Archive for July, 2018

Goals for Gusciora

Now that Reed Gusciora is Mayor and everyone seems to want to sing “Kumbaya“and forget how low he sunk to win the election, perhaps we can all rally around some measurable goals.   After all, isn’t that what people naturally need in order “move forward” in the same direction.

I’ve had any number of people suggest that we need to all work together.  But what does that even mean?

What is the work?  What are we trying to accomplish?  What are the best tactics towards reaching those goals?   How do the 85,000 citizens of Trenton pitch in?

Unless someone can answer those questions, the next person that suggests we all work together, is likely to get slapped.

Work together doing WHAT?

My confidence that Mayor Gusciora ever provides “goals” for his administration is low, albeit not as low as the confidence I had in Tony Mack or Eric Jackson.   It’s possible though.  I know at least a couple of people on the transition team that know what a measurable goal is.   However, I know that there are likely many others who would advise against setting goals.

But you know what, in some ways it’s too late. The Mayor has already made one big whopping campaign promise that can equate to improvements in three of the measurable goals we use to measure city success.  Reed says he wants 1000 new homes in 1000 days.   That’s pretty big.  Improbable, but nonetheless big.

This is a different kind of approach to the one Doug Palmer had.  The Palmer administration was always trying to hit home runs with big multi-million dollar projects that sounded impressive to voters.   Unhappily, by swinging for the fences all the time he struck out all the time and even hit some foul balls that injured people (the hotel).

1000 homes in 1000 days is more like trying to hit a bunch of singles.   He may not hit a 1000 but if his approach works at all maybe he hits 500, which is about 500 more than Palmer.

But what about the real goals that matter and objectively measure our success? ReinventTrenton and other groups use the following:

  • Crime levels as measured by the Uniform Crime Report
  • Population growth as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau (in the case of Trenton, every year)
  • Graduation rate as measured by the NJ Department of Education
  • Median Household Income as measured by the U.S. Census, and
  • Economic success as measured by our Tax Base

Let’s start with the three that Reed is sort of talking about: Population, Tax Base and Household Income.

Adding 1000 homes is a big goal but to measure the impact we need to make some assumptions.  First, what home price is necessary for the city to break-even between property taxes and costs to serve the property owners.  For Trenton, a house needs to be about $200,000, that’s somewhat lower than the average for Mercer County.   Let’s assume Reed does the right thing and targets $200,000 as the average price for these homes.

Tax Base

Trenton’s tax base is $2,395,945,829. Given the home price assumption, 1000 x $200,000 equals a $200,000,000 increase in our tax base. His goal should be $2,395,945,829 + $200,000,000 or roughly $2,600,000,000 ($2.6 Billion).


Our current population is 84,964.  If 1000 new homes were added averaging, let’s say 2 people per home (just under Trenton’s average of 2.2).   1000 homes at 2 people per house equals 2000 new citizens.   Reed should have a goal of 87,000 residents.   That would be a healthy turnaround of 2.3% and above the growth rate for the State of New Jersey.

Household Income

Trenton’s current Median Household Income is $34,415 over 34,654 housing units (both houses and apartments).   To buy a $200,000 home, a household income will need to be at least 1/3 the value of the home, or $67,000 but let’s call it $70,000 to make the math easier.  If 1000 homes were added with an average household income of $70,000, the city-wide average could go up to reach a goal of $35,413, an increase of 2.9%.

The next two goals aren’t as dependent on the 1000 new homes, so perhaps Mayor Gusciora’s goals should simply reflect improvement trends over the last year.


Our Uniform Crime Reports  for 2017 are 3276.   This was down just over 1% from 2016.   If that trend continues Mayor Gusciora should be able to achieve a 4 year goal of 3147 by 2021 or a 1% yearly decrease.

Graduation Rate

The 2017 graduation rate was 70.14%, an increase of almost 5 percentage points over 2016.  That kind of improvement isn’t likely for 4 years straight, but he does get the benefit of a shiny new high school.   Without doing a lot of complicated trend analysis, I’ll simply throw out a goal of 80% by 2021.   Hamilton and Ewing are around 90% so this isn’t quite the average we need but it would be good progress.

It’s not important that the Mayor and his team adopt these exact goal values, but it is important that they express some measurable goals to the citizens of Trenton.  Maybe the Mayor thinks graduation rates could be 85% or only 75%.  What matters is there is a number goal.   I strongly suggest that these measures are used as they are publicly available, well understood and published by reputable 3rd party sources.

