The City of Morristown is in a financial mess--even more so than was previously admitted or known.
At least some of former City Administrator Jim Crumley's handling and MIShandling of city accounts is gradually coming out. The Mayor and Council may be looking at budget cuts and postponing projects as the true magnitude of the problems with the city's general government fund and sewer fund comes out.
The Trib will probably provide part of the story today.
Mayor Barile, Jim Crumley's staunchest supporter, was concerned in July that Crumley was "railroaded" out of his job, but she voted to "retire" him. Click here.
Councilman Doc Rooney also supported Crumley until it became apparent that the votes were there to "retire" him.
Frank McGuffin supported Crumley even at the end of Crumley's reign, casting the lone vote not to accept Crumley's offer to "retire."
Bob Garrett, Gene Brooks, Kay Senter, and Claude Jinks led the effort to fire Crumley and in the end they accepted Crumley's offer to "retire" with a nice going away package ($145,000+) from the taxpayers.
The Mayor and Council, regardless of their feelings about Crumley and regardless of what has happened in the past, need to look in the mirror and then look at the taxpayers and say never again. Then the Mayor and Council need to take action to lead the city toward true transparency and accountability and FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.
Forget the smoke and mirrors. Forget the spin.
Crumley was given way too much power to spend the city TAXPAYERS' money however he wanted to. Crumley was given way too much power to shift money around with little or no control and often without even having to make a report as to what he was doing or had already done. There was way too little oversight over his actions. The lack of checks and balances in city government is absurd.
Sure, it's efficient and easy to set a tax rate and then turn over the taxpayers' money to a city administrator. Sure, it's efficient and easy for the Mayor and Council to come to three or four meetings a month and act as a rubber-stamp for a city administrator. Now, we find that this efficient, easy, and laissez-faire style of governance leads to abuse, waste, out-of-control debt, perks for the "good old boys," interest-only payments, and, ultimately, financial disaster.
Mayor Barile was always concerned that asking questions or trying to actually take part in the management of the city's finance would be seen as "micro-managing"! Click here. So instead of asking pertinent questions and following through, the Mayor and councilmembers are just now finding out what a financial mess the City is in.
The system needs to change, so that this situation doesn't repeat itself with a new cast of characters. Policies and procedures should be tightened. A system of checks and balances needs to be put in place.
Strict and accurate financial reporting to the Mayor and Council by the Finance Director, Budget Director, and City Administrator needs to be provided on a monthly basis.
Questions need to be asked about all financial reports, revenue, debt, expenditures. And the Mayor and Council need to insist on answers--not namby-pamby, everything's OK answers, but answers that are backed up by financial reports that are provided to the council monthly and that are put on the city's website for the citizens and taxpayers, too.
You can bet that when there are financial problems, the Mayor and councilmembers will NOT be ponying up their own personal money to pay off the debt or to buy this property or that property or to clean up the sewer debacle. No, the Mayor and councilmembers will turn to others--taxpayers and ratepayers--for the money to take care of the city's finances.
Just since 2007, property taxes in the city have increased 25 cents. Sales taxes have increased by 1/4 cent. Sewer fees have gone up AGAIN. And red-light cameras have been installed to generate even more "revenue."
Jim Crumley in 2006 said everything was fine. Click here for his glowing 2006 statement.
Then in 2007 (well BEFORE any national financial problems) Crumley and the council were saying there's a huge problem---a structural deficit in the city's finances. That's when property taxes went sky high. Click here.
Sales taxes went up the next year (mid-2008) as the City used taxpayer-money to help finance a political campaign to encourage city taxpayers to vote for the sales tax increase. In its political campaign to get a YES vote on the sales tax increase, the City used a little bit of what some would call tax "bribery" as the city promised to reduce the previous year's huge 40-cent property tax increase down to "only" a 25-cent increase if people would vote YES in the sales tax referendum. Click here to see the taxpayer-funded vote YES political campaign letters. For more info, click here and here.
The city took the county's "pick-your-poison" wheel tax referendum of years ago to a new level by giving city taxpayers the choice of just one big poison (40-cent property tax increase) or two smaller poisons (25-cent property tax increase plus a 1/4 cent sales increase)!
Of course, red-light cameras were also put up to enhance city coffers---and make an out-of-town company rich, too!
In 2009, sewer fees went up dramatically. Click here.
Where has all this additional revenue gone? When will someone step in and ask for a real, detailed audit of the city finances? The cursory sampling of financial transactions in the yearly audit has limited usefulness. Someone needs to get in there and find out what's really going on.