Mayor Jackson gave his state of the city address last night. He highlighted quite a few things the city is doing and congratulated his staff on their hard work. What he did NOT do, nor has any Mayor of Trenton in the last 15 years done, is to give numbers that back up successful results.
Several years ago, the Fix Trenton’s Budget Committee which I led, agreed on 5 basic measures of goodness for a city. Since then I have been reporting on these indicators as an objective way to gauge our progress in Trenton. It’s not enough, to say we did something, or are working on something or want something to happen. Rather, the results are what matter.
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 slightly up but murders were down
The 2015Uniform Crime Report represents 18 months of Mayor Jackson’s tenure.
- Uniform Crime Reports for 2015 are 3048
- This is an increase from 2014 of 3%
- Murders were down from 32 in 2014 to 17 in 2015
Holding the rate steady would give the City a C, but since the murder rate declined so drastically I’m giving it a B.
Source: NJ State Police
Trenton is losing population
Trenton’s 2015 census estimate is 84,225 residents. This is a slight decline of from 2012’s estimate of 84,349.
Losing population is a crippling situation to be in. It implies that our economy is shrinking, we’re not a desirable place to live and that our property values are going down. Since 2010 Trenton’s population has decreased -.8% while New Jersey’s has increased 1.9%. In a growing state, Trenton is shrinking.
For continuing to lose population in growing state, Trenton gets a D.
Source: US Census Bureau
Graduation rates have improved
The Trenton school district’s 2015 graduation rate was 68.63%. This is an improvement over 2014’s dismal graduation rate of 52.95%
Just about 2/3 of Trenton kids are graduating now. That sounds better but still 1/3 don’t graduate high school which is appalling and continues to explain the high level of lawlessness in the city.
It can be argued that fixing the schools isn’t a prerequisite for revitalizing the city. The easiest target market for new residents is the millions of people without kids. However, failing schools don’t help.
For a big jump in graduation rates though, Trenton gets an A.
Source: NJ Dept. of Education
Incomes in Trenton are down again
Median Household Incomes in Trenton are down again to $35,647 (2014 numbers) from $36,662 (2013). These are the latest numbers we have but represent a disturbing trend in Trenton. Not only are we losing people, but evidently we’re losing higher income people. This is disastrous for an economy that is largely based on retail spending. Furthermore, 28% of people in Trenton live in poverty.
New Jersey’s median household income is more than double Trenton’s at $72,062.
For having shrinking incomes, a 3rd year in a row in a wealthy state, Trenton gets an F.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Tax Base is down
Trenton gets an “incomplete” on this grade as it no longer bothers to publish its tax base information on the city web site. The version published there is almost 2 years old. So I went digging for another source and found our tax base (for 2015) published on the Dept. of Community Affairs web site. It gives our tax base as $1,996,653,658 (just under $2B). This would be down from the $ 2,036,287,800 I reported last year based on the January 1, 2015 City Tax list.
As we can see the numbers are inconsistent, but since they’re all that are available, I surmise that our tax base has in fact shrunk. To fix Trenton’s budget we need to be adding roughly $100M a year in taxable properties instead we lost $40M in value.
As a comparison, Hamilton’s tax base is over $5B and tiny Princeton’s is over $6B.
For a shrinking tax base that will lead to higher taxes I give Trenton an F.
Source: Department of Community Affairs
Is the city turning around? Nope!
- We’re in pretty much the same situation we were in last year
- There are some development projects but they aren’t paying taxes yet
- People are still moving away.
That’s not progress.