Cary Africk: It’s A Matter of Numbers

Anyone who tells you they are going to slash taxes, or slash the debt is either fooling you, fooling themselves, or both. It’s a matter of numbers.

With 60% of you tax dollars going to the schools, 20% to the County, the Council already only controls twenty cents on the dollar.

Most of that money goes for salaries, health insurance, and debt.

The town is down 40 employees over 4 years. In doing so the spending increased.

There are union contracts that provide for increases. There are “steps” in the contracts that require the person to just breathe for another year and their salary is increased.

At this point our provision of services has been crippled. We have insufficient people in planning, finance, the Municipal Clerk’s office, the Court.

We are NOT going to pay off a significant amount of $240MM in debt.

We are NOT going to save gobs of money from the Municipal budget and send it to the schools.

And we are not going to develop our way out of our predicament! I heard one number of $10MM in “new” taxes. Well, at our tax rate of $3 that would mean we’d need new development of $330MM. The new DCH project is $80MM. WHERE would we build $330MM of projects?

What we can do:

1. Hold debt spending to less than we pay off. But this may not help because we have SO MUCH SHORT TERM DEBT that by law must be converted into long term bonds. Thus debt at 1% interest will be replaced by debt at 4%.

2. Hold taxes to a minimal increase. 2% should be a goal for TOTAL tax increases.

4. Re-organize for better delivery of services. This may call for HIRING good, new, excellent people. It may call for giving some of the work to outside companies.

5. Plan for regionalization (Harvey has spoken extensively about this). This is the long term solution to REAL change.

There is undoubtedly non sense in the budget. Karen has found things that must be fixed. Harvey has offered to make her part of the next team if he wins.

But we have a very good, new, CFO. If the Manager supports him he will make a huge difference.

And I made it a priority to get an excellent auditor and within days of his coming on board we announced a huge “surplus.”

And remember, the leverage is with the schools, the 60% of the budget.

Cary Africk, 2nd ward councilor, frequently blogs here and on the Montclair Watercooler. Earlier this week we reported that Africk has endorsed Harvey Susswein.

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  1. Cary,

    You are dreaming if you think Harvey Susswein and his motley crew are going to execute a plan such as the one you have outlined. He and his cronies are part of the reason that the town is in the current sad situation it is in.

    You have quite the nerve to pontificate on what the candidates will not be able to do, when you did absolutely nothing at all during your term.

    Please leave the candidates alone and leave this town alone….you were completely ineffective during your term. We are not interested in what you have to say.

  2. I second that, cantmakethisstuffup. Please just go away Cary, the last 4 years were as big a nightmare as the Remsen administration. That is who Harvey is taking advice from. You’ve done your damage to this town, now please leave us alone.

  3. I agree can’t and furthermore Cary, I find it very off putting that you and Harvey keep saying that Harvey has offered for Karen Turner to be part of his team. Both of you have a lot of nerve. There is a little over a week left til the election, why don’t the two of you figure out how to get Harvey elected without using Karen Turner’s name. Harvey is last in the poll, there is a reason for that. Apparently, you don’t get it and either does Harvey.

  4. PS. Cary – Harvey posted something before and I asked him to publicly refute a rumor I heard, that rumor is – Harvey Susswein if he is elected, will hire Ed Remsen to replace Marc Dashiled as Town Manager. Until he responds and states that he will not hire Ed Remsen, I have no choice but to believe it. Funny, he never responded.

  5. Ya can’t make this stuff up! I was quoted months ago in the MT as saying the idea of former mayor Ed Remsen as Township manager was (and remains) ludicrous. Ed is a friend and a talented guy, but this would not remotely be an appropriate appointment for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is his generous contribution to the For Montclair campaign.

    Harvey Susswein

  6. Dear Cary,

    I’m rooting for you and wish you the best of luck for the future. I worked my ass off to get you elected. I wish your four years could have turned out better. But I’m disappointed that you’ve become a shill for the For Montclair campaign.

    Your choice, Harvey Susswein, is pals with former Mayor Ed Remsen. That means something. Susswein, who I have spoken with, refers to Remsen as being part of his “brain trust.” His inclusion is an endorsement of the Ed Remsen years, which was good for his friends and bad for the rest of Montclair (where I am). You can’t include him in the “brain trust” and be against Remsen’s record. I don’t remember Susswein speaking up against any of these issues (my opinion):

    1. Farrell Building. My introduction to Ed Remsen (and Donald Zief). Works to not include the historic Farrell Building in the historic preservation zone. Boundary goes around building. Building is demolished by auto dealership. Dealership leaves town. Now a vacant lot. Dealership manager gets award from Remsen’s MEDC organization.

    2. Marlboro Inn debacle. Remsen went out of his way for Steven Plofker, a supporter. Ignored HPC vote to save Inn. Ignored statutes for selling to market buyer. Supported knockdown under premise Plofker would build hotel on Church Street (assisted living site). Never happening. Helped Plofker and Pinnacle developer split spoils of downtown.

    3. Siena debacle. Votes to give development rights to Steven Plofker on Church Street lot. Pays Pinnacle back, owner of lot, by overpaying developer to build parking deck by $2 million. Continued to pay back Pinnacle with parking benefits. A sweetheart PILOT deal with Pinnacle. A sweetheart legal fees deal with Glen Scotland’s firm, the ones who endorsed more debt. Poor PILOT collections.

    4. Orange Road parking deck. Montclair gets bad deal on PILOT contract. Dealership gets good deal. Dealership manager gets award for Remsen’s MEDC.

    5. Joe Hartnett debacle. Shouldn’t have to say anymore but never saw a bond issue he didn’t like. Over $135 million in new debt between 2000 and 2008. Retired with a nice pension.

    6. Massive tax increases

    7. Board of Education off limits

    8. Supported new Bullock School spending of $40 million ($80 million with interest), while even Hartnett advised against

    9. Justified demolition of Washington Street Y with rec center that never came

    10. Against shared serves with BOE

    11. Pre-K wink loan

    Harvey Susswein was active in town during these years. I didn’t see him chime in on any of these issues. He didn’t start speaking up until the Fried years.

    Ed Remsen is part of Harvey Susswein’s “brain trust.”

    I’m not into history repeating itself. We have great candidates. I’ll choose between Karen Turner and Robert Jackson.

  7. “And we are not going to develop our way out of our predicament!”

    NOW he says this? AFTER pushing through the “it will pay for itself” Park Street project?

  8. As someone who has been a consistent critic of the Remsen era see:

    I was 100% opposed to the Susswein candidacy when first announced. That’s especially since Ed Remsen told me that he was putting up Harvey to run for office last spring. When it then came out in many quarters that there was a deal being kicked around that Ed Remsen would become town manager – I was even more opposed to what was clearly a Remsen controlled “crew” slate in my mind. And even if Harvey was not part of the potential deal – Ed becoming town manager was kicked around as part of a potential 4th ward coalition.

    Then, after announcing he was running, Harvey Susswein made the bonehead move of calling Ed and Don Zief his “brain trust”. HELLO!. You do not run for office on a platform of fiscal responsibility, but then publicly say that your campaign team are those whose administration’s created $135 million in new debt, added massive tax increases and gave away the store to public employees. It was bad political judgement. It was even worse judgement to call it a McCarthyite attack afterward when it was Harvey himself who had made the statement and confirmed everyone’s suspicions.

    Nonetheless, during this campaign, Susswein has been right on point on most issues. On the assisted living facility – he’s even been ahead of the pack — coming out directly in opposition given the lackluster economic benefits anticipated. Unlike the Remsen controlled Councils, who lay down for Pinnacle and Steve Plofker at every opportunity, Harvey Susswein is saying ‘no’ now to the developer boys upfront when they are pushing a potential bad deal. That’s a very good thing for Susswein to remain independent.

    Furthermore, let’s remember that Susswein was able to convince both Karen Turner and Robert Jackson to work with him on a ticket – at least for awhile – despite opposition from many over issues such as Paine’s summary above.

    Whether you support Harvey Susswein or feel that the Remsen forces are still too close and in the wings — is your call. I may still feel that way in the end. I also cannot forget his demonizing of those pushing for an elect-a-board campaign as being against the magnets and against busing. He turned the public debate away from BOE fiscal responsibility using baseless attacks. In my mind then, Harvey became complicit in the board of ed waste and fiscal expansion at the time. For me, his tactics and decisions back then still remain of concern.

    Nonetheless, Harvey has distinguished himself during the campaign as an independent and thoughtful thinker on the issues. Therefore, he should not just be dismissed out of hand.

    In no way is this a statement of support. Because per Paine, there is a lot of history here. You still are who you eat with at the table. Campaigns are not an island.

    Instead, take my comments as movement away from outright total rejection where I started. Harvey has distinguished himself during the campaign and but not for the past — which is still impacting the present for him – he could be in a very different position.

    Cary, my good fried, seems willing to ignore that past and only deal with present issues — regardless of how those current positions still may tie back into the past.

