DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Last Thursday, May 18, more than 400 Montclair High students walked out to protest the school district’s $5.5-million budget cut that is causing many teacher layoffs and other ill effects. Comment?

Sincerely,

Rally Tally

Good for those students, who marched to the school district’s Central Office 123 years and a day from when “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” book was first published. Dorothy said, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in budget balance anymore.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

You discussed some possible solutions in last week’s column. Can you mention them again?

Sincerely,

Several Fix Picks

The state could give Montclair more school aid, and also end the 2 percent budget-increase cap at a time when costs are rising much faster than 2 percent. I don’t need to tell you about the higher price of the oil needed to lubricate Tin Man.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Could Montclair hold a local referendum to bypass the cap?

Sincerely,

Working the Ref

Seems allowable, and the Scarecrow could still wear his not-a-cap hat.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

There have also been requests for Montclair’s municipal government to give the school district some of the PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) money it gets from wealthy developers. I understand none of those funds currently go to education?

Sincerely,

Unfairness Doctrine

Not a cent. As the Cowardly Lion said: “I do believe in sharing. I do, I do, I DO!”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

If Montclair officials hadn’t let themselves get fleeced when renewing the deal to provide fire services to Glen Ridge, would that extra municipal money ease the jolt of giving some PILOT funds to the school district?

Sincerely,

Definitely Duped

You betcha. Think of Glen Ridge as our town’s “Auntie,” and think of “Em” as standing for “Extra money.” Then picture the scene if Montclair’s negotiators had insisted on a fair payment: “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Montclair officials — including several Township Council members — have also not been transparent enough in multiple instances. What are they doing to change that?

Sincerely,

Wicked Witch of the Jest

Not much, as the next Q&A will illustrate. Those officials seem to almost think they’re royalty, causing Dorothy to ask Professor Marvel: “Why can’t I go with you and see all the crowned heads of Montclair?”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

The law firm defending Montclair against Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao’s lawsuit (which charges the fired township manager with creating a hostile workplace for women and town officials with retaliation against her) has outrageously asked the court to seal some proceedings in the case. Reaction?

Sincerely,

I’m Melting (With Anger)

A very unusual and disturbing request for secrecy that’s obviously okay with some of our town’s leadership. Montclair’s progressive reputation? “I think I’ll miss it most of all,” said Dorothy.

 

 

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

 

 

19 replies on “MontClairVoyant: Budgetary and Secrecy Meet Oz’s Wizardry”

  1. Oh great, more Glen Ridge boogeymaning.

    Between the CFO’s most aggressive (and unrealistic) projection (10% growth every year), the difference between what GR is paying and what the CFO calculated is 168k in year 1, and is 1 million dollars in year 10.

    Compared to Ms. Rao’s 2nd and 3rd projections, the gap is only ~300-400k in year 10. That’s not going to plug a 5 million budget gap, let alone a decade worth of gaps.

    I’ve reviewed a ton of Shared Services agreements over the last few days, and am curious if folks have a preferred template they want to use, because I haven’t seen one that would support the hopium people are pushing.

    Franklin->Buena’s police deal? Buena doesn’t pay wear and tear, and the Glen Ridge contract covers more of a percentage of Montclair’s personal cost. And Buena got 5 officers hired by Franklin.

    Moonachie ->Teterboro’s police deal? Glen Ridge pays more, and there’s almost no growth in this deal.

    Washington ->Califon Police & Fire? Base cost is about the same when adjusting for size. There’s a little bit of a claw back for increased costs.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Rtadoyle.

    I’m sorry, when Glen Ridge isn’t paying significantly more than it paid years and years ago for fire services from Montclair, and when it’s paying less in 2023 ($850,000) than it did in 2022 ($926,000) at a time of high inflation, it’s grossly underpaying. Have firefighter salaries and the costs of homes, cars, health care, college tuition, etc., dropped or barely increased compared to years ago? Nope.

    While I blame officials in mostly affluent Glen Ridge for duping Montclair officials in the fire-services renewal (including with the talk of an alleged competing bid from Bloomfield), I blame Montclair officials more for being willingly fleeced — and then ridiculously claiming the deal was a good one for Montclair.

  3. It’s going to be a long 15 years.

    Teterboro? Seriously?
    Teterboro has a 2020 census population of 69 people.
    Don’t think it’s relevant here.

    But wait, maybe it might offer a clue.
    You forgot to mention that Teterboro pays Hasbrouck Heights $121 K for the services of its VOLUNTEER fire department. That comes out to $1750 per person, for volunteer coverage. So let’s use that model and now GR should pay us 13 million dollars. Or let’s stop talking about Teterboro.

    But let me be clear, in case you forgot: Montclair does not have a VOLUNTEER fire department. Montclair has a department where we PAY people for the work of being firefighters. We pay them and we provide benefits for them, including health insurance and a pension. We also provide disability coverage for them in case they get hurt, so they and their families do not suffer catastrophic financial losses. I know this is unusual in New Jersey, in the country even, but this is what we, in Montclair do. I know people living in west Essex towns, for example, are entirely unfamiliar with this, but this is what we do in Montclair. And it is what we have been doing for the full 33 years in which Glen Ridge has had the services of the Montclair Fire Department. This is what Glen Ridge had started to do too, years before it joined with Montclair, and knew when they signed an agreement in 1990. It was PRECISELY why GR signed the agreement. You had the trucks and equipment, you needed the people.

