Camden Courier-Post - February 10, 1933
Slash of $720,890 Is Revealed in Totals Passed at Session of Rulers
Lease Announced Of Radio Station
Commissioners Debate with Von Nieda as He Charges Gross Extravagance
By Walt Batezel
The Camden City Commission yesterday approved the 1933 city budget after hearing and rejecting economy recommendations of several civic and labor organizations.
Eight speakers representing five organizations urged budget reductions and protested the total of $3,353,124.60. Verbal clashes over opinions were frequent between Commissioner Harold W. Bennett, director of finance and revenue, and former Councilman Frederick von Nieda and Thomas B. Hall, representatives of the Congress of Civic Associations of New Jersey.
Nearly 300 persons attended the hearing, in marked contrast to the 5000 who marched on city hall last year to demand budget reductions. The hearing lasted three hours. The departmental budget appropriations of $3,353,124.60 with the local school appropriation of $1,250,000 and other appropriations, totaling $960,060.55 to be added in the tax ordinance yet to be adopted, will give the city a total expense of $5,563,185.15 for 1933.
Tax Bill About Same
The tax rate will not be known until the tax ordinance is adopted. After the hearing Commissioner Bennett declared that due to equalization of assessments, the bills of some taxpayers will be a few dollars higher than last year, and a few dollars lower in other cases. The commission, after approving the budget on a motion by Commissioner Bennett, adopted a resolution leasing WCAM to the Broadcast Advertising Company for $1000 per year and a percentage of all receipts over $24,000. All maintenance costs will be born by the company, of which Rudolph Preisendanz, Jr., is head.
After the budget was adopted Bennett declared the City Commission would take into consideration an allegation of Frank J. Hartmann, Jr., secretary of the Civic Congress, that the $125,400 appropriation for street lighting was $26,450 higher than it should be according to figures obtained by him concerning the city's .lighting equipment. "If there has been an error the budget can be amended at any time," Commissioner Bennett said.
Commissioner Clay W. Reesman, under whose department street lighting comes, declared that figures in his office concerning street lighting were different from those quoted by Hartmann. The figures he used, Hartmann said, were obtained by him from City Comptroller Sidney P. McCord.
von Nieda Case
von Nieda was the first citizen to address the commission. Shifting papers in his hands, he faced the commissioners and said: "We have here $40,000 for your Recorder's Court in 1932, and $25,000 for 1933."
Commissioner Bennett jumped to his feet.
"Those 1932 figures," Bennett said, "were merely an estimate of the receipts to be taken in, but that amount did not come in. This year we anticipate only $25,000, which we consider a fair estimate."
"That's fine" said von Nieda, "but we have never had a chance to sit in with you on these figures."
"You can sit in with us at any time," responded Bennett, "We're glad to have you."
"I see here," said von Nieda, "that the transportation inspector is paid from fees, but you show no fees and the inspector should be paid by the Public Service. I also suggest that you turn Convention Hall over to the poor. Now in dealing with Station WCAM, I see you show a profit for the last three months of $1000, while in 1932, you show no records of receipts, and we are just wondering.'.
Worried by WCAM
"Do you want that answered now?" asked Bennett. "WCAM has given myself and the other commissioners some concern during the past year. It is our duty to see that we receive as much income as possible. Different methods have been used in the radio station to make it pay during the past three months, and during this time that station has been in the black. We figure that in 1933 there will be no deficit in this station, and we look for a profit of more than $1000."
"Now in this matter of eliminating deputy directors," von Nieda said.
He was interrupted by Commissioner Reesman.
"I'll tell you," said Reesman, "about my deputy director Carlton Harris. My deputy receives $1750 a year. He has charge of all labor in the Department of Parks and Public Property. He is on the job every morning at 7:00 AM, and often works until 10 p. m., with the labor outside."
"In speaking of the assessors," von Nieda continued, "we should have assessors who are not influenced by politicians or political dictators."
"You know I won't stand for that," answered Bennett. "The readjustment of ratables is only a small part 1 of the work we are doing. Each property is assessed on a basic principal. Any time you have a suggestion that will help us in our work we will be glad to hear from you but I firmly believe that real state must be relieved of its heavy tax burden by an income and sales tax, and this tax must come sooner or later.
"As far as the city commissioners are concerned, we are studying it from day to day, in efforts to get out of the wilderness.
"In speaking of the purchasing department," von Nieda continued, "we know what happened there last year. You fired your purchasing agent, and if you had not fired him it probably would have afforded the public some interesting reading about this purchasing department.
