Budget amendments passed at a special City Council meeting Tuesday spared the economic development director's job, but cut the mayor's chief of staff and public information officer.
The municipal tax levy was reduced from last year, but because city revenues continue to decline, there will still be an increase of $94.84 on the average home assessed at $113,000. The administration had proposed a budget reflecting a tax increase of $101.96 with no cuts to the team assembled by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who took office Jan. 1. Council members who approved the cuts said the jobs weren't needed, but others said the city's future hinges on improving its image and communication with potential investors.
In public comment before the votes on budget lines, resident Lillian Jamar said, "I'm here in support of the mayor getting the money he needs to run the city. The people put him in there. He does need help. I hope that you will consider helping this mayor."
But resident Mustapha Muhammad said, "We seem to have amnesia," citing recommendations for cuts from both the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and a budget consultant hired by the council. One point of contention was the administration's proposed use of $4.9 million in surplus to balance the budget, which was amended to $3.9 million.
Councilman Cory Storch, who with Councilwoman Rebecca Willliams voted "no" on the cuts, said communication, both inside and outside the city, was one of its big challenges. He said he had hoped for collaboration between the administration and council, "but unfortunately my colleagues did not see it that way."
Storch said the city's image had to be changed.
"Our image is tarnished," he said.
But Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said the council was doing its job and called objections "one-sided" and "slanted."
Storch also objected to a cut to the Planning Division, saying it had been understaffed for years and needed to be ready to handle anticipated transit-oriented development.
The amendments will be published before another special meeting next Tuesday that will include a public hearing on them before possible final passage of the 2014 budget. The meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.
Among the dozen speakers before the council began voting on the amendments, Mario Camino of Arkad Group Investments LLC drew applause after recounting how he "took a huge gamble" on Plainfield and was gratified to have "someone on my side" in economic director Carlos Sanchez.
To succeed in his business, he said, "I have to sell people on how good Plainfield is" and with Sanchez, he said, "We got a good thing going."
Camino now promotes the city on his Queen City Revival web site.
Another speaker was former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who lost the June 2013 primary to Mapp. She recounted cuts to her administration that Mapp supported when he was the Third Ward councilman and asked for one person by name to be rehired in Recreation.
One line in the amendments was to pay a catering bill for $3,500 left over from her administration.
After the amendments were passed, speakers again called for improvement of the city's image. Richard Stewart, chairman of the CBAC, said the city was at a crossroads and won applause with his call for positivity.
Resident Jean Black chided those who keep talking about the past.
"I hear people talking about what happened years ago. Times changed - the town has changed," she said. "It's not like it used to be, and you have to get used to it."