Questionable Budget Numbers

By John Bury | April 17, 2014

Today’s Westfield Leader reported my comments at last week’s county budget hearing (video of full comments at bottom):

John Bury of Kenilworth said some of the budget numbers appeared to be made up or simply “plugged in” every year, such as the sheriff’s office, where the 2013 “anticipated” and “realized” revenue were both listed at $1 million in 2013. He said the county anticipates $1 million again in 2014. “That seems really lucky,” Mr. Bury said. He also questioned how the county’s Open Space debt went down “exactly” a million dollars from $5.6 to $4.6 million.

It may sound felicitous that the Debt Service – Open Space revenue item (Sheet 8 of the Introduced Budget) decreased by exactly $1 million but it did not go from from $5.6 million to $4.6 million; it went from $5,639,826.00 in 2013 to $4,639,826.00 in 2014, an exact reduction to the penny that is virtually a mathematical impossibility in the world of debt repayments without the use of an all-too-common balancing technique that the county auditors seem to have adopted euphemistically referred to as ‘fudging’.

Since nobody at the state is going to dig behind what is reported the county through their well-paid auditors can stick whatever numbers are convenient in their budgets assured that they will not be asked for backup (and even if asked by the public in open comment time at freeholder meetings, county policy is not to answer).

Another example of an appropriation that  one would think the auditors would get right would be their fees.  In the introduced budget for 2013 $188,950 was appropriated for the Annual Audit and $145,225 for ‘Other Accounting and Auditing Fees’.  This total of $334,175 was the exact amount paid in 2013 according to the budget (which calls for an increase to $394,331 in 2014).  However when you go to the check registry Suplee, Clooney& Company (the auditor for the County and its agencies per the resolution hiring them) received $430,047 in fees during 2013.

Where did that extra $95,872 come from to pay the auditors?   Open Space Trust Fund money misappropriated under the cover of debt?
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UCCF 4/10/14: Sneaking in More Debt

By John Bury | April 14, 2014

Among the amendments to the 2014 Union County budget was a comparatively small number on Sheet 29:
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PAYMENT OF BOND ANTICIPATION NOTES   FROM 13,000 TO 66,927
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It only comes to $53,927 in additional interest but that this number changed at all is very interesting. Did this come out of the blue? Did somebody forget that there was an installment payment due?  But assuming some basic level of competence in drawing up these budgets you have to assume that Bibi Taylor is lying and this is new short-term borrowing.

In theory BANs are like bridge loans that are taken out to begin funding some project until the next bond sale brings in the main money later at a time when it is anticipated that borrowing costs would be lower. In practice it is often a way to get money a year earlier for whatever purpose you want if nobody catches you at it.

UCIA Gets More Money for DeCotiis, Sullivan et alia

By John Bury | April 13, 2014

Among the amendments to the 2014 Union County budget was an extra $100,000 for the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA):
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What is it the UCIA needs the money for?

Their general counsel, DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, LLP, gets well over a million dollars annually advising (i.e. selling a bunch of willfully ignorant political appointees on stupid projects like solar panels which cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for minimal, if any, real improvements but bring in big fees – officially over $1.2 million so far to DeCotiis alone) with billing since 2004 totaling almost $11 million.

But they also need money to pay people at the Union County Utilities Authority (UCUA).  Check out the UCIA approved bills from April, 2014 and you notice a payment to the UCUA for $120,000 labeled “Shared Svcs Agmt – 8 months @ $15K/mo.” to pay those stipends to UCIA/UCUA executive director Daniel Sullivan and selected staff, as reported here.

UCCF 4/10/14 Budget Hearing

By John Bury | April 13, 2014

The law requires these hearings for taxpayers and other interested parties to ‘present objections’ though nowhere in the law is there mention of a five minute time limit so if anyone has more than five minutes of objections there is no outlet to present those.

In order of appearance starting with the ground rules:
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UCCF 4/10/14: Political Bosses In Office?

By John Bury | April 11, 2014

Are our county political bosses in elected office or are they behind the scenes pulling the strings of those they choose for those positions? There seems to be an honest disagreement on this point:
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Since I was harassed and heckled off the podium I did not get to read these prepared sum-up remarks:

Your constituency is not the taxpayers but rather (a) those like the DeCotiis lawyers who get together $30,000 each election cycle to donate to your campaigns so they can get their $2 million in fees annually for things like putting up solar panels around the county for what they claim will be free but turn out costing $20 million in defaulted bonds and fees or (b) these department heads whose bloated budgets would put them in a position someday to hire one of you for a $75,000 job with full benefits for which you were not qualified.

