Voters to weigh in on Open Space funds

But e-scooter ballot question rejected a second time

Expansion of Southwest Park was on the agenda.
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Expansion of Southwest Park was on the agenda.

When Hoboken residents vote on Nov. 5 for city council members from the six wards, they will also weigh in on two referendum questions to alter the municipal Open Space Trust Fund.

Residents will decide whether to allow more flexibility on how much of the fund could be spent on land acquisition and development of public parks. The second question asks residents if they want to increase funding to pay for historic preservation.

The city council adopted two ordinances allowing the ballot questions by a 9-1 vote during its July 10 meeting.

At the same meeting, the council declined to introduce an ordinance for a third question on the ballot, asking residents if e-scooter sharing companies should operate in the city.

More money and flexibility

If both open space trust fund questions are approved the city will be better prepared financially for the possible acquisition and development of the Union Dry Dock property and the expansion of the Southwest Park. The fund, established in 2008, has $14.5 million in borrowing capacity for these projects.

The fund is currently financed through a tax of $0.02 per $100 of assessed property value. If a property’s assessed value is $500,000, $100 of this owner’s annual taxes is dedicated to the Open Space Trust Fund.

The fund stipulates that 75 percent of the annual amount raised must be used for land acquisition. The administration feels spending rules for the money should be more flexible, so it can be used for park construction, development, upgrades, and build-out.

The second referendum will ask if money for historic preservation projects should be included in the fund. If approved by the voters, the fund would be financed by a total tax of $0.03 per $100 of assessed value.

Scooters not included 

A proposed nonbinding referendum asking voters if the city should allow e-scooter-sharing entities to operate within the city was shot down for a second time by the council majority.

The referendum had been proposed by council members Emily Jabbour and Jim Doyle in an ordinance introduced at the June 27 special council meeting, which was rejected by a 2-5 vote.

Despite Mayor Bhalla urging the council majority to reconsider allowing the referendum, on July 10 it was again denied in a 2-7 vote.

The city is participating in a six-month e-scooter-sharing pilot program which offers about 300 Lime and Ojo scooters for public use. Since the scooters hit city streets this May, some council members and members of the public have expressed concerns about safety and enforcement.

Nora Martinez DeBenedetto, a candidate for the Second Ward Council seat on Bhalla’s slate, criticized incumbent Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher for her vote against putting the referendum on the ballot.

“Last night Tiffanie Fisher voted to silence the voices of Second Ward residents regarding scooters and pedestrian safety,” De Benedetto said in a press release. “The nonbinding referendum proposed by Mayor Bhalla would have provided residents in the Second Ward and across Hoboken an opportunity to offer an opinion at the ballot box in November. As a mom and teacher, I am out on the sidewalks every day, and I have spoken to hundreds of residents. I can tell you that, love ‘em or hate ‘em, everyone has an opinion on the scooters. It’s hard to understand why Councilwoman Fisher wouldn’t want to hear from her constituents.”

Fisher said the council should act before November through legislation,  maintaining that waiting would be irresponsible.

“As a council member I was elected to listen to constituents, lead and legislate, not to pass the buck and delay making important decisions even when they are politically contentious,” Fisher said. “Waiting until November to collect feedback from our residents to address the problems with the e-scooter program is completely irresponsible. It is too little, too late.”

After hearing from constituents who felt unsafe walking along the waterfront, Fisher sponsored an ordinance, introduced 8-1, to ban e-scooters on the waterfront walkway. She was one of the cosponsors of earlier legislation that passed unanimously to establish fines for e-scooter violations.

“It is important issues like this where we need immediate action and real decisive leadership, not a wait-and-see approach like my opponent and our mayor have proposed,” Fisher said. “Now, not November, is our opportunity to continue working together to address both public safety and economic concerns and either make e-scooters work for Hoboken or discontinue the program.”

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.