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Op-Ed: Candidate Jeff Jacobson Calls Testimony On Capital Spending "Sobering"

Jacobson, running for 3rd ward seat on the For Montclair slate, said Montclair faces huge challenges to get its budget and debt under control


If the testimony Montclair’s [township] council heard last night from Community Services Director Steve Wood and Police Chief David Sabagh about their departments’ capital spending needs over the next two years is any indication, Montclair faces huge challenges to get our budget and debt under control while addressing our neglected roads, parks, first-response equipment and other important infrastructure.

Mr. Wood says we urgently need new two new trash trucks at $235,000 each and will need them whether we outsource sanitation next year or not. Why? Because, according to Mr. Wood, most of the trucks in Montclair’s sanitation fleet are more than 20 years old, twice their useful life. We’re actually spending thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per truck in maintenance costs just to keep them on the road. Montclair never should have let the problem get so bad that we can’t wait to make a decision until a new Council can fully explore outsourcing.

Our For Montclair slate — Harvey Susswein for Mayor, Tim Barr for At-Large Council, Bill Hurlock for First Ward, Walter Springer for Second Ward and myself for Third Ward — has promised to obtain competitive bids to outsource sanitation. If we don’t outsource, we’ll need to buy a lot more new (or less-used) trucks in the coming years to replace a fleet that’s so old we can’t keep it on the road. That’s one reason why outsourcing has to be on the table, but we have to do it right to avoid price increases once the initial contract ends.

Mr. Wood listed other vehicles and equipment his department wants to buy, but many of these items suggest we should be having a much broader discussion about outsourcing and shared services. Essex County workers service traffic lights on county roads in Montclair, while Montclair workers service lights on township roads.

Can’t we contract with Essex County, or them with us, to reduce duplication?  Rather than buying a new traffic line-painting machine for the relatively few jobs where we don’t have contractors do this work, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to borrow or rent a neighboring town’s machine? If we must buy one, can we buy it in cooperation with other towns and share it? Do we really need to spend $60,000 on a new HVAC system for the animal shelter, when Montclair really should be closing that uneconomic shelter and finding a better option? Meanwhile, our roads aren’t being repaired.

According to Mr. Wood, the Township Engineer has compiled a list of the worst 10 stretches of road in Montclair and found that the total cost of fixing them would exceed $8 million, which Montclair obviously doesn’t have. So, we’re stuck just with fixing “the worst of the worst” in 2012 and 2013. Most residents will be disappointed. The next Council is simply going to have to go out and fight for more state and federal highway money. We’re not getting our fair share now, and we can’t afford to fix our streets just with township money.

Police Chief Sabagh also presented his department’s capital needs. Tops on the list is replacing our 911 system, which is so old that the manufacturer won’t service it anymore. Once we make this investment, which definitely constitutes a pressing need, the next Council must try harder to regionalize our 911 and dispatch systems with a few of our neighbors. Not yet in the capital budget is the necessary fix to our police officers’ radios, which now receive interference from digital TV stations and may not work in emergencies.

For Montclair highlighted this problem in our position statement on police and fire, and Councilor Roger Terry, now running for Essex County Sheriff, was absolutely right to press Chief Sabagh last night about when the fix is coming.

The answer was “soon,” but it will be expensive. In conjunction with other towns whose police are affected by this problem, we should be researching possible legal claims against our service providers or the TV stations, to see if we can cause them to share these costs with us. Of course, these are just a few of the issues presented by only two of Montclair’s operating departments at a single Council meeting.

Montclair is facing a host of challenges in all departments, but we cannot raise taxes or overall spending to meet them. The only option is real reform, and for that, we need new members of Council who have the commitment and experience to make it happen. 

