Recently Mayor Fulop increased taxes in our city and mailed an accompanying letter blaming me and my administration for the increase. I write this letter in response.
The mayor’s one page letter mentions me and my administration five times and makes several references to the campaign and the election. The letter cites as the main cause of the increase unrealistic revenue projection from unrealized land sales. This is really a reference to a large tract of remediated land just southwest of the new medical center. There was and still is an interested and able purchaser for this tract which was valued at $15 million dollars. We had intended to complete the purchase by autumn of this year. Instead of pushing to complete the sale and thereby adding the $15 million dollars to the city’s coffers, Mayor Fulop has, at least for the present, walked away from this opportunity for tax relief.
The mayor’s tax letter never mentioned the rash of retirements of police, fire and other city employees requiring the city to pay out $9.4 million in accumulated unused sick and vacation time for these employees. This unused time had been accumulated over the course of three and four decades by these employees and the city was contractually bound to make these payments. This was not the first time our city and others faced this fiscal challenge. A few years ago the state recognized that this was an onerous fiscal burden for all of our cities: liabilities incurred over the course of over forty years were required to be paid in one fiscal year. As a result the state passed legislation which Gov. Christie signed allowing cities to finance these payouts and pay back the notes over the course of five years.
We proposed this solution to the city council several months ago. Then Councilman Fulop and his allies on the council rejected this proposal even though the interest rate at that time on financing the payment was a mere 1.2 percent, basically free money. This unreasonable action by that city council was also a major factor in the recent tax increase though it was unmentioned in Mayor Fulop’s tax letter for obvious reasons.
Had the council adopted this solution (four members of that council actually voted in favor) at least $7.5 million dollars in savings would have inured to the benefit of all our Jersey City taxpayers in this fiscal year. Do the math, $15 million for the sale, $7.5 million in savings for the payouts is $22.5 million for taxpayers this year. Thus no tax increase.
The campaign and the election are now history, it is time for Mayor Fulop to practice what he preaches in his tax letter: “turn the page.” The mayor should focus on all the major challenges and issues he must deal with in the demanding and difficult task of governing our great city. Those challenges as usual include, among others, keeping our streets as safe as possible, focusing on improving our schools and always watching the bottom line: the city budget and the taxpayers’ dollar.
I continue to wish Mayor Fulop and the city council the best and good luck in the great responsibility of managing and improving our city.