    So I am not sure if the news has reached you yet in Glen Ridge, rtadoyle, but when people are providing you professional services, it is traditional to increase the amount that you pay them over periods of time. It is important to continue to provide them health insurance, even when health insurance rates increase by 600% over time. These are things that it is necessary to do. It is a fundamental way you show people that you respect them.

    Both Montclair and Glen Ridge have heavily residential tax bases. And in 2023, the average residential tax payer in Montclair is paying over $1500 toward the professional fire department, and the average Glen Ridge residential tax payer is paying $330 toward the same professional services. Tell me, have you found any deals like that in all of your searches?

    You always want a specific number, so how about this one:
    “GR pays $1.1 million in 2023, with annual increases of 7% to cover increasing expenses, including personnel costs.”

    (Side note: if you balk at 7%, consider that Montclair’s costs have increased an annual average of at least 9% over 30 years—it’s hard to capture all of the costs associated, so that is the minimum)

    This is the EXACT deal Glen Ridge signed in 1990. And the government of GR was THRILLED TO SIGN IT. Absolutely thrilled. (Proportionately to what Montclair was paying then and now, that starting number today would be at least $2.5 million, but I am being generous here and only indexing for inflation, which doesn’t begin to explain the actual increases over 30 years)

    Why was GR so thrilled? Because GR was struggling and very familiar with the ACTUAL COSTS of trying to have a fire department. They had 9 career FF on staff and were told by expert consultants they needed at least 6 more to be less than adequate. So it was well-understood in 1991 that a one-time annual payment of $492,000 was WAY, WAY better than trying to deal with what they had going on. So much AVOIDED COST and hassle. And that was a correct decision for Glen Ridge in every possible way, shape and form. It seems so ironic that it was GR residents arguing so loudly against the deal at the time, doesn’t it? And because some residents of GR were angry and nervous, Montclair does what it has historically done: structured the contract to benefit GR—giving them opt outs along the way, which Montclair has never had. So this is a fatal flaw in this contract since 1990—Montclair has the valuable resource, but Glen Ridge ALWAYS has the upper hand. More recent, modern contracts are never, ever structured the way this Fire Contract is. And you can look at Guttenberg, or Summit, if you are interested in what “smaller” towns with professional fire departments might expect to pay. Glen Ridge is not paying anything close proportionate to population or commercial wealth.

    And that original contract was so good for GR that they renewed it 5 years later without question and then starting in around 2003, things were going great, and what do you know, people started to forget what a great deal they had, because it had been a long time since they had actually had to absorb actual cost of doing the thing that they are paying someone else a nominal fee to do.

    And yada, yada, yada… Sealed bids, pitting towns against each other, secrecy, FEMA rates etc.

    And here we are. With Glen Ridge paying for professional fire services at an adjusted rate BELOW what they paid in 1990. And $120K less in ACTUAL dollars than GR paid in 2011. This is just not how you treat people in the Real World, not if you respect them. What would it cost GR to compensate 9 Fire Fighters today, never mind 16? I assure you, it would not be $850,000.

    But this is not something people in GR have to think about, because they are a small, very wealthy town with the lucky benefit of being wedged between two larger towns that function independently and are willing to share services. So you get to avoid a lot of the costs associated with running a town, including having a fire department, or a water utility. And at least one of the two larger towns is OK with letting them continue to enjoy that privilege.

    So, Rtadoyle, you don’t need to spend your time scouring the web for examples of agreements in teeny-tiny hamlets that have nothing to with professional fire departments. You don’t have to do that because it’s not necessary and you’ll never find it anyway. This argument is played out here on Baristanet. Why don’t you take that $1200 that you have in your bank account that Montclair taxpayers don’t and just enjoy yourself instead? Go on a cruise. Donate to a library or something. Or maybe take it and invest in some software that blocks references to the Glen Ridge Fire Deal, if that’s what you need to do for the next 15 years.

    But you can stop popping on here trying to justify that idea that it is OK that you are paying professional fire fighters less today than you were in 1990. You can search the web for 100 years and you will not find this information. What happened with this agreement is not your fault. That is understood. Just enjoy the money you are saving and move on.

    Dave, as always thanks for your timely, pithy writing and keeping the community informed.

  4. There seems to be a lot of crying over spilt milk. When people vote based on feelings and social justice instead of who could do the job best this is what happens. Like there is separation between church and state it would be prudent to apply the same principal to job description and social virtues. Would Montclair vote for a mayor or councilperson who could whip this place into shape if they were openly conservative? Not on your life! In the meantime enjoy the dysfunction and incompetence. Being woke and socially superior has a price. Don’t complain when the bills come due. Like designer clothes and Nike sneakers you are paying for the “Montclair” label.