Jeff Jacobson April 05, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Yes, all NJ towns are obligated by law to provide animal control. That doesn't mean Montclair must run its own animal shelter. We have spoken to knowledgeable, concerned people in town about Montclair's options and we believe there to be better options than what we're doing now. ROC, with respect to police dispatch, the current administration spent money on a new facility with the intent of marketing dispatch services to Glen Ridge and elsewhere. They were unsuccessful. We will try again. Whether we're successful in marketing dispatch services to other towns or not, we need to have a 911 system that the manufacturer will support and, for the safety of our police officers and the good of the town, we have to solve the intermittent radio interference problem (which was neither of Montclair's making nor limited to Montclair; it resulted from the federal government's marketing of new spectrum for digital television).
John Lee April 05, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I knew I could count on you to get the facts out there! It should probably be noted that the non profits rarely have the "dog catcher" service that goes out on calls to pick up animals hit by cars and also picks up marauding skunks, racoons, but sadly not teenagers. *snort* giggle giggle.
Kyle Martinowich April 05, 2012 at 04:55 PM
ROC, By less Gov't I meant finding a private company or Non Profit to run our Animal Shelter and Control services, like PAWS did for many years. Not what we have now is a Municipal run Animal Shelter/Control division soliciting other towns for their work. We may be required by law to offer/provide this service as a town, but we certainly do not have to run it through the Municipality.
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Jeff, Thank you for correcting RoC's misstatement. Yes, the crux of the issue is the value of running a shelter on top of our mandated animal control responsibilities. FM's and RoC's viewpoint is that a discretionary service such as a municipal animal shelter should be, at a minimum, cost-neutral to the taxpayers. I just want to make sure I have it right that this is the underlying justification.
Kyle Martinowich April 05, 2012 at 05:04 PM
John Lee, The gentleman used a Municipal vehicle for personal use and it was damaged during the unauthorized use. If a teacher took a BOE maintenance truck home without authorization and it got ruined, should said teacher not be reprimanded in the same fashion. It is basically like stealing. Do you not think after this incident our insurance premiums may rise and the damaged vehicle needed to be repaired?
John Lee April 05, 2012 at 05:08 PM
The idea of closing something because of the actions of one low level person is quite silly.
Kyle Martinowich April 05, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Its the liability of the action John... If we contracted to an outside vendor, we would not be responsible for owning Animal Control Trucks or even hiring employees who can make mistakes like these. And if the outside vendor made the mistakes, we would not be liable!
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Which misstatement is that Frank?
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Your interchangeable use of AC services and sheltering. It's like saying capital expenditure and debt are interchangeable.
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Where did I say that? I never said shelters could not be private. I was responding to Kyle's point that "we need to not be involved." (which he has now clarified). We're mandated by law to "be involved" even if the shelter is privately run. Part of the reason PAWS lost the contract was that the township exercised it's duty to oversee that the legally mandated responsibility of the township regarding animal control and sheltering was being fulfilled.
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 05:50 PM
RoC, Your 11:21 comment is incorrect and then you compounded it by citing NJ law which clearly refutes your statement. I can't be any plainer than this.
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 05:51 PM
correction - 11:46
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 05:56 PM
11:31? What's incorrect? John Lee said low cost animal shelters that meet legal requirements might collect animals in the morning and kill them by evening. The law says otherwise, animals must be impounded for 7 days. It would be illegal to kill them the same day. Are you being purposely obtuse?
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Are you saying we're not allowed to contract other entities to provide shelter services?
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 06:45 PM
No, specific. Your 11:46 comment. Unless you have manage to harness the space time continuum, John Lee's comment came after you made your gaffe. I like to think I was not being obtuse. Rather, I was metaphorically rapping your knuckles with a verbal ruler for combining your view on government, mixed terminology, and bad paragraph construction with a quick query on Google.
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 07:15 PM
My 1:56 comment was in response to your 1:59 comment which misidentified the time. I posted it without refreshing the page and thus not seeing your correction of 11:46. That is why I appended 11:31 with a question mark, as if to say "since I did not make an 11:21 comment, could you mean my 11:31 comment." Which is why i re-commented on the "kill by evening topic" Which, I see now (and did by my 1:58 comment) was not what you were speaking about. Phew. I'm glad the negotiation around our possible conversation is becoming clearer! Now, specific to my 11:46 comment. I still don't understand your issue with my "gaffe". I realize you may only be wanting to express animus, but I'm assuming there might be a point. Perhaps this might stem from my use of the phrase "animal control services"? I meant the phrase in the generic sense to encompass both shelter and the term-of-art "animal control".
Kevin April 05, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I thought that Verizon handled the equipment repair and installation of 911 systems? Have any other towns installed more modern equipment that we can utilize as a shared service?
