The Hoboken City Council plans to sell $27.5 million in bonds to fund a number of city projects, and has also created new city government positions for social workers and a police press spokesperson.
The council voted at the meeting on Oct. 3 to adopt four bond ordinances.
In the first $6,025,660 bond ordinance, $1,298,000 will be for the acquisition of a rear loader and electric vehicle charger (with a $688,800 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection also used for it), and $1,195,000 will be spent to complete various improvements to city parks.
To complete various paving, resurfacing and infrastructure improvements for various streets in the city, $2,150,000 will be appropriated, for work on portions of Madison Street, 9th Street and 11th Street. Improvements to City Hall will cost an anticipated $1,323,000, and $59,660 will be for the acquisition, installation and/or completion of “permanent public art in and for the city.”
In the second $16,253,930 bond ordinance, $16,093,000 will be for repaving, resurfacing and improving various streets, including Sinatra Drive, Court Street and Castle Point Terrace (with the city using a $1,201,483 grant from the state Department of Transportation for it). $160,930 will also be used for “permanent public art in and for the city.”
The third $3,937,050 bond ordinance will use $3,930,000 for water utility infrastructure improvements in the city, including on Madison Street, 9th Street, 11th Street and Castle Point Terrace. $39,000 will also be used again for “permanent public art in and for the city.”
Lastly, the $1,288,760 bond ordinance will use $676,000 to acquire transit vehicles (with $315,000 in grants from the DEP being used for it), $600,000 for acquiring and installing a parking permitting system, and $12,760 will be used again for “permanent public art in and for the city.”
Hoboken spokeswoman Marilyn Baer said the grants from the Department of Environmental Protection are the same as those announced in August that will be used to acquire the city’s first electric garbage truck and HOP shuttle bus.
During discussion about the bond ordinances, a few council members said that the projects were important.
“The [projects] that moved forward are absolutely essential, ranging from flooding in the west part of town and adjusting streets there, all the way to Court Street, which is something particularly important to me,” said Councilman Michael DeFusco.
DeFusco continued that Court Street, half of which is in his 1st Ward, is a historic street and has a number of residents who live there, but also has problems such as rats and mobility issues.
Council Vice President Emily Jabbour also said that she’s looking forward to the improvements on Sinatra Drive, and added that bonding for those projects would allow the city to have “financial certainty about how we go about this and move forward from a construction standpoint, while also continuing to seek additional sources of funding.”
The bond ordinances needed six out of nine votes to be adopted. Council President Michael Russo dissented against the first and third bond ordinances.
New social workers
The council voted unanimously to create two new social worker positions that will be tasked with helping those dealing with homelessness within Hoboken.
According to a job listing on the city’s website, a social worker will “perform office and field work in providing preventative and rehabilitative social work services to clients and affected parties where police and/or court intervention has or may occur.”
The first position as “Social Worker” will earn a salary from $45,000 to $85,000, while “Social Worker, Police Social Services” will have a salary range from $55,000 to $105,000.
The Jersey Journal reported last week that the two positions, which will be under the Office of Constituent Services, will not be first responders, but will be called in by police officers if needed “and would also proactively tend to individuals in need who are not actively involved in a crisis.”
Councilman Ruben Ramos said at the meeting that the new position was something he advocated for in the budget, and that it will help the city address the issues of homelessness.
“It’s become a huge quality-of-life issue throughout the city,” he said. “One way this will help is help us identify these individuals, and try and get them the services that [are] necessary for them, whether it’s mental health services, housing services, but try and compile a list.”
“It’s not an issue that we’re going to police ourselves out of as well,” he continued. “There’s no crime in homelessness. We want to try and address this as compassionate as possible.”
Councilman Joe Quintero also said that hiring those new positions as a solution to the issue “really goes to the character of our city,” and that some cities respond to homelessness by over-policing and moving people to other places.
“We have always focused on what can we do to provide the services to identify the reasons for why these folks are in these positions, and what we can do to help them so that they can get houses,” he said.
New police spokesperson
The council voted to also create the position of a new public information assistant that will handle media relations for Hoboken’s police department, as well as the fire department.
The position will pay a salary range from $45,000 to $80,000. According to a job listing, the job will entail “helping to collect, put into proper form, and disseminate informative material including audio and visual communications designed to aid the public information and publicity program of the unit or jurisdiction concerned.”
Public Safety Director Ken Ferrante told the Journal last week that the purpose of the new position would be to allow officers to focus on police work, “especially at a time like the present when the department is understaffed.”
Currently, the media gets information regarding police matters and arrests in the city from Detective Lieutenant Johnathan Mecka. The city also has Baer, a former Hudson Reporter writer, for general city matters.
Ferrante also said via the Journal that the new spokesperson would have to get information approved by him and the department head before being sent to the media, as well as him or said heads relaying to the spokesperson during emergencies to put out public info. He argues that the new role will increase transparency and efficiency in releasing info.
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said that while she was on board with having administrative duties being taken off of the hands of officers, she believes that there could’ve been a way to absorb the role with other people in the city doing communication-type functions.
“Either it’d be great to actually have a full understanding of what this role will actually do and how much work is needed, but also it would be even better if we could figure out a way to absorb this function into the people that are already performing similar roles in the city,” she said.
Russo said that it was important to have another officer doing their job, and said that he sent an email to the mayor and the administration asking for 18 additional officers.
“We are absolutely short-staffed,” he said. “We have we have a ton of people who come before this council for various issues that concern our police department and how they govern the city and protect the city.”
He noted how people have come to discuss cannabis dispensaries, as well as the council having a moment silence for resident Christopher Garcia, who was fatally shot last week and who’s death is under investigation.
“We need more officers on the street,” said Russo. “I just want you to think about it.”
The council voted 5-4 to create the position, with Council members DeFusco, Fisher, Ramos and Jen Giattino voting no.