Tag Archives: Vanaman

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Gov. Christie just tweeted, “I want everyone to take a moment today to take a deep breathe, appreciate where we are, & know we are all not whole until the job is done.” Um, to think we paid someone else to tweet that touchy-feely self-help. Very presidential, eh? . . . Dave Vanaman is touting keeping the tax rate stable as a reason to vote for him for City Commission. No disrespect sir, but the budget isn’t exactly your responsibility as the Public Safety Director. If taxpayers accept that, then we have to say Derella did a good job, but he didn’t. Tout what you have done in your area, which you did not . . . The problem with The Daily Journal’s paywall is that citizens cannot get the information they need to vote. Apparently the paper posted video and an interview with each candidate for City Commission. I cannot watch because I don’t pay. Part of me says a business can do what it likes. Another part of me says a citizen is supposed to be served by the Fourth Estate since it is granted privileges that I provide . . . When a candidate can express “The Route 55 project will bring more people to the Cumberland County area, including the New Jersey Motorsports Park on Millville, the lawmakers say,” then the opposition hasn’t done a good enough job presenting NJMP in a negative light. Obviously, Sen. Van Drew doesn’t want my vote because the last thing I want is more people at the noise maker . . . “We don’t know why corporations don’t want to relocate here.” Well, how about crime and the poorly-educated populace . . . the federal government shut down for 16 days recently. No one mentions it. For one thing, everybody ended up getting paid. President Obama’s failed policies overshadow the fact that few were inconvenienced when government was shut down . . . My son just showed me the Target catalog. He circled all the toys he wanted. The running total was ~$3,600 . . .

A Deal for Whom?

The Daily Journal is reporting that a deal has been reached between NJMP and the Millville City Commission. It appears that NJMP will be able to build a noisy ATV track on land closer to my home. The city will get nothing. What kind of deal is that?

Oh, NJMP will change the direction of its loud speakers and turn them off during the club races. That is not the noise I hear at my house. NJMP will change the start times for some races. Again, that does not affect the noise I hear at my house.

Finally, NJMP

also agreed to make a “good faith effort” with clubs to reduce noise emissions.

What? This means nothing.

NJMP co-owner Joe Savaro stated:

We do have noise that disturbs some folks, but it’s minor compared to the benefit we’ve brought in.

Translation: We don’t care about you.

Commissioner Finch and the rest of the “Noise Committee” were out-negotiated. This is what happens when amateurs run things. The city conceded to what NJMP wanted. The city got nothing in return. Nothing!

My solution? Right now each and every City Commissioner is a “Hell No” for re-election. Each one. They are unfit to represent the residents of Millville.

I can’t wait to see these politicians explain once again how they will monitor the noise and look after us. It is clear that Finch, Quinn, Derella, Vanaman, and Shannon are incompetent.

Quid Pro Quo But for Whom?

Quid pro quo is an exchange that is supposed to be even. “I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.” In the political world that has taken on pejorative connotations. Politicians are not supposed to work in that fashion, although I certainly see a place for it at times.

There’s a case of it happening right here in Millville. Protecting their investment, the Millville City Commission is negotiating with the New Jersey Motorsports Park. That’s probably backwards; NJMP wants something and is leading the city politicians around by the nose.

An agreement that was going to revolutionize the ratable base in town, put people to work, and generally lift Millville up to heaven brought a racing track to town. That agreement had the owners of the track being able to option a piece of land from the city to build an ATV track.

NJMP has not been successful thus far. It is hemorrhaging money. It is so bad that it needed the taxpayers to float $400,000 for operating expenses this year. Never heard about that? Yeah, the local papers aren’t much on reporting bad news about NJMP since it advertises so heavily.

In an effort to bolster its revenue sources, NJMP has decided that if it could build the ATV track on land it already has, it can save the million dollars or so it would need to spend to buy the land in the agreement. So it decided to go back to the lap dog City Commission to get permission.

While bringing no tax benefits to the city, it has brought plenty of noise. What was hailed as a low din that wouldn’t be noticed, has been an in-your-face noise generator. It culminated a few weeks ago with its racing to midnight. That even got some of the fence sitters ticked to the point of complaining. Ticked off taxpayers complain to the City Commission.

Politicians know they sometimes actually have to do something. It can’t all be about themselves as they can’t be re-elected if they don’t occasionally do something. The noise issue has been enough of an issue that commissioning a couple reports and stonewalling hasn’t been enough to appease those whom they need votes from. They actually formed a committee!

