PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield’s Citizens Budget Advisory Committee has now heard from all three city departments and will give its recommendations on the 2018 budget on May 7.
The committee heard budget requests from Public Works & Urban Development last week and Public Affairs & Safety plus Economic Development on Monday. The presentations by department heads concluded Wednesday with Administration & Finance, which also includes Health, Social Services, and Information Technology.
Public Affairs & Safety Director Carl Riley said his budget, the city’s largest at more than $26 million, will include not only Police and Fire salaries, but also expansion of lighted stop signs to curtail speeding, and repairs to police and fire stations. The repairs are aimed at passing the final phase of a multi-year accreditation process for police and will also correct deficiencies at fire stations.
Councilwoman Diane Toliver, who advocated for the repairs, said Monday, “I’m grateful.”
Regarding the more visible stop signs, Cathaniel Crum of the Signal Bureau said a formerly dangerous spot on Berckman Street hasn’t had an accident in five months since the flashing lights were installed.
With a mature force, retirements have depleted the ranks of both police and fire divisions and recruits are in training, Riley said. In the Fire Division, he said, “Ten percent can retire right now,” but recruits “will not be operational until 2019.”
CBAC member Elton Armady questioned travel expenses, but Riley said some good courses are held out of state, and at times investigators may need to go out of state.
The department requested $26,107,805 for 2018 and the administration revised it to $26,365,320.
Former Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez, now the city administrator, put his economic development hat back on Monday. His successor, Valerie Jackson, was just named to the post three weeks ago.
Sanchez said another person needs to be added to a team that works to get vacant and abandoned properties back on the tax rolls. With the motto, “educate, instruct, and enforce,” the city is offering workshops on home ownership and upkeep, including help for seniors in need of home repair.
Sanchez the city is also raising fees for cleaning up vacant and abandoned properties.
“That is getting the attention of banks,” he said. “Banks were using the city as their landscapers.”
Other economic development strategies include the use of tax abatements for new development, and attracting new retailers to the downtown. The city will soon be launching a dock-less bike rental program and will once again host a bike race in a loop from City Hall through the downtown, in conjunction with a “Taste of Plainfield” event.
The Economic Development request was for $668,261, which the administration revised to $628,344.
Wednesday’s session featured Finance Director Ron West explaining the work and needs of his department’s myriad divisions, ranging from Municipal Court, Tax Assessor and Tax Collector through Health, Information Technology and Media. Anticipated costs include digitizing paper records and investing in classes for computer skills, Mitchell Humphrey software training, education about city resources, new health partnerships and possible live coverage of City Council meetings. West explained how the city uses grants and outside funding to help residents in need.
Councilman Cory Storch questioned whether the department was duplicating other health resources, but West said, “We are meeting people where they are.”
The proposed AFH&SS budget was $5,396,545, which the administration revised to $5,246,660.
Besides the three departments, other budget categories include the mayor’s office, commissions, insurance, annual celebrations, employee benefits and more. The amount to be raised in taxes is projected to be $57,298,112.68, an increase of $75.65 on the average home assessed at $108,196.
The City Council may amend the budget before adoption in May.