PLAINFIELD, NJ — The Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee reported Wednesday on its city budget recommendations to Plainfield council members. A breakdown of code violations and crime statistics, keeping the website current and the development of a volunteer fire group were just some of the suggestions. A member of the Plainfield Rescue Squad, which receives no funding from the city, asked the council for support during public comment.
CBAC Chair Robin Bright said the group met four times to review the entire budget by department, and prepared questions for department heads. She said the committee believes the administration and city council are making a concerted effort to stabilize tax rates. She also noted, “We collectively feel that it would be more advantageous to the process if the CBAC was engaged earlier in the process.” This was echoed by other members later in the meeting.
Bright stated the process should include an in-depth orientation for members to acquire a deeper understanding on the sources of funds included in the budget and all statutory items that must be included in each department’s projected expenses, and to allow for dialogue between members and department heads.
The group recommends an explanation for departments that are being moved and newly created, such as code enforcement and the parking authority.
Goals and objectives should directly correlate with corresponding budget line items “to better understand allocation of funds.” They should also be more transparent and detailed.
“The fact that most council members did not ask any questions during the hearing sets a tone that asking questions is derogatory rather than informative.” She said even if council members are asking questions privately, “it would be helpful and create a picture of involvement in the process if they also asked their questions again in the open forum.”
Bright said Police Director Lisa Burgess talked about state-mandated expenditures for body cameras worn by officers. “The director noted the high costs incurred were due to the purchase of cameras and the software contract to maintain the technology.”
As it is required by the state, the CBAC suggested other towns would also be bound to comply, and suggested a consortium with neighboring police departments for cost savings. Additionally, Bright said, Fire Director Kenneth Childress suggested having cameras installed on fire trucks for safety, and the contracts could be aligned for cost savings.
Recommendations for the Police Department include:
- A breakdown of total crimes for the previous year, as well as by ward. Methods and efforts taken should be detailed.
- A yearly forensic audit should be required for the department to evaluate what needs to be optimized and streamlined concerning budget operating costs.
- All new hires should reside in Plainfield.
- Create new ways the department can connect with the public, increase awareness in the community and create substations.
For the Fire Department, Bright said, recommendations were similar to the Police Department. Additionally, they should:
- Develop and utilize a volunteer fire group to assist the department in non-emergency situations. This group could help teach fire safety to children, help install smoke detectors and perform home safety checks. “This could migrate high overtime costs and physical exhaustion of the current workforce.”
- Develop a stronger CERT — Community Emergency Response Team — program for both adults and teenagers.
On Information and Technology:
- Maintain the website, and keep it current to allow the public to navigate effortlessly, and with a clear understanding of all programs.
- Create a communication plan to encourage residents to participate in civic duties, to help fill empty commission and board seats. “This will encourage more civil activism, improve community relations, and prevent defunct commissions such as the Environmental Commission.”
On Economic Development:
- Conduct community service to understand and determine what residents want and need. “This will allow more alignment with development outreach strategies.”
- Develop marketing strategies to attract big business and corporate flagships.
On Public Works:
- The department should give a breakdown of revenues by violations, and note what the violations were.
- Provide plans to cut costs through shared services with other municipalities.
Recommendations were also made for Corporate Counsel on contracts. The group also advocated for the continued support for the Plainfield Public Library, and said there should be an increased partnership with the library and other city departments.
“For the City Council, the CBAC is recommending that their budget be increased to support an increase in city council salary to possibly hire legislative aides that will help with the day-to-day operations.” Another recommendation was to perform an audit of the council’s roles, responsibilities and salaries.
Another suggestion was to use the city’s website and social media platforms “to create ward-specific platforms, so residents can communicate, collaborate and interact with their elected councilpersons.”
The CBAC panel of residents was made up of the following citizens, with the council members who nominated them:
- Walter Harris, by Councilwoman Ashley Davis
- Victor Harris, by Councilman Sean McKenna
- Robin Bright, by Councilman Charles McRae
- Jacqueline Robinson, by Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome
- Lillian Williams, by Councilwoman Stacey Welch
- Yolanda Smith, by Vice President Barry Goode
- Hugh Thompson, by Council President Steve Hockaday
Captain Vallicia Lowe of the Plainfield Rescue Squad spoke during public comment, asking for the city’s support of EMS services, especially with the city’s anticipated population growth.
“I think that there are a number of things that would have to happen legislatively with regard to the Plainfield Rescue Squad, and its role financially with the city,” Finance Director Ron West said. “It’s something to be looked at going forward. I think the rescue squad should be coming forward with a formal request in terms of what it is that they are looking to the city for, so we can give thought to how that would be done, because that would certainly be in addition to the budget, so it would be something we would have to figure out how to make that work.”
West said the rescue squad has been very beneficial to the community. “If they are looking for support from the city financially that’s something we would have to figure out how to do, and the sooner it’s on the table, the quicker we can get to some sort of resolution.”
Some time ago, the Plainfield Rescue Squad did receive funds from the city. Today, they receive no financial support.
The budget is up for adoption on Monday, May 10 at 7 p.m. You can join the Zoom meeting here.
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