At-Large Candidates Offer Ideas on City Tax Issues
Saturday, April 28, 2012 • 7:44am
PATERSON, NJ – Patersonians don’t need us to tell them the city has financial problems. You’ve experienced that first-hand in the past year through the whopping increase in your property tax bills, through the reduced response when you called police headquarters for assistance from a force thank sustained substantial layoffs, and through the state-imposed shutdown of afterschool and evening centers that served thousands of Paterson youths.
Resolving Paterson’s fiscal is one of the toughest jobs awaiting the City Council after the May 8 elections. Voters should know where candidates stand on fiscal issues. So PatersonPress.com asked all 21 people running for city council five fiscal questions.
Over the next seven days, we will be posting the responses we received. Today we start with the three-man race for the At-Large seat that had been held by Benjie Wimberly before he vacated it to serve in the state Assembly.
Frank Filippelli and Kenneth McDaniel submitted answers, but Flavio Rivera did not.
PatersonPress: This year, the city council enacted a series of four 25-percent increases in Paterson’s sewer fees. What other measures should the city take to increase municipal revenues? Please be as detailed as possible.
Filippelli: My entire platform is based on Motivating, Educating and Elevating our citizens. As councilman, I am going to push for an aggressive recycling program that will not only get the members of the community more involved but also generate income. Most people do not understand the amount of money that is lost due to an unorganized waste management program. The numbers I am about to use are not precise but close enough to make my point. Only ten percent (10%) of our city recycles, yielding approximately two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000.00) annually. We have to take the time to properly educate our community of homeowners, landlords, private/ public businesses, along with tenants, on the importance of and how to recycle. People will get involved because they’ll understand how much money it will make the city. Together we could generate roughly two million dollars ($2,000,000.00) a year. This isn’t even counting the MILLIONS of dollars we will save on garbage removal. We shell out just about seventy dollars ($70.00) for every ton of trash that is taken away. So something like five and a half million dollars ($5,500,000.00) are hauled off with the trash. I believe collectively we can cut that number almost in half making us another two million dollars ($2,000,000.00), a total of four million dollars ($4,000,000.00) a year. The best thing about creating revenue by recycling: there are no political hurdles/obstacles to overcome. Once the newly revamped recycling program is up and running successfully, with MAJOR community involvement, and people truly understand the importance of their duties, we start to enforce penalties on those that are just too ignorant and lazy to get involved. This will also produce revenue via fines. (Hopefully not much money because I believe everyone will embrace this program if they are thoroughly educated about it). You see recycling isn’t just about saving our planet it saves us money as well.
McDaniel: Paterson stands to benefit if we conducted a complete review of all revenues above and beyond sewer charges and property taxes. All fee based revenues which should be reviewed annually. The strategy would be to compare the costs related to generating each stream of revenue. The objective would be to reach a fee that allows the City to break-even for after providing the service(s). Every department that charges fees for services should assign at least one person to compiling the costs of the services performed/provided. In this way, all personnel within the department begin to associate their own responsibility in how cost-effective their particular unit is. Example:
The Police Department charges a fee for copies of accident reports. It is quite probable that the cost of providing copies has not been calculated. Also, the person(s) preparing the copy haven’t been required to think in terms of how much of their time is used performing the task and therefore how much it costs the City to produce accident reports as a service. Subtle change like this, it could also lead to productivity improvements, thereby making each department run leaner and more cost efficient. Ideals like this, when used throughout the City, will help Paterson save money.
PatersonPress: In 2011, the city laid off almost 400 employees. What’s your opinion on the size of Paterson’s municipal workforce? Should there be additional cuts? Should it stay where it is? Should more people be hired? If you think there should be cuts or additional hires, please say which departments you're talking about.
McDaniel: I believe that the City presently has a workforce of approximately 1,600 employees. The City should explore costs-savings associated with returning part-time employees back to work in order to avoid overtime costs due to using full-time laborers on a daily basis. One example of where this exploration and analysis might benefit the City is in the Recycling Division. Please note that the City’s Recycling program generates revenue for the City. So, there is an opportunity to save as well as an opportunity to generate additional dollars.
Using part-time employees allows the City to avoid a reduction in costly employee benefits and overtime wages.
The way to avoid reducing the workforce is to increase incoming revenue. We should continue to look for innovative ways to increase revenue and reduce the costs associated with the services performed/provide by the City. We must explore every possible opportunity, including but not limited to shared services agreements that are designed to save on costs while delivering high quality services.
Filippelli: Once I am elected, I really need to look deeper into our work force. It is difficult to talk about departments that I’m not completely knowledgeable about at this time. I feel that managing a city is like running a business. You need an adequately sized work force to accommodate the work load. I am not a fan of reduction in personnel, especially when it has already been decreased while the work load has remained the same or expanded. This simply puts more of a burden on those that remain and limits the services of our city residents. I can speak for myself, being unemployed is no fun at all when you have a family to support. All my plans such as the aforementioned one will help produce profits that will stabilize our work force and eventually open opportunities to hire more employees to the city. We are a substantially populated city and we need a generously proportioned work force to match. Working for the city, as in any business, you are hired to produce for the company. To the same extent, as a city worker you are hired to help the city prosper NOT to “milk the system”. I will be at the forefront to support and reward all employees that do the right thing and prepared to educate and motivate the ones that are slacking. I really don’t want to cut any more furthermore we need to strengthen our public safety as soon possible.
PatersonPress: Are there any city services that should be eliminated, reduced or expanded? Are there any new services the city should provide? If you think the city should expand or start new services, how would you pay for them?
