HOBOKEN -- Councilwoman Beth Mason e-mailed a letter to supporters on Tuesday that was critical of the Zimmer administration’s decision to hold on to the city’s surplus rather than pledge to give some of it back to taxpayers. The $20 million surplus consists of $11.8 million dollars that are "unrestricted," according to city officials, which the city is able to spend.
“Perhaps Mayor Zimmer and her administration should revisit her campaign promise to cut taxes 25 percent in their first year alone, and realize it is they who are being totally irresponsible,” Mason said in the email. “If Mayor Zimmer cannot provide property tax relief with a $20 million budget surplus, when will City Hall ever do it?”
She also said that the city's business administrator, Arch Liston, has said that the money will NOT go to tax relief.
However, whether taxes will come down anyway remains to be seen, as the city intends to introduce a new budget Sept. 1.
A local paper reported on Saturday that Liston anticipates substantial healthcare costs and the negotiation of six to seven labor contracts in 2011, so the surplus will be needed then and not returned to taxpayers. He also called Mason’s plan to return $11.8 million to taxpayers “totally irresponsible” in the article.
Calls to Liston’s office were not returned by press time.
Meanwhile, not every taxpayer agrees with Mason. The Reporter has received letters critical of Mason's plea. Taxpayer Scott Siegel writes, in part (see his full letter in the print edition this weekend):
Despite my differences with my councilwoman, Beth Mason, I never thought I would write a letter questioning her fiscal responsibility. When the $100mm 2009 budget was adopted this spring, Councilwoman Mason wanted a $90mm budget. I specifically asked for details, stating if her cuts were responsible, I would support them. She declined to name any. Afterwards, she detailed savings focusing on a city wage freeze, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. She should have known as an experienced Council member that neither the Council nor the Mayor can do so unilaterally. If enacted, the unions would go to court, correctly charging that this violated the collective bargaining agreement governing municipal employment. Her suggestion would have cost taxpayers unnecessary legal fees on a losing case. Was Councilwoman Mason fiscally irresponsible, or just pandering?
...What about the remaining $12mm? Hoboken’s bond rating is one step from junk, impeding our ability to prudently finance our debt. Councilwoman Mason apparently wishes to repeat the same mistake made by homeowners who financed a long term asset with a short term adjustable mortgage (ARM). When the ARM came due many homeowners had their homes foreclosed due to the same asset/liability mismatch we employ. Only by having a solid bond rating of at least “A” can we properly finance Hoboken’s debt without county support. Key to obtaining this rating is a surplus equaling 5-10% of budget....