There comes a time when enough is enough. It is past that time right now.
It amazes me that more people are not up in arms over the prospect of a doubling of their taxes. There should be citizens in front of City Hall protesting. I predict there will be, if the City decides to go ahead with a 90% increase in taxes as was proposed by the City Manager at the recent budget meeting. Who can support such a crazy concept?
It is hard from the outside to say exactly what City Hall should do. But raising taxes should not be on the list. Already, real estate sales have plummeted due to high taxes and market conditions. With the current tax structure, a two-family house is actually a single family home. One unit now goes to pay the taxes. Not an ideal situation for an investor; even worse for a new homeowner.
By raising taxes, the expense will be passed along to the tenants. Newburgh could change drastically because the poor would not be able to live here and, unfortunately, Newburgh is not yet desirable to attract higher income renters.
Right now, City Hall should not stop at a quick fix for 2009 and a hope and prayer for 2010. There should be a long-term plan to solve the fiscal crisis that the past five years of malfeasance has brought us.
I would suggest the following "fixes" to our current crisis:
First, create a task force to design and implement a five-year plan to fiscal solvency. This group should include city and county officials, a member of the NYS Comptroller's office, accountants, city planners, an IDA representative and Newburgh residents. This five-year plan should be upheld and continued by any new City Manager that touches ground in City Hall. Hence, change in the City Manager should not affect the plan itself. By 2012, the next five-year plan should be developed and implemented.
Second, disband the economic development department. It has not produced any worthwhile economic development. Instead, a memorandum of understanding should be executed with the Orange County Partnership, and the Newburgh and Orange County Industrial Development Agencies. The agreement should require these agencies to market and sell Newburgh as a viable location for companies and industries to do business. We have two large parcels that need to be correctly marketed: the Pierces Road lot and the Armory on William Street. Both would make excellent industrial parks. Orange County could assist in making them positive development projects that could expand our tax base.
Third, sell all city-owned property and immediately put them on the tax rolls. These properties should be sold for the outstanding taxes, plus any interest and fees. After the sale of said properties, a steady tax cash flow will assist in sustaining future revenue. The city, in the past, has been trying to profit on these buildings and holding them for that purpose. The city is not a developer. Newburgh is a municipality with the purpose of protecting and securing its citizens and maintaining infrastructure to attract new residents and industry.
It boggles my mind that the City is the largest owner of real estate. Currently, our city owns over 300 properties. With foreclosures occurring at a frightening pace, the city could have over 600 properties by 2011. They are quick to grab a property then do nothing with it. These city-owned properties are costing taxpayers too much. The city has no capacity to manage them nor the stomach to evict the tenants. If the city continues to act as a landlord, it will be exposed to potential lawsuits and liabilities. And we all know the city does not handle lawsuits very well.
Before you read on, please note that public safety (police and fire) make up 50% of the city's budget.
Fourth, consolidate the Newburgh City Fire Department with the local volunteer fire districts in the Town of Newburgh. This is no small order. The fire fiefdoms of the township are holding on to their fire district incomes. They have more equipment than our paid firefighters. By consolidating resources, we could actually expand all departments, pay more firefighters and respond more quickly to fires in both municipalities.
Fifth, revamp the entire Newburgh Police Department from the head down. I called for a new police chief in my blog several months ago. In response, I received a two-page, well-written letter from Chief Paolilli defending his tenure. Sorry Chief. But I believe the NPD would be better served with an outsider who has no attachment to the ranks. Someone who will roll heads when drug money is missing or an officer violates the rights of a citizen. A chief who has no tolerance for bad behavior on the part of his officers. We have good men and women in the police force who work hard. Like anyone else, they want to go home alive. And they have a better chance of doing that in a cushy police job in a Westchester County town. But they chose Newburgh.
Consolidating Newburgh PD with township forces or Orange County Sheriffs is a joke. Even the NY State Troopers are out of their element in Newburgh's inner city. Newburgh police are trained in handling our inner city problems, however, we need to expand their ability to operate and effectively patrol the city. We need more cops and cameras. There are federal programs to make this a reality, but the city needs to seek them out.
These are just some ideas that are feasible to save money and reinvent our city government. But it requires innovation, purpose, courage and action. And good relations with Orange County. Our county is the only fiscally responsible municipality in New York State. And Newburgh should take notes.
This year is the first year in the past 12 years that the county will not be plowing Broadway. It was reported to me that we lost this beneficial service because McGrane and Valentine did not know how to keep good relations with county officials. In any event, the county left equipment behind so our DPW can get the job done. But if we cut staff, how will these men and women be able to plow both Broadway and side streets? The side streets have always been poorly plowed because of cars on both sides of the street and potholes. I hope Garrison's department will be able to pull this off. He says he can.
We have a financially ruined city, firemen and police with low morale, and taxpayers unable to bear the burden of higher taxes. Worse yet, we have no leadership. We need to change how we operate and think about our local government. Consolidation can save money and make services more effective. Forming task forces to address issues and take action is better than doing studies that sit on a shelf. The bottom line is we need action. And my campaign is a call for change and a call for action.
It is time to acknowledge that enough is enough. And vote to remove city and county officials who cannot lead us where we need to go. We need financial solvency and we need to rebuild our sense of community.
Please vote for me on Tuesday, November 3. I promise to promote change that will lead to better results!