Longtime Belleville resident, businessowner, Friend of The Watch, and leading community advocate Jeffery Mattingly addressed the Council with a powerful, no-holds-barred speech at last night’s very contentious Belleville Town Council meeting.
As some background for his speech, in our daily communications, we’ve noted a growing frustration level among Belleville residents that has slowly been building for months now, for a variety of significant reasons.
A boiling point appears to have finally been reached when at the last meeting, the Belleville Council introduced the 2015-16 budget, and proposed a whopping $234 tax increase on the average home assessed at $238,000. Those whose properties are assessed higher would of course pay even more.
Bear in mind, this municipal tax increase does not include the unavoidable increase that will be coming from the Belleville school district as a result of the Board of Education’s staggering $4 million budget deficit uncovered last year. Those increases from the district are expected to be visited upon Belleville taxpayers each year for the next decade.
Therefore, could residents be facing a combined tax increase of $500? Perhaps more? Because the budget will not be finalized until September, we can only speculate at this time. However, on the present course, such a figure is not outside the realm of possibility.
With more than 400 homes in foreclosure in Belleville, it’s safe to say people are already at their financial breaking point in this town. The municipal body raising taxes to give out payraises to government employees when they are flat broke as a municipality is not only unconscionable, it is bleeding people who are already hemorrhaging.
This is not about who deserves what, as the Council would use as a defense of their actions. This is about spending money they simply do not have, and continuing to ask the taxpayer for more than they can possibly bear.
If the Council wants to increase salaries, they need to increase tax revenue or cut their costs, plain and simple. They need to figure out a way to pay for it that doesn’t include visiting more financial hardship on already-struggling families.
Indeed, the question that has been hanging over Belleville, and Essex County as a whole, is no longer, “How much more can we take?”
Here that question is quickly becoming a stern, declarative statement. A line drawn in the sand.
“Enough is enough.”
Here is Mr. Mattingly’s speech from last night:
This council is considering a $234.00 increase for the average assessed home in town. Are you deaf to the pleas of the very people who you have sworn to represent? Our police chief is making 15K a year more than our state’s governor makes to head up a 100 man police force, and so on down the line. The day after the budget meeting I had a small discourse with a councilman on his Facebook page, I am not singling him out and in fact I commended him on his efforts to control spending, but he asked if I didn’t think that the police deserve a pay increase? To which I replied, NO! No I don’t! A better question is do the taxpayer’s deserve another tax increase? Civil Service employees have come to expect an increase every year of every contract, where did this entitlement attitude come from? Well it came from generational reward no matter what fiscal climate is like.
Our state’s pension fund is 53 billion under funded and Joe Rotunda will soon expect to receive 10K per month in retirement money plus gold plated healthcare for the rest of his natural life. Does he deserve an increase? He will get one with your contract! Do we the citizens of Belleville have a right to expect a reasonable quality of life? There are more than 400+ homes in foreclosure in Belleville and anything more than a zero increase in taxes will expand that number and cause more flight. It is all unsustainable and is headed for inevitable collapse and you all continue down the same path and your actions suggest that the citizens will just have to bear it.
We cannot afford it. You have played your part in creating an unsustainable and heartless circumstance for a town whose annual average household income is 53K and dropping. Our home values are decreasing to what some in town make in salary in just one year, let alone benefits.
Those contracts that you are negotiating will be added to the ever expanding healthcare costs that there is no motivation to control and we will continue to decline. A family of four now costs 36K per year for healthcare.
And you, Joe Longo, who sits here illegitimately in my opinion, are a principal offender in running our district into bankruptcy during the 2013-14 school year. There is almost nothing that you can say that I would believe knowing your public history. You ran for the school board on fiscal austerity and look what we got from you?
Election after election politicians and hacks alike pander to their cultivated base of support that is secured with our tax dollars. I’m not sure if you noticed but, recent elections have shown an engaged public, one that saved some of you from a hostile takeover where much of that base turned against you. Don’t miss that point!
Our antiquated infrastructure is crumbling and with all the tax increases through the year’s things continue to decline. My street is like a dried up river bed. The hole patches have joined into one great patchwork of varying lumps and bumps that tests our suspensions twice a day. But I see the same on many streets, not just on mine. Our water line blows out a couple of times a year now and there is no reason to think that anything is going change. You have to do what we have been doing for a long while now, do more with less!
Reduce titles, don’t make new ones. You are starting to look like the very people who opposed you in the last election. Ward councilpersons, you don’t want this. Pay freeze is the only thing that the voting public wants to hear right now. Where is the consideration and compassion for us? Offered an alternative, the masses will vote their wallets in much greater numbers than we have seen. They’re ready to vote for Donald Trump!
This packed agenda was only offered to the public this morning. There has been no meeting minutes posted in more than a year. The budget meeting was never advertised that you included “other” public business in. You disregarded the usual and customary 6:30 starting time and went right into public business on the back of a budget meeting that should never have been taken up. Councilman Cozzarelli and Longo both should have recused themselves from that matter and stepped away from the entire process. Their disregard for proper voting procedures suggests that the NJ Foundation for Open Government should be asked to review Belleville meeting procedures and law requirements also. You most likely have heard that they are reviewing the Nutley Planning and Zoning Boards compliance and adherence to OPMA laws now.
I spoke to the Director of Public Affairs for Comcast last week. He negotiated our last contract for our cable station, a very nice and cooperative man. He said in review of our contract that it provides for a town station at NO cost the township for setting up the drop and the transmission and reception equipment. I asked how long does that normally take? He said usually about a year because the expense had to be worked into their budget. He said all that he needed was to be formally invited by the township to start the ball rolling. I asked if there had been any requests made from Belleville, he said not that he knows of, but he would have known had there been any because he must approve it.
I have advocated for this critically important public resource for more years than I care to count. I was hopeful that the recent political Tsunami that propelled Belleville into the graft record books would finally foster the good faith needed to get this done. It seems like that will not happen and enough time has been wasted waiting for something that most likely will never come. With the power of the local media and the outreach of the Essex Watch I strongly believe that we now have the resources to collect the requisite number of voter signatures to create a “voter’s initiative” that will force this council to vote on our request to have a township station to record all public meetings, air them on our station and archive them on our website for future reference. Unlike last time I tried this I think that we can get it done pretty fast now with the ability of the Watch. Should you vote down the initiative it would go to the public in the form of a “public question” at the ballot box.
It is truly a shame that this is the extent that we have to go to get something that we pay for, and every other town around us has utilized for nearly 30 years or more.