You can still vote in our poll but now you can see the results:

Though you still can’t see the ‘Other’ responses so, as of 4/15/14 here they are, unedited (except for spelling when I was sure what was intended) and in the order they were cast:

  • someones bitch
  • Fat Douche
  • Leniak’s masseuse
  • joker
  • putz
  • Let’s just say the training wheels will never come off
  • Simply Corrupt’
  • A pompous ass
  • PUPPET
  • Creepy
  • Wtrte
  • Arrogant
  • slug puppet
  • Second Coming of Daniel Sullivan
  • as with some of the other freeholders he is surely in the wrong position.
  • Tool
  • None of the Above
  • boy who wants to be King
  • anal opening
  • incompetent
  • arrogant sob
  • SCUMBAG
  • Hudak is guilty of political malpractice judging by mayoral candidate in Linden

UCCF 4/10/14 – Cranford Against UCC Sports Complex

By John Bury | April 11, 2014

Several Cranford/Westfield/Kenilworth/Garwood residents spoke against building a sports complex on the Union County College campus where the tennis courts and 700 trees are now. In order of appearance:
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Freeholder lukewarm response:
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For more information: www.ucnu.org

UCCF 4/10/14: Budget Gimmickry

By John Bury | April 10, 2014

There will be much more from tonight’s freeholder meeting in the coming days including;

  • Cranford residents upset about Union County College building a sports complex in neighborhoods already dealing with stray feces from UCC
  • Fanwood’s Colleen Mahr as a political boss and Linden’s Christopher Hudak as not
  •  the entire hearing on the introduced budget
  • finding another $100,000 for the UCIA
  • the Open Space Trust Fund theft; and
  • what I said (and what I was stopped from saying) that triggered this:

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But first the headline: $3.7 million in budget cuts; but from where?
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For those without a calculator at the ready:

Taxes: $330,782,634 – $327,061,905 = $3,720,729

PERS: $14,536,814 – $15,952,815 = ($1,416,001)
PFRS: $12,437,595 – $13,214,400 = $776,805)
Capital Improvement Fund: $1,500,000 – $2,000,000 = ($500,000)
Road Resurfacing: $2,000,000 – $3,000,000 = ($1,000,000)
Total Appropriation Reductions for these items: ($3,692,806)

There was over 20 minutes of reading on all the changes (mostly moving salaries around) but taking $1.5 million from capital improvements and $2.2 million from a pension gimmick (explained here) was the big news (though there was a suspicious line item dealing with interest on Bond Anticipation Notes that seems like another fast one they’re pulling and which might be the next blog).

Running against the democratic organization has caused Linden Councilman Derek Armstead some problems, he didn’t sleep a wink last night

By Tina Renna | April 9, 2014

Runnels Hospital is still open for political vendettas

In March Union County moved forward with plans to sell Runnels Specialized Hospital. Tomorrow Linden Councilman Derek Armstead will report to work at Runnels which is known to be a dumping ground for low-show high-paid political patronage jobs, and paradoxically it is also known as a banishment and punishment for enemies of the Democratic machine which is the category Armstead falls under.

Last year the freeholder’s passed an ordinance which allowed the County to move many of their Runnells patronage positions into other departments thereby saving these employees from layoff when Runnells is sold, as well as giving these well connected employees bumping rights over other long-standing employees. Senator Nicholas Scutari’s uncle was one of them (salary $113,438).

Armstead, a Data Processor/Programmer has been stationed at the County Administration building in the Economic Development department, first learned of his transfer today, Wednesday-4/9/14, when he was told to report to Runnels as of tomorrow, Thursday-4/10/14. County employees assigned to Runnells do not know to date if they will be laid off after the sale is finalized. Armstead was hired by the County in June of 1998 (current salary $57,279).

Linden Democratic Machine Politics led by Freeholder Chairman Hudak

Derek Armstead was first elected to Linden City Council in November of 1993, and is currently serving his 4th term.

During an interview with this reporter, Armstead said he had several “high level meetings” which began at the League of Municipalities in November 2013 through January 2014 with State Senator Nicholas Scutari, who is also the Linden Prosecutor; and Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak, who is also the Linden Democratic Committee Chairman (and a Kean University employee). The Linden Democratic Committee offered Armstead a “clean shot” at Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka in November 2014 if he ran on their slate and gave up his primary challenge in June. Linden Mayoral candidates run along with the Council President and the problem, according to Armstead, was that he wanted to pick his own running mate. The committee wanted to pick the council president for him.

