The West New York Board of Commissioners reluctantly voted to approve a budget for the 2013 calendar year recently, bonding nearly $10 million and raising taxes an average of 2.4 percent in an effort to correct some of the town’s financial struggles that have become a hindrance of Mayor Felix Roque’s administration since he took office in 2011.
The budget, which comes out to about $72.6 million, includes mostly mandatory appropriations, with only about $5 million in discretionary funds, said Town Administrator Joe DeMarco.
“I’m not happy with the way the budget turned out,” admitted Roque in a phone interview. “We were able to lower taxes last year and attempted to find a way to do the same this year, but it didn’t work out.”
“The town is facing relatively the same issues as the average taxpayer,” said DeMarco. “We’ve seen an increase in health costs, electricity, things like that. The same things that increases a citizen’s budget.”
According to DeMarco, the discretionary funds will be used primarily to continue funding the town’s recreation and senior citizens’ programs.
The initial introduction of the budget on March 20 was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Count Wiley the sole dissenting vote. Wiley stated at the meeting that he was displeased with the amount delegated to his department, Parks and Public Property.
“I’m not happy with the way the budget turned out.” – Mayor Felix Roque
Before voting yes, Roque said, “It’s not what we hoped for, but we’re new at this.”
Roque said that the signing of a new police contract in 2012 was one of the main difficulties faced by the commissioners when attempting to balance the budget without raising taxes, but that the two new officers provided at least some sort of silver lining.
“It’s all about the numbers. It just didn’t happen the way we hoped,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re getting more police officers, which is good for the town.”
The town will hold a hearing on the budget on April 17, at which time taxpayers will be granted the opportunity to voice comments or concerns – but some who attended the March 20 meeting decided not to wait that long.
Beatrice Perez-Martinez, holding her baby daughter on her hip, lambasted the mayor and his colleagues for breaking their campaign promise to lower taxes, which saw extraordinary hikes under the guidance of former mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega.
“You promised to lower them,” she said, “and now they’re going up.”
Roque responded that lowering taxes had been, and still is, his goal.
$10 million in bonds
The budget’s success was dependent on the passage of two ordinances that allowed the town to bond nearly $10 million, one for $7.5 million, and the other for around $2 million. While the $2 million will be used to fund various improvement projects around town, and the other will serve a more complicated purpose – a somewhat dramatic attempt to save the town from defaulting on a $7 million payment due to a deal with the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) this June.
In 2008, the town, then under the leadership of Vega, sold its public works garage to the HCIA for around $8 million, and then mortgaged the same building in order to produce a cash infusion for the budget, which at the time was short that amount, said DeMarco. As a result, the town took up the responsibility of repaying the HCIA the $8 million, the bulk of which is due this June.
The ordinance, therefore, which was approved by the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs’ Local Finance Board earlier this month, is essentially a restructuring of that payment. The $8 million will be repaid over the next 15 years, said DeMarco.
“These are the ugly sides of the budget,” he said. “But there are positives as well.”
He noted the second, $2 million bond, which will be coupled with a $600,000 Green Acres grant awarded by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and used for a series of capital improvements around town. These include approximately $1.2 million in improvements to the town’s pool, $40,000 in new technology for the Police Department, and $350,000 roofing, plumbing, and electrical repairs to Hudson Hall, Town Hall, and the Polk Street Firehouse, which DeMarco said in the future would be used for community events.
The bond will also cover the costs of an $800,000 environmental cleanup at the town’s Department of Public Works garage ordered by the DEP after possible soil contamination was discovered.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com