  9. Martin:
    Thanks … sort of. Ed Remsen is a friend of mine and a supporter, but is not running. Intended guilt-by-association slurs are unattractive and diminish their speaker. I will pose to you the same question offered to Real Progress Montclair and others of your ilk. Can you point to any policy of mine or of For Montclair that you feel is compromised by association with former councilors? If so, we will be happy to discuss. No one has yet responded with an example.

    Harvey Susswein

  10. What people have responded with are slurs and nasties for Cary who I think has done an exemplary job as a Town Councilor. He’s increased transparency and raised the bar for the newest group of candidates tenfold!

    Thank you Cary for your research, clear head, fiscal responsibility, foresight, communications skills, and caring. You’ve done a great job and should be proud of yourself. You’ve made it much easier for the residents of Montclair to understand the issues.

  11. Let me add to Pat’s remarks that I was and remain a neophyte at running for public office. Remsen, Zief, and Africk are batting a thousand in that regard– six-for-six! They know this stuff.

    Harvey Susswein

  12. For 2 cents…. It does not help to iterate past issues and advocacies which are the opposite of yours (the first few posts here). It is certainly understandable that a candidate would know and be friendly with past town elected leaders. I too feel Cary has served quite well and has some worthwhile observations to make. The fact that he cares is very helpful to our town. This is a time of major stress for the town, and the nation for that matter, and we need thoughtful volunteers to work together for the best outcomes possible. I appreciate the analysis of Cary and thank him for being involved.

  13. I usually enjoy Cary’s posts here,whether I agree with them or not. But I have to say that I am deeply disappointed with this post. Sounds like we should just pack it up and declare bankruptcy. Why would you bother to endorse anyone if nothing can be done? Perhaps we should vote for Lungo the cat who would at least make a little news as the first cat elected to office. Perhaps it would drive tourist dollars?
    Seriously, if we have the mindset that nothing can be done to fix this financial mess, then it won’t be fixed. I don’t believe that! You need to call together the leaders (managers) of all the departments in Montclair and challenge them to devise viable plans to deliver services in a reduced revenue environment. If they cant do it, get a new manager. Prioritze the services that have the greatest impact on the town and fund them accordingly.
    Take this opportunity to renegotiate contracts that contain “steps” that require the person to just breathe for another year and their salary is increased. The employees have to understand that if we don’t move to take control of our financial situation then the markets surely will and that will be far more painful. If they doubt that, just take a look at Harrisburg, Detroit or even Greece.

  14. “PS. Cary – Harvey posted something before and I asked him to publicly refute a rumor I heard…Until he responds and states that he will not hire Ed Remsen, I have no choice but to believe it.”

    —so, someone who posts under a false name is going to base their vote on a rumor they will believe until it is refuted to them personally (or at least to their false name)?

    Irony has been dead for a while—apparently, Reality is now officially dead as well.

  15. I fully expect every candidate that has development as part of their platform to attend Monday’s special Planning Board meeting and feels free to make a statement about the single biggest development Montclair has ever seen or will see for another generation.
    Also, in this way, every candidate elected will be on the record about this project and we can dispense with ‘blaming the previous council’ antics.
    The meeting promises to have a little something for everyone. It will be a showcase for what make Montclair, Montclair.

  16. None of the individuals of past political moves who have done such harm should be permitted to continue to operate. Ever again. Bad economic times (that they seem to have ignored with all of their past projects) will certainly work, even more, in their disfavor. They’ll ruin Montclair Center, once and for all, with their DCH project, Montclair will just be an undesirable place with lots of expensive properties for sale, that won’t sell easily because the taxes are way too high. We won’t even have eyes left to cry with. Elect individuals that have the vision of honesty and accountability, that know how to put their foot down. The false smiles have got to go.

  17. How many elections in our lifetimes have politicians NOT made vague statements that they would find efficiencies and eliminate waste? It works politically, at every level, every time, because it resonates with the public. “Abracadabra, and your taxes are lowered.”

    Cary’s post seems accurate to me in that (1) the council controls 20% of the budget and that (2) on this 20% (as it relates to the upcoming election) public sector unions are extraordinarily difficult to negotiate with.

    Does anyone have an argument otherwise?

  18. Yes, Townie.
    1. This silly argument implies we have taxation without representation…which we don’t. Further, we voted not to have an elected school board. I agree, but we picked our tax representation.
    2. I don’t care if the Council controls just 2% of our taxes, they need to do it well. It’s laughable that we ask the DCS to cut their refuse expenses, but the Council is allowed to say “what do you want me to do.”

  19. A couple of things.

    Doesn’t the mayor and two council members serve onteh Board of School Estimate? If so, the talk that the council has no say or control over the BOE budget is laughable on its face.

