRAA with a question, you get clear answers. I went to get a permit for a fence last year in Montclair and not only was noone home when I first went, but when I finally found someone, they refused to even let me get a permit saying that if it’s in the backyard, you don’t really need it. The well-known company who installed the fence for me said this is absolutely not true and I had to bend their arms to get them to do the install without the permit. Is it the size of the town government that is at fault here, or is it a case of how poorly a town government is managed. I think it’s the latter in this case.

  9. It’s not the size.

    During one of the snowstorms of this past winter I was driving through West Orange and the HS had this illuminated LED sign advising residents that if they had a concern or request they could call the telephone number that was there. As you know, in Montclair, our solution was to proudly announce that we had evaluated ourselves and we were doing “great.”

    It’s a culture thing.

  10. Stu:

    Is it the size of the town government that is at fault here, or is it a case of how poorly a town government is managed.


    You hear the same kinds of problems again & again in towns over a certain size – generally 15k or so – at some point you have to come to the conclusion that it’s not a coincidence.

    Welcome to town – GR’s not perfect, but I think it’s a pretty great place to live & work – I think most folks who live and/or work here would agree.

  11. Carl,
    Will GR make any money if it takes over Montclair’s construction code duties as reported in the GR Voice last week? Or will most of the money go to hiring extra personnel?

  12. Cary,

    (With apologies to Damon Runyon)

    I’m not saying larger towns can’t be run well, or that small towns can’t be run poorly – but that’s the way to bet…

  13. Paz –

    As you know, I’m just a private citizen nowadays, so I don’t know much more about the proposal than what I read in the papers and online. That said, I’m confident that if such an agreement is reached, our Mayor and Council will make sure that it will be to the mutual benefit of both towns.

    If you have concerns, I suggest you discuss them with the mayor, or one of our councilmembers – they’re all pretty approachable.

  14. Whatever the benefits of living in a small town might be for individual residents, the fact that towns the size of Glen Ridge exist at all in this state, and especially in the area of the state in which they exist, is the primary reason that New Jersey is such a mess, fiscally and politically. Alan Karcher’s book, NEW JERSEY’S MULTIPLE MUNICIPAL MADNESS, has the goods.

    It’s amusing, really, to read the Glen Ridge website’s little capsule history of its origins: big, bad Bloomfield wouldn’t pave our roads, and wouldn’t listen to our appeals to build some schools closer to our homes, so of course we had no choice but to secede in 1895. No mention that in that year alone, 40 new municipalities were carved out of larger ones because of a piece of state legislation passed in 1894 that provided a means by which residents of areas within any township could incorporate themselves as a borough and effectively cordon themselves off from whatever they might consider to be undesirable elements in that town. The rush to self-segregate along all sorts of socio-economic, religious, and political lines that occurred in New Jersey in the 1890s as a result of that legislation is a pitiful historical spectacle to behold. And Glen Ridge is one of its signal achievements.

    Glen Ridgers can pat themselves on the back for their perspicacity, self-restraint, and sound management, but their current municipal advantages are primarily the result of an act of self-segregation in the late nineteenth century that continues to perpetuate itself today, and that, when considered in conjunction with the dozens of other ‘school district’ boroughs that proliferated in NJ in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is the real reason all residents of this state are feeling fiscal pain today.

  15. The most expensive towns to run in NJ are its largest, the least expensive towns to run in NJ are its smallest – whether measured per-capita or per-square-mile. There is nothing – not a shred of evidence of any kind – to support your statement:

    the fact that towns the size of Glen Ridge exist at all in this state, and especially in the area of the state in which they exist, is the primary reason that New Jersey is such a mess, fiscally and politically.

  16. OMG. Bill….Should we all go back to Lord Essex? I’m sure maybe one of his ancestors is still alive> Maybe they can help fund your town’s fiscal irresponsibility.

  17. Yes – a low bar the has never been touched.

    I am very familiar with Courage-to-connect – in fact I subscribe to their newsletter. The study you linked to is a perfect example of my point – 64 pages with no substance – just statements like:

    “Towns are expensive to operate.”

    and outright deception – like this gem:

    “Oftentimes, the state must provide substantial aid to small municipalities to fund these programs.”

    [small towns get much less aid (per capita or per square mile) than large towns do]

    I am not against consolidation per se – in fact, I think the State should make it easier for towns that want to merge to do so. What I am against is anti-democratic astroturf movements aimed at undermining our citizens’ basic right to self-determination – the report you link to bemoans the fact that an effort to strip the citizens of NJ the right to vote for or against efforts to dissolve the municipalities in which the live failed to pass the legislature – frankly, that effort should offend anyone who actually believes in representative government. The citizens of our municipalities are in the best position to judge whether or not it is in their best interests to merge with another town – not some machine-appointed hack meeting in Trenton.

    Alan Karcher was a machine politician. There is no shortage of machine politicians in New Jersey who rail against the existence of so many small towns – the reality is that the interests of machine politicians are pretty-much the opposite of the interests of anyone – including the average taxpayer – who actually desires more efficiency in government.

  18. There’s some room Kay, but unlike the PILOTs issued in Montclair, I plan to have my competent lawyer review the language and I will be collecting the funds prior to any stake being placed into the ground.

  19. Stu….Welcome to the ‘hood!
    Life in a small town….This morning I went to the GR post office with a condolence card to send to someone in town. I asked Holly to hand cancel it with the Glen Ridge name stamp. I have her do it for all the mailart and greeting cards I send out. If you have time, please join the CCC and see how politics in a small town is handled. I know Carl will disagree with me because he ran as an independant (and he won!)…..See you around town!

  20. PAZ – in the last 2 decades, the CCC has changed many of its more objectionable aspects – including most of my problems with it. Sometimes those changes were brought about as a reaction to objections brought by members of the public, sometimes because the authorities forced the CCC to do so. At this point, the fault lies not so much with the CCC as it does in the fact that there no ying to its yang.

    I think most folks, including myself, would agree that we are much better off with the CCC, especially in its current incarnation, than we would be with the County machines.

    – of course, that also is not a very high bar…

  21. Carl,
    I hope “no ying to it’s yang” is not a substitute for Democrat & Republican?! That would be a disaster.

  22. PAZ – No, that “cure” would be worse than the “ailment”! I would just like to see more involvement by more members of the public. I tried to get more folks involved, and I know that Peter has tried too – it’s just a low priority for most folks…

Comments are closed.