Filippelli: Again, once I am councilman, I will research and gain knowledge of the diverse departments. In addition, I will assist and facilitate to find effective ways to enhance each division’s production and function. For starters, I consider our Department of Public Works (DPW) a VITAL department in the progression of Paterson’s future. We need to expand this department and provide a better work environment for all its employees. Services rendered by the DPW impacts the visual representation of our city. We need to keep Paterson a CLEAN, well maintained, municipality to entice companies to establish their businesses here. Keeping this inner-city in good condition will attract more consumers and tourists. Imagine hearing the words, “Let’s go to the Center City Mall in Paterson!” from people living in as well as out of our fine city. DPW is at the forefront keeping our city’s parks, streets, and public buildings safe from hazardous conditions. With a well sustained and equipped DPW this city can save millions on law suits paid out due to neglected and hazardous situations that could have been prevented with a stronger, well-oiled DPW.
McDaniel : One of the first thoughts that come to my mind is for the City to aggressively pursue all types of grants that are available to provide for all or a portion of costs of services. The best strategy would be for each department to assign one or more employee(s) to research and report on grant opportunities. These grant opportunities should be considered alternative revenue generating sources. Grants are available from Passaic County, the State of New Jersey and the Federal Government. This process, coupled with the objective of finding shared services with other local governments, could eventually lead to certain departments achieving an adequate level of self-sustainability, meaning the revenue generated by the department becomes commensurate with the cost associated with running the department.
PatersonPress: Are there services that should be privatized or provided through joint service agreements with other government entities? Which services? Please discuss your ideas in as much depth as possible.
McDaniel: As a member of the Paterson Council, I would propose that we initiate a new Committee to review these types of arrangements. This new Committee would be charged with and empowered to investigate and report on existing types of joint or shared service agreements used in other municipalities and to determine if these existing models might be beneficial to our City. One of the main responsibilities of this new Committee would be for the Committee to represent its findings to the Council and the Administration in an effort to propose that the governing body zealously pursue any viable shared service agreements. The areas ripe for this type of exploration and investigation include but are not limited to Community Policing initiatives with neighboring towns, Recycling and Solid Waste Collections with Passaic County and/or the Paterson Board of Education, Inspector services with Housing, etc…
Filippelli: I am a big fan of eventually taking over the waste management contract. Picking up our garbage, with our own trucks, operated by city employees, will create even more funds, allowing the city an opportunity to hire additional help (why not our own out of work citizens). Supervising our individual waste management “IN HOUSE”, permits the city the ability to bid on other town’s waste pick up, for example Prospect Park, Haledon and additional bordering townships. They are all too anxious to put garbage transfer stations in Paterson, not caring how these establishments affect our communities. Now that we have them here let’s take this opportunity utilizing them to Paterson’s advantage. Our fire department presently participates, in mutual aid with the surrounding towns. This is when resources, trucks, engines, and manpower are shared in emergency situations. When elected, I will sit down with the chief of the department to discuss possibilities when this system could be utilized more often.
PatersonPress: Paterson’s tax base is shrinking. Over the past year, more than $260 million in ratables were lost through residential tax appeals alone. What steps should Paterson take to bolster its tax base?
Filippelli: We need to DEVELOP our city. We need to build partnerships with sizeable corporate sponsors like Pepsi, Goya, Doritos, etc. For decades I have listened to Paterson’s claim to fame: only ten (10) minutes from New York City, the third (3rd) largest populated city in the state of New Jersey, fifty two (52) different cultures, and home of Passaic County’s GREAT FALLS! Paterson is a power house with endless possibilities. Our citizens make up a strong work force and consumer base. Factored together all of these attributes show me that by way of the right leadership, corporations will come and invest in our city. We need to promote the area surrounding OUR falls. It’s irrelevant whether this breathtaking cascade resides under national or local control; it remains a magnificent waterfall with Paterson for a home. Investors must be persuaded to promote our tourism with structures similar to an international food court, piano and jazz lounges, sidewalk cafés, hotels, etc. located right there on Mc Bride Avenue. As a result of building these new structures and revamping the old ones we can raise the tax ratable because there are now flourishing businesses present, not empty lots. We can also introduce a tourist tax comparable to what is done at Niagara Falls. Developing a night life in and around the Great Falls will help to implement moving liquor licenses along with liquor establishments out of our suffering neighborhoods, while creating an atmosphere at the Paterson Falls area just like Hoboken’s Washington Street or Manhattan’s 42nd Street. Ideas such as this will attract an entirely new outlook on Paterson and its potential. I’m certain this redevelopment will spread like wild fire throughout our city changing the way our citizens think and live, empowering them and reestablishing pride. I’m also in favor of tax incentives for homeowners rather than businesses. The homeowners that invest money to maintain and/or make improvements to their property get burdened with the cost of building permits. I propose that those fees were waived for the homeowner that wants to make improvements, providing they reside in the dwelling for ten (10) or more years. This would encourage proper work to be done by professionals, rather than cost cutting. Ultimately, property values of homes as well as neighborhoods will increase. People begin to spruce up their homes and city beautification and Paterson Pride ensues.
McDaniel: Paterson is in dire need of advancing the investment of the commercial and industrial property owner in the City. Not only does this secure the ratable base, it should also help to increase employment levels in the City. The City needs to step back and take a look at the big picture and determine what the best steps or best practices that we need to use each and every day to keep our taxpayers solvent. With that approach in mind, I strongly recommend that a new business oriented model for the City’s Master Plan be designed with a strategy to implement serious changes over 1-3-5-7-10 year increments. In that way, the goals and objectives can be measured and realigned, if/when need be.