It’s Not My Fault – Leadership in Trenton

The theme for last night’s City Council Special Session on the budget was, “The mess we’re in isn’t my fault”.

The administration officially proposed a budget that raises property taxes by almost 20% which would make Trenton’s rate by far the highest in NJ.

The Mayor spoke first.  Let me summarize.

  • The State doesn’t give us enough money given that they occupy a lot of land in Trenton
  • The national economy is bad
  • The petitioners that are fighting to have a public referendum on the sale of the suburban portion of Trenton Water Works are blocking a fix to the budget.

City Council asked a few questions mainly

  • Why don’t you give us a 5 year plan – Annette Lartigue
  • I’m not happy about this – Manny “The Grandstand” Segura

I take exception that our situation has been beyond our control

  • The city’s budget and economy has been a problem for years.  Yet, as Ms. Lartigue suggests, there’s never been a real plan to fix it.  I wish she’d demanded it 5 years ago. I pointed out to Council and the admin two years ago that a minor retrenchment in state funding would cause a severe tax hike.  Nothing happened.
  • It’s always been the case that the economy might go south, yet during the boom years our Mayor was literally encouraging sub prime loans in Trenton.
  • The Mayor and City Council did the wrong thing by not letting the Water Works sale go to a vote, and now it’s backfired.  What were they afraid of?

The administration is guilty here but Council has blame; as they have an obligation to be guardians of our budget.

  • At any point, they could have forced the issue of a 5 year plan for revitalization.
  • At any point, they could have appointed a citizen’s commission (which might have included the petitioners) to review the budget and recommend fixes.
  • At any point, they could have asked the administration, who claims they’ve been planning to sell the Water Works for 10 years, to sell the idea to the public.

Council did none of these things until last night (2/23/2010), just as the citizenry is about to be very angry about a catastrophic tax increase one month before an election.  An election, by the way, which finds three of the council members running for mayor and everyone else leaving office.

I’m not the only one that feels let down.  However, I’m not giving up quite yet and I have a plan.

I am forming a citizens group to review the Trenton budget and develop a way forward. I ask economically-minded citizens to get involved by emailing me at

We won’t wait for approval, rather we’ll band together to lobby for a revitalization minded budget that works to not just cut services to avoid bankruptcy, but serves to make Trenton great again. I’m busy and wish I didn’t have to do this but like many Trentonians, my property tax bill will for the first time be higher than my mortgage.  What’s worse, this structural deficit and resulting tax policy will push away investment in Trenton, which will further deflate the value of my property.

A group of citizens is doing this in Princeton and is having some effect.

I can’t afford not to bring my business background to bear on this problem.  I hope thoughtful Trentonians will join me.

We’ll review the budget, decide what’s important for investment and what should be cut.  We’ll create our own 5 year strategy. Then we’ll present our recommendations VERY publically.  If enough of Trenton’s citizens can help, we’ll be a formidable force.  Hopefully, the administration and council will welcome our help.

While our elected officials should be accountable for our economic problems, we’re all to blame.  Let’s take our role as citizens seriously and fix this.

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