Mayor remains optimistic about current state of city
Any reasonable person would say the nation's economy is struggling, Mayor Jim Cahill said yesterday in his annual State of the City Address. But despite economic times, he said he remains optimistic about the progress that has been made in redevelopment, employment and safety in the city.
Still, he said, the city has been affected by the financial difficulties facing the state and the country.
"[This year] will require us to do more with less to ensure we live within our means and provide services at a cost [residents] can afford," Cahill said.
The market has forced New Brunswick to look at the services the city provides and begin to think about how it will be able to continue funding them, he said.
Each of these services benefits the residents but also come at a cost in tax dollars, he said.
"Every year, we are asked to balance the benefits of every service we provide our residents with the burden their costs place on them," Cahill said.
The budget he proposed to the City Council will increase it's budget by about $2 million by raising property taxes $187 per homeowner, he said.
Cedric Goodman, a city homeowner and lifelong resident, said he was concerned about the proposed tax increase and some of the development projects in his neighborhood.
"I am not receiving the benefits of the increase," said Goodman, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
One advantage of the increase is that the city will maintain all existing programs, Cahill said.
"Our goal in every year's budget is to increase services," he said.
Additions to city services might not be possible this year, but Cahill said they tried to maintain all services in place because of the time and work it takes to establish them.
Despite the additional funding from taxpayers, legislators in Trenton cut aid to the city by $1.2 million, which brings the current state funding level to less than it was in 1991, he said.
The state has also required the city to contribute an additional $1.4 million toward the Police and Fire Pension Fund and an extra $200,000 to the Public Employees Pension Fund for 2008. The money will go toward a deficit in both funds.
This follows last year's combined $1.2 million increase for the funds. In the past, the regular contribution has been about $2 million but has more than doubled in the past two years, Cahill said.
The city would also face about $1.3 million in salary increases for 2008 if the number of employees were the same as last year.
Furthermore, he said, the cost of free health care provided to city employees in 2007, would increase about 19 percent, or $1.8 million, he said.
In total, New Brunswick will receive about $6 million in increases to the city's budget. The average homeowner would face a $533 rise in property taxes, before factoring in the increased city costs for materials, gasoline and utilities.
"This is unacceptable," Cahill said.
In order to reduce city cost, Cahill said the proposed budget calls for the elimination of 25 full time positions and 10 part time positions. This will cut about $1.2 million from the city's expenditures.
The majority of the cuts will be employees who have resigned or retired. The three remaining positions to be cut will not involve police officers or firefighters, though some officers have retired, Cahill said.
"In difficult times, people step up, and I know our city employees will step up," Cahill said after the address.
The city is also working to negotiate employee contributions to health insurance for its employees, which could save more than $500,000, Cahill said.
Despite the budget cuts and tax increases, Cahill said the city is continuing to progress.
"Every [year], I have been proud to announce dramatic improvements taking place throughout our city," Cahill said. "Despite the many new challenges we all face, I'm pleased to declare that the same is true for 2008."
Jim Campbell, a municipal park superintendent and New Brunswick resident, said the city has become safer and the schools have gotten better since he has lived here.
"For the 13th consecutive year, crime declined in New Brunswick," Cahill said. "These gains are clear and impressive with violent crime dropping by 21 percent last year."
He said the city has also reduced the unemployment rate from 13.1 percent in 1993 to just 4.3 percent in 2007.
"I think it was a very good presentation," said Douglas Petix, the city's chief financial adviser. "I love living in New Brunswick, and I think it gets better everyday."