What will city deficit cost YOU? Council doubles business license fees; state meeting this Wed. on takeover
by Timothy J. Carroll Reporter staff writer
Oct 08, 2008 | 521 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The city is slowly implementing measures to get more revenue into the city budget, but said that they will increase fees affecting businesses and visitors before they start voting on proposals that will affect residents.

Of the 23 ordinances and resolutions on the City Council agenda last week, only 10 were voted on due to hesitations about the impending state intervention into the city's finances.

Several controversial revenue-increasing initiatives from the mayor, including one to put parking meters all the way up Washington Street and another to charge businesses for recycling, did not get voted on. But the latter will come up at a future meeting.

While the state must approve spending measures, the council is allowed to increase revenue for the city.

They passed an ordinance Wednesday night doubling business license fees from $50 to $100 per year, after having just increased business parking permits from $75 to $200 per year at the Aug. 13 meeting.
The business recycling fee ordinance was removed from the agenda to reconsider the method of calculating the charges.

Michael Russo, 3rd Ward Councilman, sponsored the law and promised it will be voted on at the next meeting on Sept. 17.

Still other measures have been delayed for more than a month, like an ordinance to obtain city-targeted parkland by amending the Zoning Ordinance.

The state Local Finance Board (LFB) is meeting this Wednesday, Sept. 10 in Trenton to determine the conditions of the impending fiscal takeover.

Get involved on gov't boards
Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason sponsored a city ordinance at the meeting to boost citizen involvement on government-appointed commissions. The ordinance will make the public more aware of appointments to boards like the Zoning Board and Housing Authority, rather than simply letting the mayor recommend people.

The "Citizen Service Act" requires the city website to post all board positions, duties, requirements, terms, the current position holder, his/her term, meeting times, and the appointing authority.

City Attorney Steven Kleinman said the appointing authority depends on the position. Some board positions, he said, are appointed by the mayor, some by the council, and some by a combination of the two called "advice and consent." He said the ordinance cannot interfere with the bodies from selecting their candidate of choice under any of the circumstances.

The measure was passed by the council 9-0.

The meeting saw some "advice and consent" re-appointments to boards held up after the council passed the ordinance. The city did not provide the backup information on the appointments beforehand, council members said.

Pay $10.3M deficit now, or later?

A resolution penned by 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham asking Roberts to include the $10.3 million overspent in last year's budget in the spending plan for this year passed with six votes at the meeting.

Councilwoman-at-Large Terry LaBruno voted against it, and Council President Nino Giacchi and Councilman-at-Large Ruben Ramos Jr. abstained.
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"We have a serious spending problem in this town."

- Peter Cunningham

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While the proposed 2008-2009 city spending plan now includes that amount, it is unlikely to stay in there. The city has said it would rather make up the $10.3 million deficit from last year over the next three years, in order to keep this year's taxes from surging. The state will ultimately decide how to make up the deficit.

"This is another no-substance resolution," said LaBruno, adding that the administration already did what the resolution asked for. Kathryn Kinney, the city's financial specialist, said she responded to Cunningham's request at last month's meeting for a spending plan that includes the "deferred charge" of $10.3 million. She said she created the document and forwarded a copy to the entire council.

Cunningham said he didn't want the city to keep spending without taking the deficit into account.

"We have a serious spending problem in this town," he said. "We need to remind the administration, we have to remind the state that this needs to be considered now."

"If we don't emphasize that it should be considered in this year's budget, there will be no cuts in the administration," Cunningham added later in the meeting. "There will be no layoffs; there will be no cuts."

"God willing there are no layoffs," Ramos said, although Roberts had pledged the previous week that layoff notices will go out to city employees in October and layoffs will begin with provisional employees.

Since about 80 percent of the budget is comprised of salaries and benefits for employees, making cuts without affecting personnel through layoffs, demotions, or forced retirements is very difficult.

Kinney said that originally, the $10.3 million deficit was not included in the spending plan so that the state can decide how it should be handled, and to avoid alarming residents with a worst-case tax increase scenario.

Cunningham believes the city should reconcile the over-expenditure as soon as possible.

Kinney said the state's Local Finance Board will determine how the city will handle the deficit, and whether that amount will be included or excluded from state-mandated caps on spending and taxation.

Cunningham noted that including the deficit in this year's budget will increase Roberts' proposed 7 percent municipal tax increase to 16 percent.

Giacchi and Ramos voted against the measure because they thought the resolution might give the state the idea that the council's intention was to include the deficit in this year's budget.

The deficit was reduced to $10.3 million from $11.7 million when the city received some revenue from the pending sale of the municipal garage.

George DeStefano, the city's CFO, also submitted an annual debt report - which does not include the $10.3 million "deferred charge" - to the council last week reporting $70.6 in debt for the city, including $49.3 million remaining on a city-backed bond for the Hoboken University Medical Center.

For questions or comments on this story, e-mail tcarroll@hudsonreporter.com.



Mayor wants to cut four council positions

Mayor David Roberts said Thursday that he intends to hold a press conference in the near future to propose a "smaller, more effective" city governing body that includes a five-member group of council members running who would run as a full slate on each mayoral candidate's ticket.

Roberts said that this would reduce election costs, but also, it would allow for the mayor's initiatives to be carried out with less politically motivated opposition.

He said that the actions of the nine-member City Council have been "grinding down to a very depressing halt," and that the governing body is "hopelessly deadlocked."

When asked if that wasn't Democracy in action, Roberts responded, "Democracy is when you elect people and they stand up. Every voice must be heard, but after every voice is heard, you must do what's right for the citizens. What we have here is utter collapse."

Right now, there are six members representing different wards in the city, and three council-at-large members. Each has a four-year term.

Roberts criticized the council for not accepting more of his revenue increases, like the parking meters and parking violation fee increases.

He also reiterated his long-standing belief that the structure of government and staggered timing of elections in Hoboken severely diminish the efficiency of the government. - TJC
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