Unfortunately, that committee is more of pushing things around on the table kind than anything with teeth. The local paper reported on the quid pro quo that the committee has put forth.

Finch [Millville City Commissioner Dale Finch] stated the committee would ask how NJMP officials would be willing to address resident complaints if the commission decides to reopen the development agreement to allow the ATV track.

There you go. Do something about the noise to get the taxpayers voters off our backs and we’ll grant you the right to build the ATV track on the land you already own.

Of course, Millville loses in this deal. We won’t get the money from the sale of land that was already agreed to. That land was further away from the town’s residences.

And what faith can taxpayers/voters have that this committee will negotiate anything good? The first round got us a track that has negatively affected our homes. Local politicians are no match for the corporate track owners and their lawyers.

The committee formed is filled with many of the same folks who were on board when NJMP first came. The rest are politicians. Only Commissioner Vanaman lives in an area affected by the track. No one from the public was part of negotiating team.

When Commissioner Quinn and Mayor Shannon have to abstain from votes regarding NJMP because they are so entrenched with them, that leaves but 60% of the City Commission to do the people’s business. Dale Finch, career politician with huge Democratic ties to others who are on the Green Flag Committee at NJMP, may not have our interests front and center. Commissioner Vanaman has a horse in this race, but I am not convinced he has the clout to steer the committee. He didn’t get the general public involved, did he?

Consider me skeptical with the prospects that a good deal was negotiated on behalf of those affected.

Symposium 2010: Removing the Road to Jericho

10-07-01 Symposium 2010: Removing the Road to Jericho

Last evening there was a program to address some of the issues Millville is facing. Hosted at In His Presence Worship Center, a panel that included Millville Commissioner Finch, Pastor Ennis, Pastor Wilkins, Prosecutor Webb-McCrae, Bridgeton Councilman Surrency, Freeholder Thompson, and Millville Housing Authority Executive Director Dice. The panel was moderated by Jill Lombardo-Melchiore of Cumberland County College.

Mayor Shannon and Commissioner Vanaman also addressed the audience. Commissioner Derella was in attendance.

The symposium was billed as addressing the quality of life in the city. It remained positive, but nothing was resolved. Nothing was planned.

Mr. Dice spoke well about Section 8 housing. There are but 16 Section 8 housing vouchers in the Third Ward and about 45 in Center City. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Those are only Millville’s vouchers. Vouchers from other communities or states could populate the rest of the residences and Mr. Dice would have absolutely no idea. He said 20-some of Millville’s vouchers are in Laurel Lake. He can only track Millville’s vouchers. It seems to me that some agency/system should be able to spit out a list of how vouchers in all reside in Center Center. Shouldn’t HUD be able to produce that list?

Melissa spoke intelligently about being a recipient of a Section 8 voucher. A former drug addict and mother of nine recently wrote a letter to ask to be removed from the program. She is now self-sufficient.

Millville’s problems are multi-faceted. Many of those issues were discussed last evening. It was interesting to see where each member of the panel stood. I did not agree with all that was spoken, but I do believe each is sincere in his point of view.

The following is the entire evening’s discussion. Discussion isn’t the right word as there was little discussion. Bloviating is too loaded of a word. How about: the following is what happened. You decide the merits.