    Harvey Susswein’s conduct during the elected vs appointed BOE debate completely turned me off. He was arrogant, condescending and dismissive toward anyone who diesagreed with his position. I was on the fence until I saw his conduct during the debate. He sewwed up mh vote for the other side. On a more personal (and petty) level, I live in the same neighborhood as Harvey. During the same BOE campaign, on Halloween he handed out election propaganda to the children. There was no reason to try to get to the parents through the children. Again, petty on my part for mentioning it but petty on his part for doing it.

  20. This article is BS at its face. The facts are very simple. The Mayor, whoever it may be, appoints members to the BOE. That Mayor can certainly use this power to select candidates that promise to CUT the BOE budget. That same Mayor can also select candidates that promise to only accept contracts from the MEA that include give backs and no salary or step increases.

    The Council, including the Mayor hire the Manager. They can also buy out the current one if they do not like his past workings. Then, same as appointing BOE members, ensure that candidates have the same goals. Cutting spending and reducing costs.

    Also Cary, you speak of the County Taxes as something we can’t control, BUT constantly advocate for giving Edgemont Park control to Joe D and Essex County. Why would we give the County more control? Poor logic Sir!

    This current council including Cary failed.(Except Mayor Fried appointing/reappointing Shelly Lombard) The BOE did not yield a Tax Increase for 2 years! The Municipal budgets were failures, which yes Cary voted for, as did the rest of the Council. In 2010 it was so late that they as individuals were going to be charged money for insubordination! FAILURES all of you! Why anyone would take your advice at this point is beyond me. I would not accept voting for anyone who is affiliated or endorsed by past council members.

    No more consultants, no more investigations. If you do not understand Municipal Government, and can not make informed decisions on your own or with the help of the Township Attorney, Manager, and BOE. DO NOT RUN FOR OFFICE.

  21. “Plan for regionalization”

    Yes lets have less say in our Police & Fire expenditures. Next they will be telling us that a future Mayor will get to appoint a Liaison to sit on a Regional Public Safety Board where we share services with surrounding towns. We lose accountability, personalized service and ability to make financial decisions based on our own needs.

  22. Harvey or Cary,

    With regionalization, will Montclair be able to negotiate Union Contracts? Will we be forced to share in Capital Expenditures?, is.e Fire Trucks, Public Safety equipment . Will we still own the Fire House, Police Stations, Public Works Buildings, Parks, etc?

    Or will we be just giving these things to a BLOB of bureaucratic appointees from each town? What are the guarantees for oversight? How will we gauge the level of service we are going to be provided versus what we currently receive? Anderson Park is a great example. We give a Park away, but County Taxes keep rising. Are we better off?

    If a current Police Chief, with say 100-115 staff makes $187,000(like our current Police Chief), what will be demanded of a Police Chief overseeing 300-400 staff? $250K,300K? Also, wouldn’t it make it easier for Unions to collectively refuse a contract since they will have more negotiating influence with more employees?

    Bigger Government in the name of savings…….

  23. This deserves to be seen and read again.

    “If you do not understand Municipal Government, and can not make informed decisions on your own or with the help of the Township Attorney, Manager, and BOE. DO NOT RUN FOR OFFICE.”

  24. kyle41181:
    I share your respect for the job Shelly has done at the BOE. Please keep in mind that BOE expenditures increased over 4% in 2011. The reason the school tax levy was flat was a welcome increase in state aid that offset the spending increase. Unfortunately, there is no direct analog to the state aid on the municipal side. I wish there were!

    Yes, regionalization may at some point mean jointly funded and owned assets with our neighbors. But you can be sure that no one will go down that road frivolously or without extensive public vetting and input.

  25. “Irony has been dead for a while—apparently, Reality is now officially dead as well.”

    great quote jcunningham.

    jc, we might be living in the 2012 version of
    Strawberry Fields – nothing is real.

    But this time, it IS something to get hung about.

  26. …and kudos to Mr. Susswein for responding, in a thoughtful and concise way, to the irrational hostilities of some of his would-be-detractors.

  27. Harvey,

    State Aid is revenue and part of the equation. Just like grant money. It’s all part of cost over revenue.

    What would the municipal budget have increased if the town didn’t forget to apply for it in 2010.

  28. What Mr. Susswein is still not grasping is that he is the one who called Ed Remsen and Don Zief his “brain trust”. Therefore, he is really not some victim of a guilt-by-association innuendo or McCarthyite attack as he’s asserted and said now here again.

