Gunman at Large as Eister’s Budget Escapes Ax
Once again our beloved Mayor has been caught fiddling while Sunbury burns. At a city meeting on Monday 8th December his proposals, to lay off two police officers from an already under-staffed department, were being discussed at the exact time an armed robbery was taking place not more than half a mile away, at the Turkey Hill gas station on Front Street.
Can anyone else see something very wrong here?
Rampant Crime Wave
At the previous city meeting Persing openly and unashamedly admitted that he had no knowledge of recent city crime figures – “I’ve not looked at them for a while” was how he put it. The question must be asked – why? Why should Chief Hare spend his valuable time compiling these monthly reports if the man who is really in charge of the police department can’t even be bothered to look at them? We are sure our chief would be much better employed leading from the front, fighting the rampant wave of crime threatening to engulf our city.
Hare was quoted in the Daily Item as saying that “It is not a nice place out there anymore.” During only the first 3 weeks of November, that paper revealed crime levels going through the roof, with officers dealing with:
- 6 assaults
- 4 robberies
- 7 burglaries
- 18 domestic incidents
- 10 drug violations
- 14 suspicious activities
- 5 drunken drivers
- 32 disturbances
- 16 criminal mischiefs
- many other assorted calls.
Officers are already struggling to keep up with their calls, and have little time left for crime-solving investigations.
To add to police woes, at the beginning of December it emerged that there is a suspected arsonist loose in the city, following a fire started on a porch of an unoccupied house in Speece Ave. Also local drug dealers are now openly plying their trade on city streets, virtually unimpeded by our overworked officers. Home invasions are once again becoming a problem (was anybody charged last time this happened?) with two taking place between 4th St. and 7th St. on Reagan on Thursday 11th December.
Hare was placed in the hot seat in May, but former Chief Steve Mazzeo is proving a tough act to follow. A vastly experienced officer with a degree in policing and a wealth of experience as chief of a much larger department than Sunbury, Mazzeo had been holding his department together despite being subjected to constant interference from Persing, whose obsession with micro-management is matched only by his ignorance of modern policing.
Hare pledged to “do everything I can” to insure that the two threatened officers are still on police patrol schedules in January. Going by the total disinterest from city councilmen at the 8th December meeting, he is facing an uphill battle. When the best that Councilman Shipman could offer was the cancellation of a city copier lease to try and bridge a $250,000 shortfall, what hope is there for keeping the jobs of officers Zerbe and Heckman?
The cuts will also jeopardize officer safety. They will be expected to patrol in what is, by Hare’s own admission, a dangerous place, often alone and without backup? At the budget meeting however, complaints were made by some councilmen that the police were not cracking down hard enough on traffic offenses. When exactly are they supposed to do this – is the prosecution of those running stop signs to receive greater priority than the apprehension of violent criminals? This only provides a further illustration, if any were needed, of the cluelessness of those in charge down at City Hall.
The increase in the 2015 police budget can be laid at the door of the new police contract – a sugar-coated deal which Persing gave our officers to insure he had their backing in his bid to win re-election. And this is even before the new police pension kicks in, with its potential $2.5million additional annual liability for the City. According to an actuarial report which recently came to light, the police pension fund was over $2million in the hole at the beginning of 2013 – long before the present debacle arose.
The Bartello Budget
How did the city ever end up in this situation, faced with falling revenue, increasing expenditure, higher taxes and less police officers? We warned about this prior to the 2013 mayoral election, and we take no pleasure in being so clearly vindicated. Foreseeing the looming financial problems faced by the City, Joe Bartello did make the following common sense budget proposals. He intended to reduce the 2014 city budget by $400,000 while increasing the size of the police department!
“My proposals to reduce the city budget are based on the removal of service duplication, the elimination of waste and a much more professional system of city-wide management.”
“The availability of finance for city services is, to a large extent, dependent on the state of the local economy. I will make it a priority to actively pursue industries to bring more jobs to Sunbury and help our economy grow.”
- We pay a building maintenance crew, plus we pay a cleaning company, plus we pay outside contractors to do maintenance work. (pay three times)
- We pay a road crew, plus we sub out all paving work (pay twice).
- We pay a city clerk, plus we pay an assistant to the city clerk, plus we pay Seda-Cog to actually fill out the paperwork. (pay three times). Having the city clerk do her own work and separating ourselves from Seda-Cog will save us 18% of our grant monies we receive – up to $100,000 per year.
- Excessive six figure legal expenses must be cut – the city solicitor is currently working for 3 city agencies and billing each one separately.
- None of the major expenses like insurance or internet or phone are ever put out for bid. There are savings to be found here.
- The city is holding 25 properties and planning to go into debt $300K to do unnecessary work at the riverfront, decisions I hope to reverse.