Dot . . . Dot . . . Dot . . . Millville Edition

I didn’t read the BEN column today. It’s not a regular read unless some keywords show up in my Google Alerts. Anyhow, I missed the announcement that Jeff Van Drew had canceled his attendance at Millville First’s meeting. So there I was. They held a meeting anyhow. I figured I might as well stay . . . Commissioner Vanaman confirmed that no Commissioner (or part-time employee) receives a stipend in lieu of health benefits. Bravo! . . . He also mentioned that 17 slash titles have been eliminated. He estimated the savings was about $60,000. Slash titles are the extra titles some city employees have that garner a stipend on top of the employee’s salary. Another bravo! . . . A deal is in the works that will save all police and fire positions with no tax increase to Millville property owners. If this comes through, I will be a very happy camper . . . I am still confused as to what the Recreation Department does. Apparently there will still be an employee in the department despite there being no recreational activities . . . The big news is that NJMP apparently is low on cash. They approached CCIA (the dump) to help them re-finance their $40 million debt. Talks are ongoing behind closed doors . . . Meanwhile, $425,000 was had from the Cumberland County Empowerment Zone for “offseason operating expenses.” The loan is written that it will be paid back in a year with interest until the impending CCIA loan comes through. There is also language in the Empowerment Zone deal that states if NJMP can’t repay in a year, the loan will be extended to a decade. Go figure . . . I also learned that RAD was started with $8.3 million of borrowed money. Millville is still paying the vig on that loan . . . It was discussed that 65% of the municipal budget goes to public safety. Obviously such a large percentage makes it difficult to cut from other areas . . . Vanaman rattled off seven officers who will be retiring or leaving within the next year. He stated that was why he is adamant no others are cut. That’s commendable, but the room was clear: whatever as long as there is no tax increase . . . There was some discussion about a hold-up with the stop light being installed on the east end of town . . . there was an older couple who cracked me up. The lady was 81 and indicated that the new high school was inconsequential when it was announced that it wouldn’t be built until at least 2016 (if at all). She dismissed it, “I’ll be gone by then.” Her husband agreed . . . I reckon there were at least 30 folks there . . . I questioned Vanaman regarding the noise study. He said there would be movement very soon on that. I reminded him that we had been hearing that for some time. He indicated there was a deal being brokered. I don’t have a lot of hope for a good resolution, but we shall see . . . It was an interesting meeting . . .

Bad Politics

For a few years I left the classroom to be a technology coordinator for my school district. It was a job I enjoyed and at which I excelled. All the while, I knew my position was always tenuous. It’s not that my work wasn’t appreciated, it was that funds to pay for the position came from the state via the Abbott decision. Any reasonable person could see that those funds would dry up at some point. When they did, the position would be eliminated. When money began drying up with flat funding from Trenton a number years ago, out I went.

For years municipalities have funded police and fire employee salaries with Urban Enterprise Zone funds. Districts are created that permit businesses with more than 20 employees to charge half the state income tax on purchases and services. The sales tax is then kept in the community. That money is then used to help businesses. I wrote about UEZ four years ago.

Millville has been using some of those UEZ funds ($500,000 annually) to fund police and fire officers. Now that funds are tight (UEZ funds have been commandeered for the balance of the year by state government), Millville is faced with how to pay these officers.

With no UEZ funds available for the salaries, the only other “revenue” Millville has is the general fund. That fund has been promised to be flat this year by the City Commission. No one wants to raise taxes in this climate. Indeed, it would be political suicide.

So, Millville is faced with losing nine police employees. The police union is understandably not pleased:

“We’re willing to work with the city,” he said. “They’re putting the deficit all on the city employees. I don’t want to see the department go down the drain.”

That is certainly not fair! Reasonable people could see that if these funds ever dried up so would the salaries. It is that time.

Who is responsible for funding the salaries through UEZ?

No one desires reducing our public safety. The number of shootings in town just this week gives residents pause.

The thing is, raising taxes to make up for the bad politics that created this situation is not a reasonable solution. Funding salaries out of UEZ money may have been legal and expedient, but it wasn’t smart. The town is now in a bind. It is wrong to frame the issue as an either/or scenario even if that is how it is played out.

Again, who created this situation?

Last spring Commissioners Quinn and Derella touted their 12 year legacy as to why they should be re-elected. Likewise, Mayor Shannon spoke of his eight years in office. Together, the “Three Js” represented incumbency. Guys, if you want the accolades for what you did, you need to take the heat when it fails. Funneling UEZ funds for salaries has now caught up with you. I agree with your no tax increase stance. The flip side, however, is that you cannot take credit for the increased public safety force since it will decrease.

Perhaps these decisions reach back to when Mr. Finch was previously a commissioner. Does anyone know?

Unfortunately for Millville, Commissioner Vanaman, who up until now was perceived to be the fiscally responsible member, has come out in favor of at least a 6.5¢ tax increase to rectify the bad politics of his colleagues. As much as we desire all our police and firefighters, there is no justification for raising property taxes this year. This stance of his hurts his credibility in my eyes.

I want a strong police force and fire department. Funds should be permanent to support those departments. Making decisions to use tax “revenue” specially designed to generate business is not smart. This isn’t a new issue; we have all seen this coming.

Hold the decision-makers responsible.

Balancing Millville’s Budget

Let’s make this clear: Commissioner Vanaman is wrong.

“I understand that we want to get to zero tax increase, but I want to throw it out there and ask if the public would not mind a 3-cent tax increase to avoid a cut to safety,” said Vanaman. “We’ve got a warm summer coming up.”

