The Jersey City municipal budget is usually an issue that comes up months into the fiscal year, which starts July 1 of the previous year and ends on June of the current year.
Usually, officials in the city’s financial office start doing a draft budget early in the fiscal year to get a general idea of how much revenue the city has to collect to meet operating expenses and other obligations. But in Jersey City, it is often months into the fiscal year before a budget is introduced and approved by the City Council, because local officials must wait for state grants and local revenues to be received to shore up any shortfall.
But already there are concerns by city employees that the severity of the city’s budget deficit in a bad economy could lead to measures to create a stable budget such as cutting of jobs and ending of various city programs and initiatives beneficial to residents.
Jersey City has a projected $42 million structural deficit.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy alluded to the city’s future fiscal woes in his inaugural address in July when he said he “asked” the directors of the city’s various departments to cut their departmental budget by 10 percent, including usually untouchable entities such as the Police and Fire Department, and reiterated the city’s continuing policy of no overtime and a hiring freeze of non-uniform personnel.
So far in this fiscal year, the city has instituted a voluntary furlough system for city employees.
And more controversially, in July, the City Council voted at a special meeting for a preliminary municipal tax levy of $170 million, so property tax bills will be sent to residents for the third and fourth quarter of this calendar year before the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget can be struck. That meant municipal property tax went up 11.25 percent, which incurred the ire of residents attending that meeting and angry letters to local papers as well as postings on websites.
Business Administrator Brian O’Reilly explained at that meeting that the increase of the tax levy was also to get more “cash flow” into the city’s coffers to start the new fiscal year, as there is a projected $42 million structural deficit.
Suggestions for a balanced budget
However, an unnamed city official with over 20 years experience said there’s already talk of asking directors to slash up to 20 percent and finding other ways to skimp on essential services such as the Fire Department no longer employing full-time firefighters as part-time fire inspectors, who make sure buildings and other structures are up to code.
Another unnamed city employee with 10 years on the job said the Healy administration is looking at implementing mandatory furloughs and then layoffs if the situation becomes direr.
This employee said the layoffs would start with seasonal employees, or employees hired for a particular time of the year, followed by provisional employees with a few years experience but do not have a civil service title that prevents them from being laid-off or fired without recourse.
The employee’s suggestion is for Mayor Healy to look at letting go campaign workers hired for city jobs during and after this year’s mayoral campaign season, and then move on to other employees.
And then there is City Councilman Steven Fulop, who has no problem going on the record about the Healy administration’s inability to tackle budget problems with immediacy. Fulop usually has voted at past City Council meetings against approval for temporary appropriations to keeping city operations afloat in the interim before the municipal budget is struck.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.