    As Mr. Schwartz notes above – if you are running on a ticket of fiscal responsibility and say you are now going to provide the town with better management, do not announce that your core advisers are recent politicians who were clearly fiscally irresponsible with the tax-payers money, no matter how well intentioned their goals.

    It is Susswein therefore who chose to publicly link himself with Zief-Remsen and their supporters, rather than recognize their past problems and instead present himself more as an independent agent. Consequently, Mr. Susswein’s Achilles heel here is his lack of recognition and owning up to the fiscal and management shortfalls that his main supporters created and have saddled us with today.

    This is important because it raises important questions of judgement. How will he view and then handle things in the present and future, since he apparently does not clearly see the serious problems that his “brain trust” created in the past?

  29. This thread, which reads like a bunch of little old ladies bickering about whose turn it is at canasta, serves as a potent reminder of why politics isn’t for everybody, least of all me.

  30. Easy to be dismissive and appear to be above it all Walleroo. The results of a lack of “bickering” and paying attention from before are: mass tax increases, an overpriced new school that’s put us into hock and a change in community character from minority flight.

    There are repercussions from letting the “ladies” argue among themselves over canasta. People like you you need to engage.

  31. Do people like me really need to have an opinion on whether Susswein actually called Ed Remsen and Don Zief his “brain trust”? I don’t think so.

  32. Why is no one asking about Robin Schlager, who served ON the Council with Ed Remsen and voted for many of the things he proposed?

    Why is no one mentioning that BOTH Robin and Rich Murnick, who is also now running, ran in 2008 with Joyce Michaelson, a councilor on the Ed Remsen team from 2004 to 2008.

  33. It *is* a matter of numbers, Cary—you’re right. But it’s a matter of the numbers above the municipal level more than anything. Austerity at the federal and state level is at the very least exacerbating the situation at the local level (everywhere, not just here), and at worst, it is the cause of that situation. Local politicians have no control over the larger forces at work. The best a voter can do is vote for the people who will maintain a sense of calm and clearheadedness in difficult (impossible?) circumstances.

  34. Pat, many of us have dismissed the entire Montclair 2012 slate entirely. By the time we are finished talking about all the damage that Jackson and Russo have done during past terms, it is easy to forget how incredibly weak Schlager was when she served. As for Murnick, he seems to be an intelligent man, I can’t understand for the life of me, why he joined that slate.

  35. Harvey Susswein including Ed Remsen in his “brain trust” is an endorsement of Remsen’s policies. Accepting a donation from Ed Remsen is an endorsement of Remsen’s policies. Some people like what Ed Remsen accomplished during his four years. I, like others, do not.

    It’s normal to project how a candidate will govern. For example, if included Martin Schwartz in my “brain trust” and Schwartz gave me a donation it would be reasonable for the public to figure I support historic preservation. If I didn’t support historic preservation, I shouldn’t include Schwartz in my “brain trust” or take his money. It’s not that complicated.

    Either Harvey Susswein seems to have a blind spot for the Ed Remsen era or he didn’t think there were that many who thought Remsen was a bust.

    Harvey Susswein and Karen Turner have similar policies. I’m crossing of Susswein because of the Remsen connection. Now I have to decide between Turner and Robert Jackson.
    (keep the suggestions coming)

  36. @tjg1 That’s fair. Regardless of the reasoning during the 1980’s and what the increased tax revenue bought, it is a fair criticism.

    One could pile on more fair criticisms of Robert, and make equally fair criticisms of Karen and Harvey. They all have experiences and have all made public statements that could be seen in a bad light, depending on one’s vantage point. I say “let’s vote”.

  37. Sounds like you think that Martin Schwartz has only one area of focus. rest assured that he has opinions on lots of issues.

    I don’t think that because Susswein supported Remsen’s policies on some instances that he’s going to let Remsen run the show or listen to him exclusively

  38. From reading the comments, it appears it’s a lost cause, and that we’ll inevitably be bankrupt. I can’t believe that that’s the case. I think we’ve elected people who made poor choices in the last ten years, but there’s a lot of good here and it’s not too late to reverse the tide. As for me, glad I read this thread. It’s making it clear I need to do more research on how to cast my vote.

  39. I voted absentee because my wife and I will be out of town so my die is cast. I didn’t vote a slate. I see good in both the RPM and For Montclair slates. What I don’t see is how Kathryn Weller-Demming would work with any of the other candidates. Who would be pulling her strings?

  40. Harvey Susswein including Ed Remsen in his “brain trust” is an endorsement of Remsen’s policies.

    Oh, maybe, maybe not. In this little town, there’s a whole lot less than 6 degrees of separation between any two politicos.

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