HOBOKEN, NJ - The Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association has sent a 59-page letter to the New Jersey Civil Service Commissionpdf accusing Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his administration of negligence in their handling of recent layoffs.

Hoboken’s fiscal woes had been apparent since December, when former Business Administrator Stephen Marks sent the Mayor a memo highlighting a combination of healthcare costs ($1,513,450), elevated pension costs ($578,345), and anticipated annual salary increases in the face of collective bargaining negotiations with the City’s six municipal labor unions ($3,200,000).

Those increases are being met by anticipated revenue shortfalls on court fines, investments, debt service increase (bond repayments), departmental budget increases, higher waste disposal fees, and an increase in New Jersey’s Joint Insurance Fund premiums.

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According to Marks, “The grand total for anticipated increases for personnel costs and other expenses is $7,420,795,” adding “which does not include the impact of the projected decrease in the municipal surplus regeneration.” That surplus—essentially a municipal savings account/rainy day fund, which can be used by the City to cover shortfalls, unexpected expenditures or catastrophic events (i.e. storm damage)—is said to be in arrears to the tune of an additional $6 million, putting the overall budget shortfall somewhere near $14 million.

On March 2, weeks prior to the local COVID-19 outbreak, 79 city employees received layoff notices as a direct result of an alleged multi-million budget shortfall which preempted the pandemic. On April 17, the Bhalla administration announced in its daily COVID-19 Nixle alert that the City would eliminate 26 positions.

In an April 22 letter to Deidre L. Webster Cobb, Chairperson of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association maintains that it has “identified over $111 million in the Open Space Fund, which prior to August 2019 was just $8 million.”

According to Dawn DeLorenzo, President of the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association, “It is our firm belief that the layoff list presented by Mayor Bhalla was contrived, orchestrated and planned to target individual employees.”

On April 15, the Hoboken City Council passed a measure asking the administration to suspend all layoffs until a budget was submitted for review. According to DeLorenzo, “instead the Mayor has ignored this directive to protect the jobs of his current political appointments, with the long-term goal of giving taxpayers jobs to his other political allies.”

A March 4 Hoboken City Council meeting saw a strong and vocal opposition to the layoffs from a packed house full of municipal employees. Less than two weeks later, the City called on many of those employees to take extraordinary measures in combating the spread of COVID-19.

Shared with permission from hMAG.

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