"All of my men are working overtime,' replied Bennett. "It is true the purchasing agent is out and his work is being done by an assistant (William Dilmore) at half his salary. We have got rid of as many people in these departments as we can. I had to let one girl go in the purchasing department and one girl in Controller McCord's department. One man went on pension in the tax office and two were let out in efforts to balance the budget.
"In one of my departments where there were three girls I had, to make a $900 cut by leaving one girl out. called the three girls into my office and told them that one had to go and asked them what their home responsibilities were. One had to take care of her family, including a 77-year-old aunt; another a family with a 66-year-old aunt, and the third was supporting three or four brothers with the help of another brother, who is a barber working for practically what tips he could get.
"But I had to make a $900 cut. The girls asked me not to dismiss any of them, as they each would take a $300 cut in addition to cuts .already applied. Another man took an extra $260 cut so that he would not be out of work. But I had the budget to take care of, and I am ready to challenge any city the size of Camden to show so nearly a balanced budget. Our plan is to pay as we go."
"You cite two or three instances," protested von Nieda. "But I want to show you scores of families which have no money and they are taxpayers. You say you have cut to the bone, but you should cut through the bone. This is no grandstand play by us. Maybe we can give you some help. Then, too, the debt interest must be paid on this tragedy," he shouted, pointing to walls of the commission chamber.
"Maybe you can tell me how to get rid of the bonds," suggested Bennett. "You must remember this year we have cut $900,000 from the budget."
von Nieda said the Civic Congress recommended that work now being done by two city solicitors should be done by one, that when more policemen and firemen are needed "little fellows" be restored first wherever possible; that the city incinerating plant be closed; that the personnel of the city's two' sewage disposal plants be reduced; that the city's lighting bill be cut $40,000; that inspectors of lighting be abolished and their work done by policemen and the city's engineer's department. Personally he favored an income tax, he said, to relieve the I burden on real estate.
"1 realize," von Nieda said, "that the city commission has done a fair job, but of the congress, with conservatively 15,000 members, think you can do even better.
Commissioner Frank B. Hanna, director of public works, interrupted von Nieda on the subject of the incinerating plant, which von Nieda declared could be abandoned because it did not burn garbage, but only rubbish.
"Can you see me at 9:00 AM tomorrow and go through my department with me?" asked Hanna.
"Any time," replied von Nieda.
Warns of Tax Strike
"However," von Nieda continued, "we are wondering what the figures in the right hand corner of the tax bill will be. Assessments may be lower and the tax rate higher, and that does not give a true picture. I fear the bills will be more for 1933 and for one am willing now to take the 1932 assessment on my home.
"The congress vigorously opposes this personality tax. You expect to tax the homeowner for everything he has. I warn YOU gentlemen that if this tax is imposed in Camden there will be a run on banks and building and loan associations. If that happens homeowners and renters will leave this unfortunate city. There will be a tax strike here, and so help me God, I'm helping it!"
von Nieda was followed by William Hughes of 578 Mickle street, who spoke for the Unemployed Council of New Jersey.
Hughes reiterated demands of the union for increased relief payments to unemployed, urged a municipally-owned lighting plant, operated at a profit, the same as the city's water department; a municipal lodging house; use of hand labor instead of machinery in all city contracts and the employment of labor to "tear down the slums in Camden."
Hartmann was the next speaker. He read from a prepared statement which he declared was an analysis of the city's 1932 lighting expenses, and which, he said, could be lowered "had we used larger lamps."
After enumerating the individual costs of lamps of various candle power, and contending a change in the lamps would effect a saving this year, Hartmann charged the city has overpaid for electric energy in street lighting.
Commissioner Reesman declared that figures used by Hartmann were in error and that therefore, his computations as to possible savings were wrong. He announced, however, he would study the situation to discover if there was any error in the budget concerning street lighting, as alleged by Hartmann.
"The Civic Congress is now circulating petitions for a referendum on a municipal lighting plant," Hartmann said. "We now have 10,000 of the required 11,000 signatures, and we do not intend to stop until we have 25,000. You commissioners can stop these petitions by adopting a resolution declaring a referendum on the question."
He then asked that the work of the city electrical inspector be taken over by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and that "when the next tax sale is held, all properties be advertised, including banks, garages and to whomever the property belongs."
Commissioner Bennett then arose and said: "I've used' discretion on that. There are some who are paying as low as $5 per month, and I think these people should be helped. We commissioners do not want to sell the home of anyone. That is what we are trying to stop. We are in perfect agreement on that."