I have been hard on Commissioner Derella. But from what I can tell about this week’s Commission meeting, Derella, Quinn, Finch, and Shannon led the way while Vanaman encouraged spending. There is something seriously wrong with this scenario.

Mr. Vanaman, there is no more money for anything regardless of the cause. Not for the children. No for the police. Not for fire. Sorry.

UEZ
I do not understand what the City Commission is thinking regarding its proposals to fund police officers and firefighters from UEZ money. While I am sure there are loopholes, language, whatever that permits this, it certainly does not fit with the spirit of the program.

The UEZ Program was created to foster an economic climate that revitalizes designated urban communities and stimulates their growth by encouraging businesses to develop and create private sector jobs through public and private investment.

Sure, more police officers foster a healthy climate for the economy, but is that what is intended?

This “free money” is hypnotic. We all know the money train will not flow forever. Using this to fund salary is not good economics. When the money dries up, the funds for that salary disappear. Then we are placed in the difficult position of trying to save jobs. If the money were used for capital, then there is no ongoing costs as there are with salaries. Even so, I challenge whether or not capital fits with the UEZ mission.

Abbott districts have gone through this same issue. When the funds dried up, so did the jobs. Four years ago my job was eliminated as funds shrunk.

Recreation Department
Mayor Shannon, the self-professed Mayor of Fun, took a hard line during this week’s Commission meeting. In refuting Vanaman’s desire not to lay off any police officers, Shannon stated:

“The governor talked about shared sacrifice, and that means across the board,” said Shannon. “I know, for my part, I’ve been accused of wasting money on activities and concerts for children. Well, those are all cut, and we’ll see how people like how these activities for kids have been cancelled.”

If all the activities have been canceled and Union Lake is closed, just what is there for a Recreation Department to oversee? Yes, there are athletic fields, but really, maintenance is capable of keeping them in good shape.

What is the case for not laying off the recreation superintendent and anyone else paid in the department?

I am a bit confused about closing the lake. Last year when when Liz Nicke closed Union Lake, she paid folks to man the beach to inform the public the beach was closed. Apparently, that was needed then, but not now. It seems this week’s actions confirm money was squandered last summer. Fancy that!

Benefits for Part-Timers
Commissioner Derella took a big step forward in my book by announcing he would forgo health benefits from the taxpayers. It would be even better if he confirmed he will not gobble up the $4200 stipend for opting out.

Now, what about the rest of the Commission? Who else is going to man up?

It seems like the City Commission is moving in the correct direction regarding spending. I applaud that. There is still room for improvement, but thank you Commissioners Derella, Quinn, Finch and Mayor Shannon. Keep up the good work.

Millville’s Expensive Parking Space

Millville Rescue Squad

Last summer it was reported that Millville pays the rescue squad $58,000 annually to park the mobile police vehicle, a fire truck, and have an office in the building on Cedar Street. That’s $4,800+ per month to park two vehicles inside and have an office. The thinking is to have services available to residents (me) on this side of the city.

While public safety is indeed important, Millville is not exactly a booming metropolis. $58,000 to park two vehicles inside to be closer seems nonsensical. The mobile police unit is mostly used at events held along High and Buck. Parking that vehicle at the rescue squad means it is further away from where it is usually used. Furthermore, why does this vehicle need a roof over its head? There is plenty of parking at the “Municipal Center”. There is police oversight 24-7 at the “Municipal Center”. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for luxury garage parking?

Why does the city need to house the emergency management office at a satellite location? The “Municipal Center” seems the appropriate location for an office. Farming out the location at this high cost seems an easy cut to benefit the taxpayers.  And why does the rescue squad have rooms to rent?  If the building is too big, did taxpayers build too large of a building?  I do not recall being told our tax dollars were funding a building that more tax dollars would need to rent.  Do you recall that?

A fire engine could be helpful at a remote location. Surely, $58,000 to park a vehicle is too much for that service. Doesn’t Millville run the rescue squad? Why are taxpayers paying to park a vehicle in a building it paid to build?

The normally fiscally-responsible Commissioner Vanaman stated he would not back out of the deal citing public safety. He did state he was looking at alternatives to this arrangement. This was back on 2 July.  That was 167 days ago.

On Tuesday the City Commission voted in favor of the budget, which includes an 8¢ per $100 assessed value increase in property taxes. Commissioner Vanaman voted in favor of the budget.

Is there any money included in the budget to continue to park these vehicles at the rescue squad?