Camden’s fiscal woes are often referred to as a “crisis.” But a crisis is by definition an unexpected event requiring an unplanned change in course. Calling Camden’s problems a “financial crisis” gives the impression that they happened suddenly, when in fact Camden has been on a structural-deficit treadmill for 30 years.– Raymond L. Lamboy and Gayle Christiansen in their Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed
We could talk for days about the challenges facing Camden, New Jersey: its education system continues to fail the city’s students, millions of dollars invested in redevelopment projects have not trickled down to residents, contaminated land makes development cost prohibitive, manufacturing jobs that left the city years ago have yet to be replaced, the city has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and the list goes on and on. Out of all these, the problem most on the minds of Camdenites today is the looming layoff of nearly half of the police force, a third of the fire department, and one-hundred and three non-uniformed city employees.
These layoffs are a result of rectifying a city budget that is $28 million dollars short. Finger pointing starts when anyone asks how the budget shortfall came to be. Some say the budget trouble is due to years of corrupt city leadership, others claim it is the allowance of too many tax exempt buildings in the city, and still others argue this all is the fault of expense cutting Governor Chris Christie, who is providing less to all New Jersey cities due in part to the national economic recession. There is most likely truth in all of these allegations, but the problem Camden faces engulfs them all. The city has an entrenched and long-standing structural deficit. If current and future decisions and actions do not go toward closing the gap between what the city raises in revenues and spends in expenses, layoffs this year will only be the beginning of much larger problems.
Ray Lamboy, a community leader I met through the thesis writing process, and I wanted to reframe the conversation about Camden’s fiscal issues to include a greater understanding of the size of the structural deficit and what it will take to close the gap with long-term solutions. Our collaboration resulted in an opinion piece printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ray speaking about the piece on NPR radio station WHYY’s program Radio Times, and an appearance on Sunday, December 12th’s At Issue weekly news program broadcast on Philadelphia NBC 10. Read, listen, watch and then join us in the conversation on what we can be done in Camden and similar forgotten cities.