After a unanimous vote adopting a 2010 transitional municipal budget, the attention of the City Council has turned toward providing more tax relief in 2011. The $52 million budget, which pays for municipal operations for the second half of 2010 and allows for a five percent municipal tax cut, was passed 9-0 on Oct. 6 by a council that rarely votes unanimously on anything, especially when it comes to finances.
How much relief is coming? How about next year?
Some council members, like Councilwoman Beth Mason, wanted to see more tax relief, paid for by the city’s $10 million cash surplus. However, City Auditor Steve Wielkotz said under a transition year budget, the city is only allowed to provide a five percent municipal tax cut. The city is switching from a fiscal year spending schedule (July 1 to June 30) to a budget that runs from January to December.
“This fiscally honest, gimmick-free, fully-funded budget puts us on sound fiscal footing so we can reduce taxes further in 2011.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
Mason said the five percent decrease in municipal taxes is “a good start,” but maintained that a significant amount of the surplus should be given back to taxpayers.
“It’s a good budget,” said Councilman Peter Cunningham. “Judging by where we have come from since 2007, 2008, I know that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Cunningham said the tax situation is “still painful” but said “tax relief will continue to come.”
Cunningham also commended the Zimmer administration’s process for developing the budget.
“I think the public has a better understanding of what’s going on in the city than they’ve had in a while,” Cunningham said.
Councilman Nino Giacchi also said he expects more tax relief when the new budget is introduced in 2011.
“I understand the budget of this year, and the consequences of transitional year,” Giacchi said. “But we have the benefit of a 12-month budget for 2011. We have to take into consideration that surplus…It’s a good budget. Everybody worked very hard, but there’s still work to go.”
Councilman Michael Lenz supported the budget, and said he hopes the council can work to lower the budget and taxes together.
“Every time we reduce costs people start grandstanding,” Lenz said. “The only way to reduce the budget is to spend less.”
The budget now has a $10 million cash surplus. Councilman Dave Mello said he looks at a surplus for a city the same way a family thinks of a savings account. He said he can’t think of a family that wouldn’t want a savings account, and a municipality that wouldn’t want a surplus.
Lenz, along with city administrators, have said the appropriate surplus is between $5 million and $10 million for Hoboken. Council members have said a higher surplus will lead to a better bond rating for Hoboken.
The morning after the budget adoption, Mayor Dawn Zimmer expressed a positive outlook on the current budget and hopes for 2011.
“While most towns across the state are raising taxes, I’m proud that we are bucking the trend and cutting municipal taxes by 5 percent – the most permitted by law during a transition year,” Zimmer said in a press release. “More importantly, this fiscally honest, gimmick-free, fully-funded budget puts us on sound fiscal footing so we can reduce taxes further in 2011.”
Tabakin approved; not without controversy
Former interim Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin will now begin work as the official corporation counsel of the city of Hoboken.
The City Council voted on three resolutions to award a salary to Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin. After one resolution was presented which would hire Tabakin and the firm he works for, Weiner Lesniak, for $313,000 annually, some members of the council disputed different parts of the agreement. The solution was to break up the vote into three separate resolutions.
The council voted unanimously for a $103,000 salary for Tabakin’s position as the corporation counsel, which is a “director’s salary.” The council also voted for a $10,000 payment to Tabakin for work on the lawsuit filed by S. Hekemian Group against the city for not completing the sale of the Observer Highway Municipal garage to the company.
The main controversy stemmed from part of the resolution which would employ Weiner Lesniak, Tabakin’s firm, for an amount not to exceed $200,000, for handling of seven cases of litigation on behalf of the city.
“I’m trying to move the operation of this government forward,” Tabakin said, when questioned by the council about the resolution. “If you don’t want me to do it, that’s fine…You keep getting sued, and as you get sued you need more lawyers.”
Tabakin said, compared to the historical litigation rates the city has faced, $200,000 is a “bargain.”
The council voted 5-4 for the $200,000 agreement between the city and Tabakin’s employer, Weiner Lesniak, for handling of the seven items of litigation. Mason, Giacchi, Russo, and Councilwoman Theresa Castellano voted against the $200,000, while Lenz, Mello, Marsh, Councilman Ravi Bhalla, and Cunningham voted for the resolution.
Tabakin served in an interim capacity after former Corporation Counsel Michael Kates resigned on Sept. 8. Among the problems of the job, according to Kates, was that a part-time position was not sufficient for the corporation counsel position in Hoboken. Tabakin will work three days a week as Hoboken’s corporation counsel, in addition to council meetings. Tabakin said he would be there when the city needs him.
Housing Authority police agreement passed
The city is one step closer to saving the jobs of five police officers scheduled to be laid off.
A plan for the Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) to hire five police officers received the support of the council on Wednesday night.
The plan, passed at an HHA meeting on Sept. 22, will place four patrol officers and one sergeant assigned to the HHA.
The city is referring to the arrangement as a “shared services agreement.”
Councilman Michael Russo thanked his fellow commissioners on the HHA before the resolution was passed, including Executive Director Carmelo Garcia and former Commissioner Perry Belfiore, who has been a proponent of the plan.
According to Tabakin, the information he received from Police Chief Anthony Falco is that the deployment plan will be taking place “very shortly, in the next week or so.”
The officers will work from 8 p.m. – 4 a.m. at the HHA. Before the plan is finalized, it must be approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.