The Hoboken City Council adopted a $177.8 million municipal budget in an 8-1 vote after amending the introduced budget to reduce the municipal tax levy from a proposed increase of about 9.8 percent to 7.5 percent.
The council reduced the tax levy primarily by voting to use more of the city’s surplus funds as revenues in the budget, meaning the amount to be raised by taxes decreased from about $67.9 million as introduced to $66.5 million.
Hoboken’s total tax rate includes municipal, county, school, library, and open space taxes. This means that with a municipal tax levy increase of 7.5 percent, the total tax bill of a Hoboken taxpayer will actually increase by 0.75 percent when combined with the other levies.
This is primarily because Hoboken’s share of the county tax levies decreased by about $6.4 million or 8.5 percent due in part to development in other county municipalities which provided more ratables.
The administration and the council faced several budgeting hurdles this year, including a multi-million dollar budget gap and of course COVID-19 which caused a delay in the introduction of the municipal budget and a decrease in city revenues.
During the special virtual meeting of the city council on Sept. 23 the council debated the budget, pointing fingers at each other and the administration for the municipal increase and the overall slow budgeting process; budgets are typically adopted in May.
Several council members voiced frustration over potential cost-cutting measures that did not come to fruition.
Councilman Michael Russo said this year’s budget issues were years in the making, noting that the city has bonded “over $250 million” calling it “frivolous spending.”
“This is everyone voting on their pet projects … to get things done, but that has a cost,” he said. “…it’s a decade-long problem we have here in the City of Hoboken.”
He noted that over the years he has called on the city and his collogues to stop bonding, discussed restructuring government and changing health insurance providers as ways the city could save money, but to no avail.
He urged his council colleagues to keep an eye on city coffers.
“Every time you cast a vote, think about the budget,” he said.
Several council members called on their colleagues to look ahead to next year to seek cost-cutting measures.
“What I implore this council to do, is move into 2021 with a clear vision of priorities for the council and city and to not approve all of this irresponsible spending,” said Councilwoman Vanessa Falco.
Councilman Ramos said it was important for the city to find stable revenue sources.
“This is a reminder to us that we need to create more revenue sources that are not backdoor taxes like parking tickets and meter revenues because we can’t rely on those every year,” said Councilman Ruben Ramos, noting the need to increase the city’s ratable base “in a creative way through smart development.”
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said next year the city will have to reduce spending and find areas to cut costs because some of this year’s savings occurred due to COVID-19, such as a decrease in healthcare costs as city employees postponed procedures.
She said next year comes with its own hurdles, and the council will need to be focused on healthcare savings, settling union contracts, and growing the city’s revenue base.
Councilman Russo said he hopes the council is presented with an introductory budget in January of next year, so the council can begin to look at “significant changes.”
He said if the city continues to have tax increases year over year, it will force more people to move away, noting that COVID-19 has already caused people to leave cities, including Hoboken, in favor of living in suburbs with more open space.
The council unanimously voted to amend the budget and adopted the amended budget in an 8-1 vote. Councilman Russo voted against the budget adoption.