The Jersey City Council approved a nearly $599 million municipal budget in a 7-2 vote at a special council meeting on Monday, Aug. 5.
Council President Rolando Lavarro and Ward E Councilman James Solomon voted against the budget, saying that it did not provide enough money for the public school district, which will lose an estimated $175 million in state aid over the next seven years. It lost $27 million in state aid this year.
According to Mayor Steven Fulop, this will be the first time in five years that municipal taxes will go up in Jersey City, representing a 2.18 percent tax hike.
This means that the average property assessed at $440,000 will see the municipal portion of the tax bill go up by about $66 this year.
“For five years our administration was able to deliver flat taxes to residents, an accomplishment that no other city in New Jersey has had,” Fulop said. “So after five years of flat taxes, we thought a modest two-percent increase to fund enhanced services for residents is reasonable.”
This year’s budget focuses on long-term planning with new fiscal management and government efficiency initiatives to help reduce costs while generating new revenue, according to the city.
Officials say the new budget is less reliant on tax abatements and more focused on sustainable revenue streams while increasing investments in public safety, public services, and parks.
The budget includes an $18 million reduction in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) revenue, salaries for 75 new police recruits and 20 new firefighters, funding to expand recreation programs with a new division for children with special needs, and funding for an intra-city transit system to serve Greenville and the Heights.
What about the schools?
Council President Lavaro said he could not vote to approve the budget because Jersey City public schools are underfunded, noting that “while the school budget is a balanced budget it is not a fully-funded budget.” He added that the council can’t give money when no one is asking for it.
In opposing the budget, Solomon said the city should share tax abatement revenue with the school district and noted that it is possible for the council to “find monies in many other ways, too. We don’t have to simply just find efficiencies and look at retirements. We can use any number of different tools to fund the schools through this budget.”
Solomon said he disagrees with the Jersey City Board of Education’s decision not to request funding from the city this year, referring to a July 19 letter to the council written by then Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker. The letter stated that the district no longer wanted additional money from the city because it can’t rely on “quick fix solutions,” because they would only “delay the inevitable.”
“Thank you very much for the offer and opportunity to seek additional funding,” Walker wrote. “It is the responsibility of the district, moving forward, to develop a process and structure for fiscal responsibility that is sustainable over time.”
This came after a May resolution, passed by the Jersey City Board of Education, asking the city to help fund the district by increasing the city’s cost-sharing contributions.
Solomon said he disagrees with the board’s decision not to request additional funds because it doesn’t “represent the best interests of the city at all.”
The city says the new budget includes $38 million in new funding sources for the Jersey City Public Schools, $27 million of which come from the city’s new payroll tax.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham introduced legislation last year, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, allowing Jersey City to implement a payroll tax to help offset the cost of cuts in school funding.
The payroll tax ordinance, which was approved by the council in November 2018 and went into effect in January 2019, imposes a 1 percent payroll tax on an employer’s gross payroll to benefit Jersey City public schools. Employers are required to file and pay the new tax on a quarterly basis.
The budget also includes $8 million from the municipal budget for the school district, and $3 million in shared services such as trash pickup, which the city does for the district free of charge.
Mayor Fulop said the city and the Municipal Utilities Authority are also working to provide more shared services, including possibly helping to replace some of the districts school building’s water pipes, which currently contain lead resulting in undrinkable water.