Michael Clark reports today a portion of the proceedings from last night’s City Council meeting:
It was a crash that everyone saw coming, but no one applied the brakes.
That is how City Council President William Marsh on Wednesday described the city’s collective response to a property revaluation that should have been done in the Reagan era.
The administration and City Council, “we all need to accept a part” of the blame for residents’ panic and anger over the spike in new tax bills they recently received, Marsh said.
Mr. Clark chooses well his words when saying, “It was a crash that everyone saw coming, but no one applied the brakes.” He is right on. There was a chance to take a respite from the government spending festival. City government saw the chance to stop budget increases and drove right past the chance on the “moving the city forward” street.
I remember attending all of the re-valuation town meetings. They were held in three different locations, for the First and Second, Third and Fourth, and Fifth and Sixth Wards. The common refrain from both meetings held at each site was, “we are scared. Lower our taxes and cut the budget.”
Mayor Scott Evans responded to citizens by stating he would do everything he could to lower spending and propose a sound budget. Once the Mayor was back in his office and not in front of an angry town meeting crowd, he proposed a budget just shy of $205 million. Mayor Evans’ proposed budgetary solution to the imminent property re-valuation was to increase the budget 6%.
City Council was aware of the fear that people will have to leave their houses due to higher taxes resulting from their new property valuations. Different Councilmen expressed their self-proclaimed vigilance on behalf of property taxpayers. City Council was not going to continue with the usual process of near-perpetual budget increases. City Council was really going to act this time to cushion the blow of the property re-valuation. At least that is what they said.
There was one glimmer of hope. Councilmen Dennis Mason and George Tibbitt told public safety departments that they would not receive the full increases in funding they desired. Both Councilmen stressed their solidarity with public safety, but also stressed that the taxpayers simply could not afford the increases that those departments desired. The handful of fiscal conservatives left in Atlantic City argue that those Councilmen did not cut enough, but we are thankful for the little bone we were thrown.
City Council lessened Mayor Evans’ desired 6% increase and settled for 4%. After all of the talk about city government standing side-by-side the property owners, they quietly passed an increased budget. City Council and the Mayor did not give property owners a break. Not even in the year of the re-valuation.
The surprising part is not that city government added insult to injury by raising the budget the same year as a long overdue re-valuation was conducted. Fiscal irresponsibility has a long-standing heritage in Atlantic City. The surprising part is how well taxpayers have taken the one, two punch (budget increase and re-valuation). Today’s Press of Atlantic City is one of the few mentions of public unrest over their increased tax bills.
City government missed their chance to lower the budget, or at least hold it steady, during the year of the re-valuation. It is bad that city government does not cut spending. It is worse that taxpayers have been conditioned and are not outraged by the behemoth city budget.