Armstead said he felt he had a right to choose someone who would be loyal to him and he gave several names to the committee who he thought would be acceptable to both parties; one name in particular raised a red flag for Armstead, Ralph Strano. Armstead said “When they didn’t find Ralph acceptable; I knew at that point that they had no intentions to mend the fences and move the Linden Democratic party forward.” “A lot of this has to do with Hudak’s unwillingness to move the party forward, and his inability to bring people together.” “They weren’t sincere in their efforts to try move things forward. If we are going to move forward then there has to be a dialogue with regards to how we move forward, we certainly aren’t going to be moving forward with the way things are done now. Linden residents aren’t being considered first.”

Armstead and his running mate, Union County Police Lieutenant Richard Puschel, will be challenging the Democratic slate consisting of Union County Keyboarding Clerk Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling who was hired in November 2013 (salary $28,959) and her running mate Jorge Alvarez. Alvarez is a former Linden Board of Education member who resigned his seat, then unsuccessfully tried to regain it a year later. Between the time of resigning his seat and running for re-election, Alvarez’s son got hired by the Linden Board of Education. According to Armstead this would have been against the Board’s anti-nepotism rules if Alvarez was a board member.

The winner of the June Democratic Primary will face the incumbent Independent candidate Mayor Richard Gerbounka and his running mate Jacqueline Williams in the November General Election.

In 2010 Councilman Armstead ran for Mayor, he beat the Democratic Committee backed candidate in the Primary election. He went on to lose the General Election to Independent Richard Gerbounka, who first became mayor in 2006 when he won the election by a 50-49% margin against long-ruling Mayor John T. Gregorio.

The Union County Prosecutor Incident

Armstead said he and his campaign volunteers have been busy registering people to vote, and he recently handed in about 50 new registrations. Shortly thereafter, one registrant called Armstead and said an investigator from the Union County Prosecutor’s office came to his home to question him about his registration. Armstead said he then called the prosecutor’s office and spoke to someone who confirmed that they were acting on a complaint from Dennis Scott Kobitz, Administrator of the Union County Board of Elections and when they receive a complaint from Kobitz, they have to investigate. Armstead doesn’t know of any charges to date stemming from this investigation, or if it is ongoing. He doesn’t believe anything improper was done. An excerpt from his biography listed on the City’s website states “I have personally registered over 1500 voters residents[sic] city wide with over 1200 of them living in the 4th Ward. I am very civic minded and live by the premise that there is no exercise better for the heart than reaching out and lifting people up.”

Messing with Armstead’s family

“You don’t mess with a man’s family under no circumstances. I didn’t sleep a wink last night.” Linden Councilman Derek Armstead, April 9, 2014.

According to Armstead, yesterday at dinner time, a caseworker for the Division of Youth and Family Services rang his doorbell asking to be let in for an investigation. His wife didn’t allow her in. The caseworker went away, and DYFS hasn’t been back since. Armstead said that follow-up phone calls to DYFS today revealed that the complaint was issued on the 3rd of this month and it listed “An unsafe living condition for the children, hanging wires, kids could get electrocuted”. Armstead also said that the person he spoke to at DYFS told him “I can assure you one thing, that the person who made this complaint is politically driven.”

This isn’t the first time DYFS investigated the Armstead’s. The first time occurred 3 years ago in the summer of 2011 when Armstead ran for his Linden City Council seat. No charges were brought against his family. Armstead faced a primary challenge that year, but he was the Democratic Committee candidate. He won the Primary and went on to win the General Election but states that the party didn’t really back him, instead they backed an Independent candidate that year.

Armstead wasn’t present when the DYFS worker came to his home last night. Armstead’s Wife, Danie Orelien-Armstead, answered the door and refused to let the DYFS worker in because she didn’t believe she was carrying the proper credentials, nor did she have a written order from the agency. The Armstead’s 4 children were home at the time: Two girls aged 16 and 7, and twin boys, age 8. Danie quickly sent the younger children, who were confused, to play in the basement, but not before they saw their mother in tears. It was their 16-year-old daughter who called her father at work to alert him to what was happening. A family friend was also visiting at the time and witnessed the incident.

Danie is a respected member of the Linden community. She is an award-winning tenured teacher of French and ESL in the Linden Public School System. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and holds two Masters Degrees in Instruction and Curriculum and Educational Leadership from Kean University. In October of 2011, she was selected to serve on the Union County Professional Development Board. A professional board that is charged with the responsibility of evaluation of the Union County school districts’ improvement plan.

