“In a dream, I saw a city invincible.” That’s Camden’s motto, lifted from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and engraved at City Hall.
Unfortunately, Camden isn’t there yet, still a governmental mare’s nest: probable layoffs, potential library closures, and an ongoing
But this isn’t the same budget hell Camden’s seen before. It’s the budget hell that’s raging statewide; the budget hell that’s a byproduct of economic depression. This isn’t the same Camden where three mayors were indicted in two decades. This isn’t the runaway government historic to the waterfront city, not since Mayor Dana L. Redd gave up her state Senate seat to come home.
Previously under state control, a state-appointed chief operating officer left Camden in January. For nearly a decade before that, the state was steering the ship for Camden; now they’re just setting the course. The Department of Community Affairs is reviewing initiatives and expenditures for the city, but the council is working famously with Redd to keep the ship on course.
“We’re back in that executive mindframe,” Robert Corrales, Redd’s public information officer, said Thursday.
Redd presented a budget in January at $177 million, but has since reduced it by $39 million. The council unanimously accepted the proposed budget without question, according to reports. On September 15, the nine-member board will have its budget hearing.
Redd ordered a 25 percent spending reduction in all departments for the budget, which is proving painful for the city. So is the looming 3 percent tax hike. But even after the trimming, the city still has a $24 million budget shortfall; drastic action was called for.
Corrales said the city has asked for $54 million in transitional aid from the state, even though the new municipal aid formula has over 20
municipalities competing for roughly $250 million, whereas the old system divvied up $750 million among only nine towns.
Less cash, more pockets, Corrales said, which could hurt Camden’s chance of budget success this year. Even so, the mayor is dealing with the issues, like the threat of all three libraries closing, which she saved by engaging the county. That was after the library board publicly criticized Redd for being part of the problem, not the solution.
“There’s definitely going to be a library in Camden,” Corrales promised. “We’re all working together right now.”
As far as layoffs: “Everything’s on the table,” he said.
Worst case, invincibility is a myth; best case, it’s more than just a dream.