Last night, the City Council passed an amendment to the City of Hoboken’s 2019 operating budget that passed by a 5-4 margin with Councilmembers Jim Doyle, Vanessa Falco, Emily Jabbour and Mike Russo voting in opposition and Councilmembers Tiffanie Fisher, Jen Giattino, Peter Cunningham, Ruben Ramos, and Mike DeFusco (absent but voted by phone) voting in favor. The annual city budget is for $117.6 million, corresponding to a 1.7% increase, which would result in a $7.61 increase per $100,000 of assessed value for municipal purposes.
Below is a statement from Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla regarding the budget:
I want to take this opportunity to update you on the City’s 2019 budget. This year, my administration has done its best to introduce a fiscally responsible budget that sufficiently funds City services while is responsible to taxpayers.
The budget introduced by my administration included sufficient funding for critical projects including $114,000 for the free HOP bus service, $96,500 to maintain our Office of Constituent Services, and the traditional costs of municipal services including public safety, snow removal, sanitation, and recycling. In addition, the capital budget my administration put forward included $5 million for water main replacement, $2,450,000 for road resurfacing and transportation improvements, as well as funding for Hoboken’s Northwest Resiliency Park.
However, I’m disappointed by certain portions of amendments to my administration’s budget, introduced by Councilmembers Fisher and Giattino. I believe these amendments are fiscally irresponsible and politically vindictive. Originally, their amendments posed a drastic $836,000 cut to the budget that was thankfully rejected by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which must approve all municipal budgets.
Fisher and Giattino’s new amendments, which the Department of Community Affairs has expressed that “concerns remain” about the underfunding of the budget, slash the City’s legal department by nearly $100,000, which had already reduced spending by $400,000 in previous years. The cuts to the legal department could substantially jeopardize our ability to continue fighting the Monarch waterfront development, pursue additional affordable housing initiatives, and other critical services offered by the City that require legal representation.
Second, their amendments target my office and eliminates a member of my staff, Jason Freeman, who goes above and beyond to respond during emergencies, and other important duties. Already, the Office of the Mayor is one of the most understaffed in the region, as documented by our legal department. It’s unfortunate that the amendment targets his employment, as one of the hardest working employees in City Hall.
Third, the amendments cut the Hoboken Police Department by approximately $100,000, with cuts including equipment and service agreements requested by Police Chief Ken Ferrante. Finally, the budget amendments have the very real possibility of cutting our Office of Constituent Services, and will likely force layoffs and elimination of personnel.
In the interest of transparency, I want to share with you some of the substantial budgetary constraints beyond our control that impact our overall costs and tax rate this year. Unfortunately, we’ve faced skyrocketing increases in our state pension system costs, which have increased over $1.2 million since last year for a total of $11.1 Million. In addition, due to the increased cost of solid waste hauling and recycling throughout region, we’re facing a $345,000 increase from last year, as well as an increase of $1.38 million salary and wages due to previous contractual obligations with various public unions, with 70% of that amount related to public safety personnel.
Despite these challenges, and the financial constraints imposed by the Council that could undermine the City’s ability to operate efficiently, we will make the best of what is given to us and work to continue providing critical services for Hoboken residents.
A final thank you to our City Directors who worked tirelessly to pose fiscally responsible budgets for each of their departments, as well as Councilmembers Doyle, Falco and Jabbour and Russo for recognizing the nuances of the budget and opposing Councilmembers Giattino and Fisher’s fiscally irresponsible amendments.
Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla