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Dateline January thru April 2009:

The chillier months, when the seasons find “snowbirds” away and Ventnor’s population is at its lowest ebb, are often when much of the real work of Ventnor government gets done as auditing is performed, budgets are planned,  and once every four years, major contracts come up for renegotiation between the city and its various departments.

The following bullet points highlight some of the city business that transpired in Ventnor during the first quarter of 2009:

  • Ms. Toro Aboderin was hired as Ventnor’s Chief Financial Officer, effective in January 2009.  She is certified as a municipal CFO by State of New Jersey, and replaces the 2007 hiring who was not certified.  He, in turn, had replaced a CFO who had lost his state certification.  Certification of a CFO is important.
  • The long-time Ventnor Tax Assessor tendered his resignation, with City of Ventnor looking to fill his position under a shared services agreement.
  • The Recreation Trust Fund was moved back into a position of budgetary treatment which will find it audited like all other public budget line items.
  • Negotiations with Fire and Police Departments, Public Works Department, and City Hall workers found wage increases held to a small amount in the current year, rather than place the city in a position of going to binding arbitration which might have presented a risk of a higher wage increase referring to statewide averages over the past year.  Commissioner John Piatt, tasked with oversight of Finance for the city, was quoted in a March 18th article in the Atlantic City Press as stating the Commission would look at personnel staffing levels in all departments.  In other articles dealing with budgetary matters, and recounted in news regularly posted to the Forums, he stated that the Commission would not defer its payments to the state-run pension fund because that would constitute “kicking the can down the road” and come back, with interest obligations, to burden future tax bills. 
  • The audit of the city’s 2008 books and records was handled by a newly hired auditing firm, and it reflected a year in which the city was in transition, with one administration in the first half of the year and a new Commission in the second half.  The negative findings could be traced to poor financial practices of the past, and the Mayor and Commissioner Piatt expressed optimism that the hiring of a certified CFO should find far better audit results when 2009 records are examined.  Efforts at freezing expenses in the second half of 2008, which found the new Commission rejecting expenditures which the past Commission had introduced and planned to approve, may be credited with an increase of surplus to $2.5 million.  This was an improvement over the zero surplus of 2006 which later snowballed into a March 2007 emergency budget meeting and surprising tax hikes later that same year.
  • The Board of Education’s protracted negotiations with the teachers’ union ended with a contract that called for some personnel (five full-time positions) and program cutbacks.  The BOE President was kind enough to post to WLV’s Forums with generalized information that carefully stayed away from negotiation details.  However, in late stages of those negotiations, there was a surprise increase of $4,000 per pupil tuition charges from Atlantic City High School, to which Ventnor is a “sending district” school system.  With 302 students currently enrolled at ACHS, that hike -- over which Ventnor has no control -- will translate into a roughly equivalent overall education budget.

In terms of physical appearance, there have been some changes along Ventnor Ave. which were first noted as a registered user of the WLV Forums posted up a photo of barricades being erected in the 5000 block where buildings had been slated for demolition.  Subsequently, in late April, there was more news as local papers reported on actual demolition of a duplex building which included 5008 Ventnor Ave.  That was city-owned property which the former Commission had acquired a number of years ago in anticipation of Redevelopment by Alliance Companies and Pulte Homes.  By early 2007,  former Mayor Kreischer had announced his plans to give the property to Ventnor Investment Properties, which owned the rest of the block, as an inducement to hasten demolition and construction activity.  The new Commission took a different approach, by ordering an appraisal of the current value of the property in late 2008 and then selling it to the same party at the $205,000 appraised amount. There was a stipulation for its prompt demolition. 

In an effort recognizing a possible need to offer more convenient services to non-resident owners who are not in town to take their trash to curbside for pickup days, the city asked ACUA to look into providing “valet service” at an added charge.  A pilot program limited to Ventnor, with a maximum 200 homes allowed, is being tested by ACUA between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  It is optional and the sign-up form can be viewed at the link above.

In its role as taxpayer advocate, WLV has taken a look at several areas where tax relief might be possible in Ventnor.  Upon discovering that Ventnor’s Public Works Department was not maintaining any systematic procedures incorporating Work Orders, a comparison was made with another NJ town of somewhat larger full-year population in which Work Orders and monthly accountability reporting to a governing body are a “way of life” to assure appropriate manpower working at maximum efficiency.  Records from that town’s system of monthly summaries and detailed reports were obtained and dispatched electronically to Ventnor Commission, for study and possible adaptation.  A paper print-out of that system’s reporting details, maintained on simple Excel spreadsheets, was later provided to a member of a citizen advisory group for sharing at the sessions devoted to improving efficiency and reducing costs.

A further area of interest has been how the city handles residential trash collection and whether it is a fair system. This is particularly of concern to the many homeowners in Ventnor who are seasonal residents, weekend residents, or fulltime (and voting) residents with “snowbird” absences that find them living in warmer climates for the coldest months of the year.  Educational materials about “Pay As You Throw” programs for residential trash pick-ups, now being successfully operated in about 10,000 towns and cities across the nation, were obtained and provided to the Commission for its investigation.  A program built around PAYT concepts would find residential trash collection eliminated entirely from city budget, affording tax relief in the same proportion as that program’s cost of around $500,000 imposes a tax burden.  That burden is based on “assessed value” of taxpayers’ homes, and not on actual use of the city service.  In addition, PAYT promotes better separation of recycling from trash at the source, in homes.   Examination of the rate cards in towns where PAYT has been adopted shows that quarterly bills range from $30 up to around $100, with the size and number of trash cans impacting the costs (“trash volume”) as well as other factors like valet service (“conveniences”) that are sometimes part of the Rate Cards offered to homeowners, for their optional choice.  In towns with a high percentage of seasonal residents, the biggest advantage to a PAYT system is that homeowners could save money by suspending services during the months when they are not in residence.  Suspending payment of property tax bills is never an “option” for homeowners.  But paring back to the most essential city services, as mandated by state laws, might make the non-optional exercise of paying tax bills less onerous.