It is a truism that, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.”
And so it is with Trenton. We don’t know where we’re going, and so far, it’s pretty clear we haven’t gotten anywhere good.
Ask five Trentonians what their goals for the city are and you’ll likely get five different answers. Try asking 7 city council members. Or, try getting an answer from our Mayor at all.
Leadership is painting a vision and lacing it with measurable goals.
To miss-quote John F. Kennedy – “We choose to go to somewhere in space in the future”. Not much of a call to action is it.
As a community we don’t have a common set of goals that represent our vision and drive our mission to revitalize the city. We need that. We need our leaders to be thoughtful about how our policies and our budget are used to achieve goals. We can’t do everything, so being clear on the things we must do is job #1.
It’s hard set measurable goals
Goals are meaningless if you can’t recognize when they’re accomplished. Too many people forget this. A goal doesn’t help if you can’t measure achievement, or the progress towards achievement.
Every meaningful Goal has an outcome, and the challenge to writing meaningful goals is drafting a clear, precise, and measurable outcome.
To oversimplify, which goal stated below is meaningful?
- To keep the citizens of the City safe from fire.
- To keep citizens safe from fire by maintaining first engine response time to less than 3 minutes.
Note that meaningful Goals often describe an action or activity [although not always], but they always describe outcomes that are clear, precise, and measurable.
Think about measurement. How would I measure this? Can I accurately count the number of times something happens? Will I know when something happens? Can the administration cook the books?
These are all questions we need to ask ourselves.
Broad health goals set the agenda
For Trenton we have four basic concerns: We want our city to be safe from crime, for our children to be educated, for the city to be a pleasant place and for our government to be affordable. These concerns are not only interrelated but spill-over into every other part of life in the city.
Bad school environments breed crime, which makes us feel unsafe. When we feel unsafe we want to hire more police, which costs money we don’t have. However, if we don’t reduce crime we’ll not attract the new investment that would help us pay for a police force and a good school system.
Four broad goals can serve to focus us and our government policy on these concerns.
Ratables: Goal is $2.1B. in 4 years
That’s a 10% increase over the current $1.9B. Source: City tax rolls.
Ratables are what drive property taxes. In Trenton our property tax pays for 15% or our total municipal and school budget. The average for New Jersey is 50%. The State of New Jersey is under increasing pressure to decrease its funding to Trenton and we’ll need to make up the difference. However, to be a great city, we need to have a tax base that does more than maintain minimum services as we’re doing now.
Today the State of New Jersey funds $285M of Trenton’s school and municipal budget. If State property were taxed like private property, it would pay only $45M. Clearly we exposed to tightening budgets at the state level.
Ratables are measured in Trenton by the tax assessor and the tax roll is maintained by Trenton’s tax office. While property assessment is generally a well disciplined art, Trenton will need to update its processes and regularity for property value assessment.
Population: Goal is 90,000 people in 4 years
That’s up from 84,913 in 2010. Source: US Census – ACS
Growth in population shows that our city is appealing to outsiders. If we’re attracting people we’ve been successful in making the city livable for existing residents but we’re more attractive to businesses as well.
Population in Trenton is measured by the US Census bureau with a hard count every 10 years and an accurate estimate every year via the American Communities Survey.
Crime Index: Goal is a 20% decrease in one year, 40% in four years.
That’s from 3851 crimes in 2010. Source: Uniform Crime Report
The Uniform Crime report and FBI Crime Index report crime in a standard way and is a widely used statistic for assessing a community’s safety.
Graduation Rate: Goal is 90% graduation rate in 4 years
That’s up from the rate of 78%. Source: NJ DOE
Educators will argue over the use of this statistic but then fail to provide an alternative single measure for the health of a school system. A school system’s overall graduation rate, while not a perfect measure, is a good indicator of success and has the virtue of being well understood by the public. Furthermore, graduation from high school is a solid predictor of a student’s future success in life.
I hope that by publishing these four goals and our current state of affairs. We, as a community can begin to discuss them honestly. Perhaps we’ll change the targets up or down a bit, but in the end we need goals on which we can agree.