Debt Moratorium Asked
"How about the Bridge Garage?" some one in the audience shouted.
"The Bridge Garage has just paid $1500," Bennett said, "and promises to pay something every month. We are trying to make the tax bills lower by getting in all the monies we can, and where possible to take in delinquent payments no matter how small.
Clarence Moulette, secretary of the Unemployed Union of New Jersey, then arose. He asked for a moratorium on the city debt service for five years, and urged the commission to adopt such a resolution memorializing the Legislature for that relief: He announced opposition to the personality tax.
"We are not questioning the actions of the commissioners, Moulette said. "Spending less money will not help the situation. Commissioner Hanna. told me if he had $51,000 additional in his department six closed garbage trucks could purchased. This will help give work. By cutting down salaries you decrease purchasing power. Work must be had. Eventually you will pay in scrip. Why not pay in scrip now and give out work."
Hall asked that Convention Hall be abandoned and the building used for hospitalization work for the needy, and urged the city commission to "meet in the evenings so that citizens will know and see what is going on." He asked for abolition of the positions of plumbing, building, sewer and heating inspectors.
'Close High Schools'
"The commission should face conditions as they are," he said. "I speak for myself, and not the Civic Congress. I ask that the high schools be closed. I heartily approve closing of the Vocational School, but if choice was to be made between high schools and the Vocational School, I would say close the high schools. Before selling the home of anyone to meet impossible taxes, I say cut to the bone by getting rid of everything that is not absolutely necessary.
"You commissioners must be made to realize that increased taxation is what has destroyed purchasing power in America. Meet this condition!
Commissioner Bennett challenged the statement of Hall that government costs were responsible for conditions of today.
"There are numerous causes," Bennett said.
"I would rejoice in debating it with you or anyone you select," Hall replied, "including United States senators, and convince them in 20 minutes."
"I'll debate that with him," shouted Morris Stempa of Audubon from the audience. Stempa later addressed the commission, speaking for the Socialist party, and urged the moratorium advocated by Moulette, also a Socialist.
Eugene Wasilewski, speaking for you the South Camden Civic Association, denounced the commission for failing to call in civic association representatives in their preparation of the Budget.
Bennett Gives Reply
"You called in the bankers, but not those others of us who also are interested in city costs," Wasilewski said. "You tell us now there is a reduction in assessments and then come along and wallop us with a higher tax rate. That is not fair. You were elected to look after our interests and that you have failed to do. You are making us eat red herring, and we want you to eat red herring with us."
The last citizen to address the commission was Salvadore Guadelli, president of the Citizens-Taxpayers' League. He made a general indictment of conditions, ,and asked that the city commission "do not let sectionalism creep into city affairs."
Commissioner Bennett then arose and addressed his fellow commissioners and the audience.
"All these things suggested here today have been considered," he said. "We five men came into office with the idea of serving the people. I know the business of financing the city is a serious problem. We have endeavored to move the budget into that realm of 'pay-as-you-go! We appreciate everything presented here. Every taxpayer we look upon as an employer.
"Looking at it from every angle, this budget cannot be delayed any longer. You'll find we were severe in preparing this budget; you'll find we were severe last year. Last year we cut a half million. This year we cut $702,890.74, and to that the board of education, we hope, will add a cut of $250,000. That is a total cut of $952,890.74. Other cities in New Jersey show nothing to compare with it.
"I hesitate in making more cuts. I speak from experience when I say I'm a taxpayer. In the past two weeks I've been trying to raise money to pay taxes. I want all of you to know we commissioners can sympathize. It is not easy being at the head of a government in times like these. I hope that municipalities will receive federal relief in payment of debt service. There has been a tremendous cut in our budget, including the board of education figures. I feel the commissioners are to be commended for the work they've done this year.
"If we pass the budget we won't stop at that particular point, but will see what else we can do all along the line. I feel the essential thing is to pass the budget. I'm proud of the fact we came through 1932, and are started in 1933 the same way, although I make no promise for the future. I wish for a moratorium for interest on bonds. There are the bondholders on one side and the taxpayers on the other, and the man out of work to be considered.
We are in sympathy with the man out of work. I say let the federal or government put some money into to the interest rate. We must pass this budget this afternoon. Do not delay longer. This is not an arbitrary 10 stand on my part. I make a motion the budget now be passed."
City Clerk Frank S. Albright called the roll and all five commissioners voting 'unanimously. No demonstration followed passage of the measure.
*Eugene Wasilewski referred to in this story was Eugene Waleskiewicz, who was later known as Eugene Wales.
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