If we don’t see goals published by the Mayor and agreed to by City Council, then reasonable citizens should question the dedication and ability of the new government to turn the city around?

Trenton’s 2018 Report Card

We’ve got a new Mayor and a new City Council.   They obviously haven’t had a chance to do much but then again none of them have expressed any desire to meet any goal around the 5 measures listed annually in this report card.

The 2018 Report Card will tell us whether or not the Jackson administration actually did move the needle as Mayor Gusciora’s campaign team has claimed.

All five of the following are “lagging” indicators, meaning they represent the past, but they are objective and widely used measurements collected in a consistent way across the state and nation.   There’s no hand-waving with these numbers.

  • Crime levels as measured by the Uniform Crime Report
  • Population growth as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau (in the case of Trenton, every year)
  • Graduation rate as measured by the NJ Department of Education
  • Median Household Income as measured by the U.S. Census, and
  • Economic success as measured by our Tax Base

Crime is down a bit but we had more murders

The 2017 Uniform Crime Report represents last year’s crime

  • Uniform Crime Reports for 2017 are 3276
  • This is a decrease from 2016 of 1.1%
  • Murders were up from 21 in 2016 to 23 in 2017

Trenton held basically holding the rate steady, though Trentonians have become more murderous over the years.  TPD cleared 15% of its cases in 2017 which compares favourably to Newark (9%) but unfavourably to Hamilton (31%).   Our crime is still much than the state average but for not getting too much worse I give Trenton a C in 2017.

Source: NJ State Police

Trenton gained a little population

Trenton’s 2017 census estimate is 84,964 residents.  This is a 1.1% increase from 2016’s population of 84,056 and flat since 2010.

This number is up, a little.  So that’s good.   New Jersey as a whole gained 2.4% in population since 2010 meaning that Trenton is not keeping pace.

For turning this thing around for the first time (since I’ve been tracking), Trenton gets an C.

Source: US Census Bureau

Graduation rates have go up!

The Trenton school district’s 2017 graduation rate was 70.14%. This is a good uptick from 2016’s rate of 66.55% and 2015’s rate of 68.63% and a huge improvement over 2014’s 52%

70% isn’t great BUT it’s a big improvement and indicates that something is happening.   Perhaps not having the old Trenton Central High building has stirred things up.

Hamilton and Ewing School Districts hover around 90% graduation rate so maybe it’s possible to get there.  Who knows, maybe the new school will make a difference.

Because the trend is up over several years, Trenton gets an C.

Source:  NJ Dept. of Education

Incomes in Trenton stayed flat

Median Household Incomes in Trenton grew slightly to $34.415 (2016 numbers) from $34,257 (2015).  These are very low numbers and show why it is that housing prices aren’t growing.    Furthermore, 27.6% of people in Trenton live in poverty.

New Jersey’s median household income is more than double Trenton’s at $73,702 over double Trenton’s income.

For having stagnant and very low incomes in one of the wealthiest states in the country, Trenton gets an F.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Tax Base is up a lot

Trenton doesn’t maintain a current publicly available tax list,  so I’ve to use the Dept. of Community Affairs web site.  It gives our tax base as $2,395,945,829  for year end 2017.  This is up almost $400,000,000 from 2016 and represents an 18% increase.  Quite frankly this is a big number and must be the result of the revaluation.

As a comparison, Hamilton’s tax base is over $8.5B and tiny Princeton’s is over $7B.

$2.4B in tax base isn’t enough to support Trenton by a long shot but it’s a big improvement even if it just reflects getting our tax rates somewhat straightened out.  For at least showing a bigger number, I give Trenton an C.

Source: Department of Community Affairs

Did the Jackson administration move the needle?  … Almost!

  • The Education numbers are promising, the crime rate is down and our tax base has been overhauled
  • Going strictly by the numbers, I’d say the needle moved.  However, its likely we didn’t see real investment of $400M in Trenton, just real revalution.

If a Mayor and City Council really were interested in progress they would highlight these 5 numbers in every meeting, every State of the City and with the State.    Every dollar spent would be to improve the numbers year over year.   Instead, for the 18th year in a row (since I’ve lived in Trenton) all I get from our government is hand waving.

Link to the 2017 Report Card

Link to the 2016 Report Card

Link to the 2015 Report Card

Link to the 2014 Report Card