frank rubacky April 05, 2012 at 09:04 PM
goose/gander, non-essential/emergency, shelter/control. I note your clairification.
Right of Center April 05, 2012 at 09:06 PM
I feel like I should ask for a receipt with that, Frank.
Denise April 06, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Jeff, I'd like to know what are your specific plans for the 3rd Ward, if elected. And what are your thoughts on the Park St. construction, would you have approved this?
Jeff Jacobson April 06, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Hi, Denise. Your first question is a little open-ended, so I'll give a high-level answer. I'm happy to answer more specific questions here or by email at jeffjacobsonthirdward@gmail.com. Basically, I want to use my experience in municipal government to find significant savings in the budget without cutting services. I want to strengthen the schools, realizing that there's administrative waste in the school budget that needs to be removed before we consider any more cuts to educational programs. I want to make sure that all wards of Montclair, including the Third Ward, receive an appropriate level of police attention. I want us to reduce our outstanding debt each year I'm in office, and I'll say no to projects we don't need and can't afford. That brings me to South Park Street. As you know, this project originally was sold as a choice between spending $450,000 for necessary reconstruction and spending roughly $750,000 both to reconstruct the street and improve the streetscape, thereby making the properties on the street more valuable. It later emerged that the real cost of Option B is north of $1 million, and I'm convinced that if that had been the number from the start, the project never would have gotten off the ground. I wish Council had demanded a new bidding process before proceeding, because we're now committed to spending too much, but we are where we are now and the project likely will be done before the next Council takes office.
Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 03:07 PM
"That brings me to South Park Street. As you know, this project originally was sold as a choice between spending $450,000" This figure keeps inflating in hindsight! It was originally budgeted by the township (as a repaving project) at $150,000. http://www.baristanet.com/2012/04/cary-africk-why-the-south-park-street-project-is-costing-more/#comment-288808
Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Reducing debt, maintaing services and bettering the schools ALL from savings due to reduced waste. That's been the no-pain-phenominal-gain platform of the last 20 slates seeking election. We're always promised we can have it all - lower taxes, better services, less debt. It's a fairy tale, if you ask me. What evidence do you have that there is enough waste on the margins to have our cake and eat it too? Any hard numbers at all? Or is this just hope? (yet again).
Kyle Martinowich April 06, 2012 at 03:14 PM
"ALL from savings due to reduced waste." I wish people would define "waste". Is it over staffing? Is it the redundancy of Municipal departments and BOE departments? Is it Janitorial services that cost double what a private company would charge? Please be specific!
Jeff Jacobson April 06, 2012 at 03:20 PM
ROC, please be fair. At no point did I say that all the savings we're proposing will come from unspecified waste. We've been specific in where we're going to find savings. If there's a candidate or slate out there that's been more detailed than For Montclair in saying what he/she/they will do, please feel free to let me know.
Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Please answer the question instead of sidestepping it. What evidence do you have that there is enough "savings" to "strengthen the schools" and "not cut services" and "reduce our outstanding debt". Do you plan to raise taxes to do this? How about some numbers, Mr. Jacobson?
Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 03:59 PM
" If there's a candidate or slate out there that's been more detailed than For Montclair in saying what he/she/they will do, please feel free to let me know." I don't consider "our slate is slightly less vague than the other slates" to be much help, by the way.
Jeff Jacobson April 06, 2012 at 06:14 PM
ROC, I wish you wouldn't compound your decision to remain anonymous with rudeness toward people who step up to try making things better, whether or not you agree with them. Are there savings to be had? Yes, definitely. It's not just waste. "Waste" is paying more for prescription drug coverage for township employees than necessary, and the Town Manager deserves credit for lowering those costs this year, but we're running out of big-ticket, low-hanging fruit like that. Outsourcing is different from cutting waste -- outsourcing impacts jobs, but it's something we must do to save money. Will the savings be enough to keep services where they are and even generate some modest improvements without raising taxes? I wouldn't be running if I didn't think so, and I'm on record, repeatedly, saying I'm opposed to more tax increases.
Right of Center April 06, 2012 at 11:03 PM
it's rude to point out your sidestepping? I guess I'm guilty then. I take it from the second go around there is no evidence that enough can be saved to do all you say. "I wouldn't be running if I didn't think so, and I'm on record, repeatedly, saying I'm opposed to more tax increases." No one is ever FOR tax increases, in the history of the republic, I think. (Well, maybe Walter Mondale.) Saying you are "opposed to tax increases" is another one of those empty things candidates say. Later they will reluctantly, sadly, with mopey eyes (and a list of excuses), due to circumstances beyond their control, RAISE your taxes. That you don't want to get into any details about these grand (and hoped-for, mightily) "efficiencies" is, in a way, efficient. Good luck with your campaign.
Jeff Jacobson April 06, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Any outsource contract must have clear benchmarks the provider must meet and spell out the consequences if it doesn't. It's also important to choose a provider that has a multi-year track record of good service.

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