The Armsteads pay $39,900 in Annual Property Tax bills

Today the Star-Ledger reported that the Armsteads were arrears in their property taxes. The article didn’t mention why they were reporting on this, who contacted them, or why they decided to investigate the Armsteads property tax history, except that it was first reported in the LocalSource by reporter Cheryl Hehl. Armstead stated Hehl never contacted him for the story and that her numbers were off. Hehl’s article states that “Armstead did not return multiple calls prior to press time”.

Without naming a source, or expounding on this sentence Hehl wrote “Although it is still early in the primary race, information about whether Armstead was actually a qualified candidate surfaced late last week.” She went on “According to several sources, the 4th Ward councilman is again in arrears in taxes involving several properties he owns in Linden…. She claimed “the LocalSource was able to verify this information by obtaining documents from the city tax assessor.”

This journalist’s personal experience with Cheryl Hehl is that she outright lied about trying to contact me in her past reporting. She didn’t attempt to contact my attorney either in what I viewed as a hit piece planted by the Democratic machine. And she wrote pure fiction when she reported on a protest in Hillside in which she credited me with orchestrating. Hehl has some credibility issues, to say the least. Requests to her editor for retractions were ignored.

According to Armstead the family owns 4 properties in Linden because, “We still believe in this town”.

The problem he says is a commercial property he purchased in 2010 on St. Georges Avenue with $140,000 down. The property has been empty while they struggle to renovate it. The taxes and fees on this property are approx. $5,000 because it is empty, he expects the taxes to be raised once the renovations are done and it is reappraised. They also have a mortgage on the property.

Armstead stated “I’ve never lost a property. I’ve owned properties since 1988 and haven’t lost a piece of property to a tax sale. All the years I’ve been here, I only made it to the list twice.” He blames his tax issue on the vacant St. George Ave. property which he believes will work itself out in time. “The bottom line is we’re still investing in Linden because we still believe in the town.”

Along with the commercial property mentioned above, the Armstead’s pay approximately $39,900 annually in property taxes and fees on their Linden properties:

Their home is a single family 6,000 sq. ft. new construction. Taxes/Fees: Approx. $13,000

Rental – 1-family home. Taxes/Fees: Approx. $7,000

Rental – Two family home. Taxes/Fees: approx. $14,900

“Property taxes in linden are just too high. We have to bring things in line so people can pay these taxes.” Linden Councilman Derrek Armstead, April 9, 2014.

Crap Budget

By John Bury | April 8, 2014

This Thursday, April 10, at 6 pm there will be a public hearing on the 2014 Union County Budget as introduced.  These are the obvious questions:

  1. Sheriff Revenue (page 16) : $1 million was anticipated in 2013 and $1 million was realized in 2013 and $1 million is being anticipated for 2014.  What are the odds any of these $1 million numbers are accurate?
  2. Debt Service – Open Space (a revenue item)  (page 27): $5,639,826.00 in 2013 went to $4,639,826.00.  Exactly a $1 million drop.  In debt service?  Could it be that with less Open Space money coming in as property values drop a lower number had to be made up?
  3. Open Space (yes another revenue item on page 28): Allegedly for maintenance of Open Space in the county (all Open Space not only that purchased through the Open Space trust fund) went from $2.6 million in 2013 to $2.4 million in 2014 so apparently it will be costing less to maintain Open Space (or the county is stealing less from the Open Space Trust Fund because there is less).
  4. Amount to be raised by taxation: $330,782,634 in 2014 from $317,544,198 in 2013.  How is another 4.2% even possible with flat pension obligations and a purported 2% tax levy cap? (more on the tax levy cap in the next blog).
  5. Open Space Trust Fund Yearly Summary (page 111): $1.85 million for salaries; $2.4 million moved outright to the current budget; and the $4,639,826 pretending to be debt repayments steal most of the OSTF tax levy.  It was not always so.  Compare this exhibit in the  2008 and 2014 budgets and you will see for 2008 nothing being paid out in salaries or going into the current budget and far lower debt payments (which were likely phony then too).

Assuming no public input these questions are unlikely to be asked on Thursday though maybe someday, with a new administration, some prosecutor might be asking them.

UCCF 3/27/14: New Comment/Question/Answer Policy

By John Bury | April 7, 2014

Perhaps too much information was leaking out so the format for Comments on Resolutions was changed:

First, the comments/questions:

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Then, some grudgingly elicited quasi-answers not susceptible to followup questions:
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Again, no answers during closing comments…
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which wrapped up with Bruce Paterson as previously covered:
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Reminder: polls remain open: