Facing the first tax increase since 2013, the first of a series of public hearings on the $595 million 2019 municipal budget for Jersey City was held on April 24.
The budget introduced by the Jersey City Council in March reflects a 2.1 percent increase over the 2018 budget.
This budget is also based on the results of a citywide reassessment of property conducted in 2017.
The proposed tax hike amounts to about $60 on an average residential assessment of $436,000. That does not include potential increases in county and school taxes.
Although this budget saw significant increases in revenues from hotel taxes, sewer and street opening fees, and a variety of grants, these were offset by a reduction in payments in lieu of taxes of more than $18 million.
This budget includes $36 million in surplus, $10 million larger than in the 2018 budget.
The budget also includes a $5 million increase in pension payments, and an increase in payments on debt by $3.9 million.
A resident cries foul
“Seventy-three million dollars in this budget goes to pay off the debt,” said Yvonne Balcer, a resident questioning the details on the budget at the public hearing. “We give our public library only $11 million. I think that’s outrageous.”
Salaries also increased in this budget by $1.1 million
Income from farmers markets rose by more than $100,000 from last year, and the city also received more than $4 million in storm water improvement grants as well as $200,000 in Safety and Security grants.
Overall, fines and fees projected in this budget account for about $53 million in city revenues. Hotel taxes rose from $8 million last year to $10 million in the 2019 budget.
Court fines are expected to bring in about $16.9 million, up about $500,000 over last year, while parking fines, lease fees, and other parking enforcement revenue is expected to generate about $3.5 million overall, an increase of about $421,000 from last year.
Other good news includes a $4.7 million reduction in the city’s health care costs.
Devil in the details
Councilman James Solomon said council members haven’t begun to review the budget in detail. Department heads generally go before council members to defend their budget requests.
Those hearings are scheduled for the next couple of weeks as well as additional public hearings.
Balcer, however, complained that because this budget will be adopted half way through 2019, cuts will be largely ineffective.
“You’ll already have spent half a year’s worth,” she said.
Resident Melissa Bridola, meanwhile, scolded city council members for not doing enough to help the school district, which is facing a serious budget crisis due to an expected $125 million cut in state aid over the next five years as well as other issues. The school district has more than a $100 million budget gap this year.
City Business Administrator Brian Platt, however, said the recently implemented payroll tax is not included in the municipal budget.
“We have no projected figure on how much we are going to be raising,” he said, even though the city has already started to collect this tax from local businesses. “We have no exhaustive list of all the employees businesses in the city have.”
Legislation introduced by State Senator Sandra Cunningham last year and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy allowed Jersey City to implement a payroll taxes to be used to help offset the cost of cuts in aid.
Although some local corporations sued to stop the tax, a court ruled the tax was legal.
But Platt said there is no way yet to determine how much income it will generate.
“The money will go into a trust fund, not the budget,” Platt said. “This will be issued to the school district on a quarterly or monthly basis.”
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Al Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.