A sleepy Trenton City Commission budget planning session was shaken awake a little Monday night when the subject of reviving the town's Downtown Development Authority--which itself has been slumbering in funding-induced suspended animation since 2012 -- arose near the end of the workshop.
It was Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten who brought up the subject she called an elephant in the room. "We need to invest in this city," she said.
What the commissioner was referring to, presumably, though the name was never named, was the previously-discussed subject of contracting with Peter Cervelli, Trenton's erstwhile Better Hometown manager, to do economic development work for the city.
Cervelli, who now does similar work for Dade County as executive director of its associated but independent Industrial Development Authority, was once a fixture at Trenton City Commission meetings and occupied an office at City Hall, from which he energetically pursued grants, investigated state and federal programs and courted businesses for the city.
One of Cervelli's city functions was as the general factotum-slash-boots-on-the ground of the Trenton Downtown Authority, a coalition of Trenton business owners joined together for the town's betterment. The DDA members' confidence in the transplanted New York businessman and Fordham University math major--the name "Cervelli," by the way, is Italian for "brains"--was evident when they resigned en masse when the city summarily dismissed him.
The city commission, under former Mayor Anthony Emanuel, gave Cervelli the bum's rush in a surprise move in May 2012. Emanuel contended that Cervelli's job was nonessential and cost the city too much to be sustainable. The DDA members' position was that they were busy businesspeople and that without Cervelli to do the work their group was unsustainable.
Since that shocker announcement four years ago, Trenton has muddled along without a Better Hometown manager and without a DDA. Monda Wooten argued that it was time for change. "We've got to get out of survival mode here," she said.
But Fire/Utility Commissioner Jerry Henegar said the timing was all wrong. "We're still digging up out of the hole to be in survival mode," he said.
Henegar pointed out that the earlier part of the meeting had been spent finalizing plans to cut the benefits of city employees. How could the commission in the same breath approve funds to pay for the economic development work? "You've got to convince these two to be on your side," he told Ms. Wooten--referring to the other city commissioners--because she would never convince him.
"You don't don't know what it's all about, Jerry," said Ms. Wooten. She argued that city business license fees had been increased a third to subsidize the DDA. "Nobody gave them that third back," she said.
The matter was left at that--this was an informal work session as opposed to a formal meeting, so that the commissioners could not vote in any case--but Commissioner Wooten made it clear the subject would come up again. "I'm going to fight for it," she said.
Otherwise, the session was a grim matter of wrestling costs. Though, again, no vote was taken, the commissioners all seemed in line with ending Trenton's existing policy of paying 100 percent of health insurance premiums for not only city employees but their spouses and children.
Henceforward, they agreed, though Trenton will still pay 100 percent for employees, it will only pay 80 percent for wives' and children's policies. That's still a pretty sweet deal, said Monda Wooten. "The hit is so minimal," she said.
Mayor Alex Case said the move will save the city about $2433 a month, with a final cost for health insurance to the city of $30,130, though these numbers may vary a little depending on which health policy the city's 22 employees opt for.
Other cost-cutting measures discussed were:
Having all city vehicles serviced, including oil changes, performed at Dade County's physical plant. The county has agreed to do all city's mechanical work for the cost of parts and material plus a flat $25 for labor, a deal Mayor Case saves Trenton megabucks. But right now, said Case, each department sends its cars wherever it likes for service;
Resetting municipal fees. Commissioner Henegar said the city is currently investigating whether Trenton fees, inspections and licensures were in line with those of nearby municipalities;
Charging impact fees for building projects when construction work requires the city to shell out substantial sums. The city's current charge of $520 for a sewer tap fee did not cover the $3-4,000 it cost Trenton to raise all its manhole to accommodate the new Fred's "supercenter," said Henegar. Charging these impact fees is actually specifically permitted in existing city ordinances, said Mayor Case. "There's no reason the rest of the taxpayers have to pay for that," said Case. "That's the developer's problem."
Again, this was an informal session. Any pertinent votes will be taken in this matter when the Trenton City Commission holds its regular monthly meeting this Monday, Oct. 10. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.