After a nearly nine-hour special virtual council meeting, the Jersey City Council adopted the $658 million 2020 municipal budget with a 6-2-1 vote.
This came after roughly seven hours of public comment. A proposed amendment that would have reduced the Department of Public Safety’s budget by about $5 million in favor of reallocating funds to housing assistance, youth jobs, and community-staffed, anti-violence initiatives was defeated.
A roughly $613 million budget was introduced in February, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city lost expected revenues and increased spending.
This triggered a months-long process as city officials amended the budget to address a roughly $70 million budget gap.
Members of the public have been protesting police brutality and institutionalized racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Activists, residents, and community leaders have called on the council to de-fund the police by about 50 percent.
They argued that the city could reallocate those funds to social services that could help prevent crimes.
Last month, the city reintroduced an increased budget of $658 million.
City officials noted the new budget would not result in an increased municipal tax bill, due to hiring freezes, restructuring personnel, internal audits, and more resulting in $25 million in savings. The city will also leverage approximately $20 million in CARES Act funding to help offset additional COVID-19-related expenses.
Public speakers noted that the JCPD’s funds were not decreased as they had recommended, and funds to the recreation and health departments had been reduced.
According to the budget, police salaries and wages decreased by about $7 million to about $102.9 million. Overtime and expenses were cut by about $80,000 to about $1.4 million.
The Public Safety Department, which includes the fire department, public safety director’s office, parking enforcement, and communications and technology, was cut from $206 million to about $193.5 million.
The Department of Youth & Recreation’s budget decreased by about $2.3 million, from about $5.4 million to about $3 million. The Department of Health and Human Services decreased from about $5.3 million to about $4.7 million.
The majority of callers favored cutting the JCPD budget and reallocating funds to social services.
Speakers argued that the city could prevent crimes by investing in affordable housing, mental healthcare, anti-violence, community-led initiatives, recreational programs for youth, and more.
“ … Time after time you de-fund the communities, you de-fund education, you de-fund youth services, but you always seem to fund the police,” said resident Brian Long.
“We are asking you to invest in our community and fund our futures. …Right now, the police are who you’ve funded,” said resident Amy Torres.
“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said resident Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein. “When all you have is policing, everything looks like a crime,” adding that police criminalize society’s most vulnerable.
Many speakers cited a petition with more than 700 signatures calling to de-fund the police by 50 percent.
Several speakers criticized calls to “defund the police.”
Mark Razzoli, a retired Jersey City police detective, said elected officials need to have the “intestinal fortitude to stand our ground and not pander to radical groups who are attempting to divide and weaken us.”
President of the Jersey City Police Officer’s Benevolent Association Carmine Disbrow, said, “Those that discuss de-funding the police are really talking about devaluing the lives of every single Jersey City resident that members of the Jersey City Police Department protect every shift.”
He said social workers and teachers are not “going to respond to your block when an armed criminal decides to take aim at a vulnerable resident.”
The meeting was held at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday during working hours for most residents.
“You chose to rush forward with a vote that cut scheduled community meetings short, that was held in the middle of a workday, and that doesn’t allow the public ample time to understand the comment process,” said resident Amy Torres.
Councilmen James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro motioned to amend the municipal budget before it’s adoption.
The amendment would have reduced the Department of Public Safety’s budget by about $5 million.
Of the 5 million, $1.5 million would go to the Jersey City Public Schools; $1 million would go to hire social workers and mental health professionals; $1 million would restore cuts to the Youth Enrichment Division; $1 million would go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and a right-to-counsel program for tenants; and $500,000 would go to community-based violence-prevention strategies.
The council in a 2-7 vote shot down the amendment with only the sponsors voting in favor.
The council adopted the $658 million budget with a 6-2-1 vote.
Councilmen Lavarro and Solomon voted against the adoption. Councilman Yousef Saleh abstained.
In a statement after the meeting, Mayor Fulop said, “Our diligence from the onset helped to meet my goal of avoiding tax increases and further financial burdens for residents already struggling, while still balancing the biggest budget instability we’ve ever faced in our city’s history.”