  5. You posted a TERRIFIC comment, Eileen. It expertly dissected — with convincing words and convincing statistics — just how lopsided the fire-services deal is in favor of Glen Ridge.

    Many, many Montclair residents appreciate how you keep an eye on the problematic things our town’s elected and unelected officials do — as well as the problematic way those officials don’t do certain things that would be positive. Thank you!

    And thank you for the kind words about my writing. 🙂

  6. Thank you for the comment, flipside.

    Progressive leadership and competent leadership are not mutually exclusive. Montclair has some Township Council members who combine both qualities; the Council just needs more people like that. As well as people with more competence in some of the town’s unelected posts.

  7. “Progressive leadership and competent leadership are not mutually exclusive.”
    I can agree with that as long as the leaders put competency ahead of progressiveness. When I look at Montclair it reminds me of that old chestnut, “the proof is in the pudding.”

  8. “Paying for the Montclair Label.” That’s a great line. Don’t be surprised if you hear people around town using it, me for one, if you don’t mind.

  9. “…the job best…”

    You do realize nobody in Montclair knows what that is?

  10. flipside, competence can be “ahead of progressiveness” (as you say) or roughly equal to progressiveness — as long as there’s competence. 🙂

  11. Thank you for the comment, TooBigToFail. And if people say “paying for the Montclair label” when they’re on Label Street, it would have double the impact. 🙂

  12. Frank, you’re best at the job of putting “…the job best…” in boldface. 🙂

  13. Re: Rao case

    Dave,

    I don’t know what to think. I only know of Ms Rao’s best qualities….which I counted as numerous. Reading about the oral arguments by our legal representation (yes, on our behalf), I understand Ms Rao is to be considered unethical & disloyal. That she used her position for personal gain and to obstruct the business of the people.

    I can trust my instincts or I can put my faith in this Council and that they have the big picture…and know far better than I.

    I’m betting on myself, and…

    … that Ms Rao will not be with us much longer. And Mr Morgan likely has to go, too.

    OK, moving on: Can the parents get a slice of the PILOT pie & can the Council take back responsibility for the school district’s fiscal health?

  14. Someone may want to alert Teterboro that they’re paying 11,600 dollars per resident for police coverage. Or explain that’s not quite how it works.

    You’re the one that harps on Shared Services for a year and a half, and when asked for a template, can’t find one to help educate? At this point I’m skeptical you’ve talked to someone in that area of government.

    Please don’t talk about the feel good ethical businessperson philosophy when you’re not willing to state how many firefighters you want, or propose how you’d get the department budget down. And don’t speak about ethics when you’re teasing shutting off water to a hospital to juice the water contract, which you’ve called fair.

    Speaking of reducing our spend, I noticed the department headcount is about ten fewer then it’s traditionally been. Am I paying for headcount, or am I paying for service?

    Get your data on the fire department, figure out the incremental cost, then start proposing solutions. You’ve failed to do the first two. Please let me know when the OPRA’s get responded to, I’m genuinely interested. I’m totally aware there’s a world where I could be wrong.

  15. Because the BoE and the parents were indulging themselves and performing for their children, some other parts of the Council mtg may have been overlooked. One of my favorite moments was the Council’s public hearing whether to approve the Montclair Center Corp (The BID) Budget.

    The BID’s Executive Director comes up to the lectern and offers up to $10,000 of the BID’s grant money to a pet project of several of the Council members, the Vision Zero safety initiative.

    Note the Vision Zero was a $15,000 line item in the Municipal Budget – the other budget hearing that night. The Council members had no questions and then unanimously approved the BID Budget.

    The amount is not the point. The point is an executive of a public entity regulated by the Council can offer funding, and the Council readily accepts unconditionally, during a key oversight responsibility prescribed by law.

    To me, this is indicative of a breakdown in procedures, checks & balances. I say this because of several other matters where the township and the BID relationship (e.g. roles & responsibilities) and transactions are getting entangled? Or, maybe just a little too freewheeling for my comfort level. Actually, this casually offered money tipped the scale for me. Let’s have our auditor do a serious deep dive into whether we are doing this thing right.
    If we are going to edit the library, I think we can audit the BID.

  16. @MartinSchwartz,
    You were right and I was wrong..and that is not easy for me to type. Let us know when discovery starts in your civil suit and if I can be of any help.

    The BID:
    It is a tax, not an assessment. OK, I let you say you are assessed a tax. Stupid, but I will allow it.

    Parents,
    FYI, the Montclair Center BID budget has been getting, is now getting & will continue to get their cut of downtown PILOT revenue. It’s the law. 🙂

  17. I am forever amazed at Eileen’s in-depth understanding of and reporting on the Glen Ridge fire deal. Eileen, you are incredible and admired by many. Keep up the good work!

  18. Calvin, I completely agree with your comment about Eileen’s superb analysis of the botched Glen Ridge fire deal (and other municipal matters).

  19. Martin,
    You were right and I was wrong..about the BID…and I gave you credit for the whole when it was just the half. Don’t read anymore into this (you right/I wrong) for your other positions.

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