HOBOKEN, NJ – The odyssey of Hoboken’s 2020 Municipal Budget continues this evening, as the City Council meets to review a number of issues and tentatively vote on the Administration’s plan. First laid out in early July, the preliminary proposal outlines a $118 million budget that has left a lot of councilmembers asking questions.
“This has been a difficult year for purposes of the budget for a number of reasons, COVID included,” said Councilmember-At-Large Emily Jabbour. “I know that the Administration did their best to put forward a balanced budget, and I’m hopeful the Council can work together to move the process forward in a timely and responsible way.”
Prior to the COVID crisis, the City of Hoboken was facing a $7.4 million budget shortfall, compounded by a $6.4 million reduction in its surplus. As the pandemic has taken hold, the resulting economic fallout is estimated to add another $5.9 million in both added costs and lost revenue—the combination of which represents a $19.8 million impact.
According to the Administration, a combination of “new revenues” and cost-cutting measures have reportedly bridged the budget gap by approximately $10.9 million. In April, over two-dozen Hoboken municipal employees were either laid off or were offered early retirements as part of those cost-cutting measures. The current budget proposal calls for using $3.3 million of the city’s non-regenerating budget surplus, leaving a $5.5 million gap—which would be closed by a 9.8% increase in the municipal purposes tax.
When looking at the cost to taxpayers, municipal taxes make up roughly 1/3 of the overall tax bill for Hoboken property owners. With Hoboken’s share of County taxes decreasing by 6% this year, the Administration is claiming that the proposed budget would in turn translate to an increase of 1.4%.
Some Councilmembers don’t necessarily agree with that assessment.
“At this point we are basically putting lipstick on a pig,” Fourth Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos told TAPinto Hoboken. “The budget the administration presented, with a nearly 10% tax increase, is clearly a result of years of mismanagement and a reliance of back door taxes like parking tickets to fund municipal operations. We need to be appreciative of our county neighbors for growing their ratable bases which resulted in a much better overall tax rate for Hoboken.”
When asked what she wants to see in terms of updates to the budget proposal, Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said, ““It’s simple. More cuts. The 9.8% tax increase proposed by the Mayor, in any year—but especially this one where so many people are hurting financially—is not acceptable. So much should have been done by the administration this year to save taxpayers money, but wasn’t.”
Ramos also sees room for improvement in the budget, and specific issues in need of attention.
“I believe there is an opportunity to lower municipal taxes by using more of surplus and cutting expenses on line-items that to date have not been encumbered,” he said. “We also need to discuss the contract situations with the six bargaining units that have been without a contract for a number of years now and what impact that will have on this year's and future budgets.”
TAPinto Hoboken reached out to members of the Bhalla Administration for input on the budget process, but they declined to comment.
Either way, time is of the essence. The City of Hoboken needs to have a budget approved by the start of the 4th Quarter, or else it cannot collect money from taxpayers.
“The Finance Subcommittee has been actively working with Mayor Bhalla’s Administration on finalizing a budget, which was approved by the State Auditor this week,” said Fifth Ward Councilman Phil Cohen. “I hope the Council approves this final budget—translating to a 1.4% tax increase on the tax bill—tonight or at a special meeting to follow by September 30 so our 4th Quarter tax bills can issue on time.”
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