Archive for the ‘Taxes and Budgets’ Category

Trentonians want more libraries than they deserve

We Trentonians apparently have the notion that we’re entitled to services far beyond both our means and our needs.

In 2006, many Trentonians and their politicians were in an uproar as Capital Health Systems planned to close one of their two hospitals in town. We were upset even though Trenton has a far higher ratio of hospital beds to people than the rest of NJ and the nation. Even with just two hospitals, our average is higher. Though there will be no shortage of hospital facilities, it was just the appearance of losing the entitlement to more than its fair share of services that ticked off Trentonians.

Here we are again. Read the rest of this entry »

The case for dumping city owned property

The city is by far the largest single holder of vacant and underutilized real estate in Trenton. This is a long standing situation and is not in the best interests of Trentonians.

It is inevitable to hear Trenton politicians and citizens alike exclaim that, while the city should sell its vacant holdings, “we shouldn’t give them away”.

Oh really? And just how have the fine folks at city hall, and many of our leading activists come to this conclusion?

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Trenton’s budget is in worse shape than you think

This article was originally published in the August 2008 edition of the Trenton Downtowner – D. Dodson

Trentonians pay for only 14% of the cost of running the city. If our external funders get tired of it, we’re in big trouble.

It isn’t clear how a city goes bankrupt. Technically bankruptcy occurs when an entity can’t pay its debt obligations. But a city can raise taxes and cut city services to the bone well before bankruptcy. In this case, the city simply ceases to be livable (e.g. Camden) Read the rest of this entry »

It’s time to start over on Trenton’s Public Library

Sometimes suggesting new ideas is unpopular. I’m sure this will be one of those times.

Things change. Ben Franklin’s Free Library looked nothing like the ancient Greek library. Nor should today’s version look anything like the Carnegie funded book temples of the last century.

Libraries have a noble tradition dating to a time when books held a much more sacred place in society than they do today. During the golden age of libraries, in the 1700s, books were relatively expensive. Today, most people can afford to buy as many books as they want and do. Also, the Internet has replaced much of a library’s utility as a research institution. Read the rest of this entry »

Budgeting to fix Trenton’s budget

Propose your own strategic 2012 Trenton Budget

Ask any businessman and they will tell you that budgeting is one of the hardest parts of running a company. Budgets force the organization to choose between activities that increase revenue, make customers happy and reduce costs. Spend too much money reducing costs and your revenue could dry up. Spend too much chasing new revenue and existing customers get fed up and leave.

There’s no reason to think cities should work much differently. The biggest difference is the customers (citizens) are a good bit more vested because their largest investment is their home.

The budget is the city’s main policy document

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A Trenton-friendly Property Tax Reform Proposal

There are plenty of influences on our country’s economic development including geography, natural resources and luck. However, government policy plays a powerful but sometimes unseen role.

Over the years government policies have contributed mightily to the American landscape

  • The FHA loan program funded the suburban dream
  • School desegregation gave rise to white flight
  • Interstates made commuting possible
  • Rural Electrification made far flung settlements possible
  • Federal Housing projects enforced government ghettos

However one of the most powerful but least understood policies affecting cities and suburbs is the property tax structure.

A couple of illustrative examples make the point.

  • In Barbados, if you don’t paint your house it’s considered under construction and is taxed at a lower value. Therefore there were plenty of unpainted houses in the country.
  • In Philadelphia, houses were taxed by their width; therefore you see a lot of old narrow houses in Philly.

Today, most property taxes are based on the assessed value of a building. This is a progressive tax meant to more heavily tax the wealthy. However, by tying taxes to property value there is a built-in incentive to avoid property improvements. Therefore neighborhoods don’t improve like they might otherwise.

This is bad for both the payer and the collector. It’s expensive to continuously re-assess property values. In fact, it’s so painful, that Trenton rarely does it, making our revenue problem even worse.

Trenton’s property tax rate really hurts

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