PATERSON, NJ – Patersonians don’t need us to tell them the city has financial problems. You’ve experienced that first-hand in the past year through the whopping increase in your property tax bills, through the reduced response when you called police headquarters for assistance from a force thank sustained substantial layoffs, and through the state-imposed shutdown of afterschool and evening centers that served thousands of Paterson youths.
Resolving Paterson’s fiscal is one of the toughest jobs awaiting the City Council after the May 8 elections. Voters should know where candidates stand on fiscal issues. So PatersonPress.com asked all 21 people running for city council five questions about Paterson’s finances.
In the 1st Ward, Luis Ona and Pedro Rodriguez are challenging incumbent Anthony Davis, who did not respond to the questions. Here’s what Ona and Rodriguez had to say:
PatersonPress: This year, the city council enacted a series of four 25-percent increases in Paterson’s sewer fees. What other measures should the city take to increase municipal revenues? Please be as detailed as possible.
Luis Ona: The proposal is not 25% increases for sewer tax; actually it is an increase over the next 4 years.
The fact of the matter is that the city neglected to pursue the uncollected taxes in the amount of $3,619,732.
We must apply for grants with the Departments of Health and there has been no money for minorities.
Must apply for the US justice Department grants.
School aid, no money projected in grants for this year.
After the loss of the HUD grant we did not pursue any other grants, why?
No Cops rehiring recovery Special Grant is in place.
No US Department of Commerce at all for Grants this year requested.
No grants shown for US Environmental Protection agency.
US department of Homeland Security, no grant in process.
State of NJ Department of Law and Safety, no grants requested.
Pedro Rodriguez: We cannot balance our budgets on the backs of taxpayers and homeowners. We first must look at our neighboring cities that utilize our local resources. We’ll asses their needs and uses, and make sure they are paying appropriately into our system so we are not being short changed. For example, the city of Prospect Park pays only $50 dollars a year for using our Sewer system, in a contract that is about 100 years old, that's just to mention one of them. We need to revise those contracts to assure the residents of the city if Paterson that everyone is paying their fair share.
PatersonPress: In 2011, the city laid off almost 400 employees. What’s your opinion on the size of Paterson’s municipal workforce? Should there be additional cuts? Should it stay where it is? Should more people be hired? If you think there should be cuts or additional hires, please say which departments you're talking about.
Pedro Rodriguez: Rather than cutting more, the city needs to look at how it is operating. As a small business owner, it is imperative for me to be operating as efficiently as possible to maximize my output. We need to work smarter, not harder in Paterson.
Any cuts should happen at top administrative level. We need to remove those who have been taking a leadership position for personal gain. Lastly, we need an “Economic Development Director” who can paint a clear vision of how to attract new businesses that will bring ratables to reduce the burden on the homeowners.
Luis Ona: The situation is tough but we must rehire essential ones, like EMTs, Police and let go all those appointees that they are not contemplated to be in civil service. We must rehire the EMTs that is a better deal than to pay Firemen salaries. Grants must respect the personnel that are working for a few years.
PatersonPress: Are there any city services that should be eliminated, reduced or expanded? Are there any new services the city should provide? If you think the city should expand or start new services, how would you pay for them?
Luis Ona: Right now my concern is to protect people or the taxpayers. The department of recreation must be boosted, especially for girls to avoid early pregnancy. Moreover, the Administration, city council and clerk office shall reduce expenses by 35%.
Pedro Rodriguez: Our shared services agreements need to be looked at and expanded drastically – thinking outside the box. Neighboring municipalities, private institutions and our board of education are the places to start. Sharing services like garbage pickup, snow plowing, maintenance jobs and technology agreements and services.
PatersonPress: Are there services that should be privatized or provided through joint service agreements with other government entities? Which services? Please discuss your ideas in as much depth as possible.
Pedro Rodriguez: No, we need to concentrate on running a more efficient government first.
Luis Ona: All the purchases must be done by bulk with other cities, Counties or using the State procurement muscle to lower prices only if the prices are better than the ones we have now.
PatersonPress: Paterson’s tax base is shrinking. Over the past year, more than $260 million in ratables were lost through residential tax appeals alone. What steps should Paterson take to bolster its tax base?
Luis Ona: The tax appeal is the last resource of the taxpayers, therefore we are going to suffer a little bit longer. On the other hand we must search for empty homes and see about putting them back on the market without delay.
Pedro Rodriguez: First step is a full reassessment of properties in Paterson – this will reduce the county taxes through a reduction of the total asset value in the city. I believe this will provide some relief to local taxpayers quickly. As I mentioned earlier an “Economic Development Director” to create a realistic plan and develop a model of positive urban transformation to attract new business.