- The landscaping around town should be put out to bid in chunks. That way it spreads the work out among the local landscapers and it will save us a lot of money. And I think it will look better. The road crew would be free to do work on the roads, which in turn would save the money we spend on the outside paving contractors.
- We are losing money at the Ice Rink and Swimming Pool. The present administration can’t even run the snack bar profitably. I will insure that this area is managed efficiently and that these valuable city amenities cover their running costs.
- Softball and other sports tournaments will provide income directly to the City to help offset the expenses of running the sports complex.”
Deepening Financial Woes
To quote from a recent letter to the Daily Item from local resident and Chairman Emeritus of the Silk Mill, Henry A. Truslow – “The Mayor and council should be looking for ways to increase city revenue so the police department can be manned properly. Raising taxes is not the only way. Areas of city activity that lose money need to be corrected or eliminated. A few cases in point are the losses associated with the operation of city-run concession stands. There should be a fee placed on the use of city softball fields, with that fee going to the city. The swimming pool should be operated at least on a break-even basis.”
To amplify Mr. Truslow’s remarks, if real efforts were being made to build up the city rather than destroy it, to bring in new businesses rather than demolish existing infrastructure such as factory buildings which they would need, the resulting increase in the city tax base would spread more evenly the burden of maintaining essential services such as our police department. Now there is a novel concept!
Councilman Shipman has said that this was the hardest budget he has had to do since his first one in 2003. Wasn’t that the year, John, when you gave every city employee a $10,000 raise? Even now, in this period of “austerity” there appears little threat to the automatic annual raises enjoyed by these very same employees.
Parks and Recreation – Sunbury’s Holy Cow
At the same time Jim Eister’s bloated $600,000 budget for Parks & Recreation escaped the ax virtually unscathed. There has to be something wrong, when grass cutting and financial support for mismanaged and loss making facilities, come way above any valid concerns for the security of the City and the safety of its inhabitants.
In our state, they are setting a target for local municipalities to increase spending on parks and recreation to 5% of annual budget over the next 5 years. In Sunbury, spending is way beyond these guidelines, at around 15% of budget. If this were cut back to the recommended level, there would be ample money available (around $400,000) to both balance the budget and properly support our police department.
The Parks and Recreation budget is the holy cow of Sunbury. It covers the costs of running the sports complex and supports the softball tournaments which are bringing in huge amounts of money every year, but not one penny of which benefits local taxpayers. The City owns and insures the complex, pays for everything from electric lighting to job johnnies to grass cutting. We echo the words of Henry Truslow. “Why is it not charging an economic rent for the use of these facilities?”
The Mayor’s much vaunted “recreational tourism” is largely a myth. Teams who participate in his tournaments seldom visit the city center and spend much of their cash over on the strip, where they are forced to seek accommodation. Even the swimming pool offers free admission to everyone during tournament weekends – the very time when it could be making enough money to maybe make the difference between being a burden on city taxpayers or, for once, paying its way.
The Hall of Fame in Race Street, valued after its Degenstein-financed extension at $1million, also gives nothing to the City. As a 501 (c) 3 non-profit company it has no financial obligation to pay any local taxes, and Mayor Persing would seem to believe that this absolves him from any civic responsibility to even volunteer a small contribution to help with city funding.
There also appears little chance of Persing foregoing his Quadra League & ASA grants this year. The city is broke. How can it continue to give taxpayer money to private organizations at a time when it can’t even afford to pay its police officers?
Last year, when money was needed to pay for the camera debacle, it was Jim Eister who came to the rescue, pulling a $70,000 rabbit out of his hat. Maybe he has another rabbit available this year for the police department? This is a clear illustration that our city budget is allocated on a basis of greed rather than need. It has everything to do with who can fight hardest for the biggest share of the pot. There are no checks and balances in place to control spending, or to insure that the city is getting best value for money from its many existing contracts.
Why does the city have no money? Why does it have no reserves? Why does it have to rely on a tax anticipation loan each year because there is no money in the budget to see it through until its annual tax refund? Why is Sunbury going ever deeper into debt? $250K was borrowed earlier this year to pay for the totally unnecessary River Wall Phase 3 and now there is a $175K underfunding for the Chestnut St. Project. Councilmen had no idea where this money might come from, but voted to go ahead anyway. What an irresponsible way to run a city!
The ice rink, swimming pool and sports complex are costing Sunbury a king’s ransom. If the city council are incapable of running these venues at a profit then maybe they should be sold off to people or businesses who can.
The Mayor stated at the time he dismissed Chief Mazzeo over “personnel issues” that he wanted to take the city in a new direction. Well, he has certainly done that. Now, like a runaway train, with Fireman Eister frantically shoveling ever larger bundles of dollar bills into the firebox and Engineer Persing recklessly holding the throttle wide open, our city is hurtling towards oblivion.
There is a solution. Don’t emasculate our police department. Get rid of Mayor Persing and Councilman Eister, the two people directly responsible for this calamitous financial situation.