Battling the budget gap

Hoboken City Council approves tax increase and eliminates the Office of Constituent Services

Battling the budget gap
At the latest virtual meeting of the Hoboken City Council the council overrode a mayoral veto resulting in the elimination of the city's Office of Constituent Services.

To close a multi-million dollar budget gap, the Hoboken City Council has adopted a resolution which will increase the tax levy property owners pay in August by 1.5 percent, and overrode a mayoral veto, resulting in the elimination of the city’s Constituent Services Office.

Budget gap

During the virtual council meeting on June 3, Council Vice President Vanessa Falco asked when the council could expect the city to introduce a budget.

“I don’t understand why we don’t suspend the whole entire agenda until we get a budget,” she said. “I don’t understand how we are continuing to vote on these items, vote on all of the expenses, and we still have not seen a budget.”

According to Acting Business Administrator Jason Freeman, the city is working towards introducing a budget at the next council meeting on June 17 but noted there “are still a few hurdles we need to cross.”

“Plainly this is an incredibly difficult budget year going in which is compounded with Covid-related expenses,” said Freeman. “I know you are all tired of hearing me say that but it’s the reality of it. There are a lot of open-ended things coming back related to different funding mechanisms and revenues coming in, and it would be irresponsible of the administration and the city council and the subcommittee to introduce a budget when we didn’t have an idea exactly of what those revenues and potential reimbursements are coming back to the city.”

The city has said they are continuously working on the budget and trying to determine the budget gap but have yet to release a figure.

According to Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who sits on the council’s finance subcommittee, the city’s budget gap has grown from an estimated $14 million in February to an estimated $20 million due in part to loss of revenue because of the public health emergency.

Some of these COVID-19 related costs the city has said they are hoping to get reimbursed from federal and state aid.

Tax increase adopted

The council adopted a resolution that will increase a residents’ third-quarter August tax bill by 1.5 percent.

The New Jersey Division of Local Government Services (NJDLG) issued a Local Finance Notice, which recommends that municipalities’ issue estimated property tax bills for the third quarter installment of 2020 taxes.

This is because the NJDLGS may be delayed in reviewing the city’s budget prior to final adoption because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hudson County Board of Taxation may also be delayed in certifying the city’s 2020 tax rate once the city’s budget is adopted. Without a certified 2020 tax rate, the city’s tax collector can’t prepare and mail property tax bills by the June 30 deadline for this year’s third-quarter installment of taxes.

Originally the city had proposed a 5 percent tax increase, but members of the council countered with 1.5 percent increase instead, citing that Hoboken’s county taxes were decreasing by about 6 percent instead of increasing as previously predicted. They also took into account possible COVID-19 reimbursements.

According to the resolution, which the council unanimously adopted, the estimated tax levy for 2020 would be a roughly $190 million in total.

Constituent services

In May the council voted 6-3 to abolish the Office of Constituent Services, which the mayor vetoed. But the majority of the council chose to override the veto in another 6-3 vote.

“I still have concerns over what the sponsors of this ordinance are aiming to achieve and so I would just call on my colleagues to better articulate… what this accomplishes,” said Councilwoman Emily Jabbour.

Councilman Ruben Ramos, who originally sponsored the ordinance establishing the office in 2018, said the office is a luxury the city can no longer afford.

“We are talking about a reduction in spending. That’s it,” he said, which Councilwoman Jabbour said amounted to firing the employees of the office.

Ramos said the council doesn’t have the authority to fire anyone, because that is the mayor’s purview under Hoboken’s form of government, and that the mayor could choose to keep them on elsewhere.

Councilman Jim Doyle said in order for spending to be cut, there would have to be fewer employees but Council President Jen Giattino said the mayor could also choose to lower salaries or cut elsewhere to keep the employees on.

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

 

 

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