Marijuana, COVID-19 vaccines, and salary increases

Jersey City Council approves a myriad of measures

The Jersey City Council met virtually on Jan. 13.
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The Jersey City Council met virtually on Jan. 13.

The Jersey City Council tackled myriad items during the Jan. 13 virtual meeting, ranging from new medical marijuana taxes to condemning President Donald Trump and his supporters for the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.

A new revenue stream for affordable housing?

The council unanimously introduced an ordinance establishing a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana sales.

One hundred percent of the revenues collected from the tax will be deposited into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, according to the introductory ordinance.

The fund is primarily funded through developer contributions and is used to rehabilitate or preserve existing affordable housing, construct new low- or moderate-income affordable housing, or, in limited circumstances, acquire property for the purpose of creating affordable housing.

Lifelong Jersey City residents have been pushed out of neighborhoods they used to call home due to development and gentrification. According to U.S. Census data, more than 40 percent of Jersey City homeowners with a mortgage and more than 40 percent of Jersey City renters are cost-burdened, meaning that they are paying more than 30 percent of their household income on housing.

“Mayor Fulop has been a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization with taxes benefiting the local municipalities,” said city spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “In fact, it was the mayor who pushed for 100 percent of the tax revenue to be directly allocated to Jersey City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to further expand affordable housing citywide.”

According to Wallace Scalcione, while Jersey City doesn’t yet have a medical marijuana dispensary,  “four medicinal marijuana dispensaries [are] in the pipeline.”

Jersey City Council members James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro announced last year that they want tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales dedicated to the Jersey City Public School District, which continues to face millions in state funding cuts.

While voters voted to legalize marijuana last November, the bill legalizing recreational marijuana has not yet been adopted.

Raises in the works

The council introduced an ordinance to raise the maximum salary the city’s senior administrators, department heads, and others could receive.

The measure, if adopted on second reading, would amend a 2019 ordinance updating previously specified salary ranges for certain senior leadership positions to a maximum salary consistent with that for the same position established by any other “City of the First Class in the State of New Jersey.”

According to state law, that’s any city with a population of more than 150,000.

According to Business Administrator John Metro, the new salary ranges are based on what Newark offers its employees.

According to the ordinance, the amendment is needed in order “to be better able to attract competent, engaged and accountable employees and leaders” which in part, “requires competitive, market-based compensation for the city’s executive leadership.”

Last year the city’s former Business Administrator Brian Platt resigned to become the City Manager of Kansas City, with a salary range of $250,000 – $325,000 roughly $90,000 more than what he was making in Jersey City.

Neither the mayor’s nor the council members’ salaries would change under the ordinance amendment.

Councilman-at-large Rolando Lavarro and Ward E Councilman James Solomon voted against the ordinance’s introduction.

“I think, frankly, it’s insane contemplating allowing salary increases in the middle of a pandemic,” Lavarro said.

Vaccines coming soon

The Jersey City Council approved an emergency $1 million contract to Bespoke Health LLC to manage the city’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Jersey City is one of the only municipalities in the area not yet distributing the vaccine to residents who qualify.

According to council documents, Bespoke will not only conduct community outreach, create a Jersey City Vaccine Taskforce staffed with health care professionals, and operationalize six points of distribution based in each ward to vaccinate employees and residents.

Earlier this week Mayor Steven Fulop announced that the city will partner with Uber to provide 12,000 free rides to and from Jersey City vaccination sites for those in need.

Condemning the attack on the Capitol

The council called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment and condemned the Jan. 6 U.S Capitol insurrection which left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick of New Jersey.

The council adopted the last-minute resolution 8-0-1 during its Jan. 13 virtual meeting.

“A peaceful transition of power is an essential part of American democracy, and inciting a riot is grounds for the invocation of the 25th Amendment and impeachment,” states the resolution.

The resolution urges continued investigations into the response of various police agencies, calls for the resignations of the senators who attempted to overturn the election results, and condemned President Trump for “inciting a riot and insurrection.”

“No President who incites an attack on our nation shall remain in their seat,” states the resolution.

Ward D Councilman Richard Boggiano abstained.

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.