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 fiscal questions.
Today we publish the answers provided by three of the candidates in the 2nd ward race – Joseph Atallo, Councilman Aslon Goow and Sonia Torres. The other two candidates - Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman and Edwin Lozado - did not provide answers.
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.
Joseph Atalllo: Before the Paterson City Council adopted a 100% tax increase for sewer fees on already over-burdened Paterson taxpayers, the City Council should have done its homework and realized that surrounding municipalities that are contracted with the Paterson sewerage system are paying far less than Paterson property owners are paying. For example, my research documents that the Boro of Prospect Park has an antiquated contract going back to 1918, that has them paying a grand total of only $50 a year! Paterson needs to update these outdated agreements and negotiate payments from surrounding communities that reflect current market rates and provide additional revenue for Paterson. There also needs to be a realistic long-term economic development plan to bring more ratables into the city. This economic plan needs to include a mixed use of commercial, industrial and residential development that adds to the tax base, and reduces the continuous financial burden on Paterson homeowners.
Aslon Goow: The increase in sewer fees was mandated by the DCA (Department of Community Affairs) who, because of the financial assistance they provide Paterson, dictate what increases they want and more importantly the areas they want increases.
I believe the city should provide the council with an analysis of all abandoned properties in the city. The power of eminent domain should be used to refurbish or demolish all properties that have remained abandoned and provide no revenue or useful purpose other than attracting further vandalism. Putting these properties back on the tax rolls, and in some instances creating recreation centers for our youth, is a way to revitalize and repair our city.
I believe that we should seize all properties, equipment, and vehicles that are allowable under the forfeiture statues. The city could then decide whether to sell or retain the seizures based on which presents the most useful purpose for the city.
We must work with the state to allow us to hire inspectors to enforce the numerous code violations that exist.
Sonia Torres: As a Councilwoman, I will continue to work with the governing body to address the revenue side of the municipal budget. Currently we are experiencing approximately 5 million dollars in outstanding fines and penalties and we must work to recover that money whether through amnesty and/or warrants to increase revenue. Recently the State of New Jersey has provided that you can have a bill collector representative for the city on behalf of the court to collect the money due.
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.
Aslon Goow: I believe the city workforce should be analyzed department by department to determine the usefulness of each position. Some positions and personnel should be eliminated as was evidenced by the recent inquiry into the flood overtime by the council. Some personnel should be added to departments who have shown proper utilization of funds allocated by the city. After careful analysis, the council should cut or increase funds in departments as dictated by the analysis. It is easy to say “I will rehire every police officer that was let go because of budget cuts”. It is even easier to say “I will put a chicken in every citizen's pot”. But the reality is that the administration presented the same plan that is now advocated by my opponent to the DCA in November 2011, and it was rejected. It doesn't mean that we don't keep presenting alternatives, which I and the council are presently doing. I follow the list of the 125 officers that were released by the city, and I am happy to see that over 90 have obtained employment in other municipalities, although I would prefer them to be in Paterson. I will do everything in my power to bring back as many police officers as the DCA will allow and keep presenting different alternatives to the DCA until some agreement can be achieved. I will not make empty promises just to get your vote.
As I indicated earlier there is a definite need to cut personnel who are obviously not qualified for their position or a position that was created to help out a friend but not benefit the city.
A personnel position analysis and accurate job descriptions will reveal where cuts or additional hires are needed. It is obvious because of the rising crime rate that additional personnel are needed in the police department.
Sonia Torres: If elected, I would propose to have the State Department of Personnel to conduct a desk audit for approximately 1,000 employees to determine whether the current workload could be done within the staffing level or whether new staffing would be required, or whether there should be a consolidation of job duties and titles. I would also work closely with the unions to negotiate contracts and to insure that we can continue working with the staffing levels to provide the services that our residents are accustomed to.
Joseph Atalllo: The layoffs of almost 400 city employees, especially the 125 police officers is an issue that I have been very vocal. The city of Paterson needs to have certain essential services, whether it be public safety, clean streets, or administrative functions. I have developed and proposed several plans that would return these public employees back to their positions without, and I repeat without costing Paterson taxpayers any additional money. The reinstatement of these employees can be accomplished by a process of attrition, the implementation of the (COPS) grant, and the implementation of shares-service agreements with other governmental entities. With my plan, these city services would be returned at no additional cost to the taxpayers of Paterson.
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?
Sonia Torres: Being that Paterson is the county seat to government and the third largest in the State of New Jersey, it is my opinion that we enter into a shared service agreement with Passaic County government as it relates to public safety and procurement (bulk purchasing). One of the largest components of county government is the Court. It is my opinion that a shared service agreement with the judiciary and county government would serve to provide services which relate to family courts and in addition having the sheriff department patrol county roads. We should continue to work with the County to provide work force development which will serve as a job training program. We should also work with Passaic County Community College and the Board of Education to provide adult education in addition to expanding our shared service agreement with the Board of Education to provide recreational activities such as our dare program, anti-bullying program, municipal alliance, in addition to providing technical training apprenticeship program.
Joseph Atalllo: With crime out of control in Paterson, there is no question we need to reinstate the laid-off police officers. More police on the street will help combat crime and protect Paterson residents and their property. With all these shootings, burglaries, assaults and auto thefts the people of Paterson are clamoring for more police officers to combat crime and protect their families and neighborhoods. As I stated previously, with the Dr. Atallo plan there is no additional cost to Paterson taxpayers.
Aslon Goow: I believe library services to benefit our students and senior citizens should be expanded. I also believe that there is a dire need for recreation centers for our youth. The athletic fields throughout the city are in deplorable shape and our maintenance needs to be significantly enhanced.
The shared service agreement with Paterson Public Schools enabled the city to refurbish Bauerle Field. We should continue to explore partnerships in the area of the library, recreation centers, and field maintenance that are beneficial to all partners. We need to get by the talking phase of refurbishing Hinchliffe Stadium and start action. We need to actually work more closely with the Sheriff’s Department, not just say we are.
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.
Joseph Atalllo: In order to reduce the property tax burden on the residents of Paterson, government officials need to spend smarter, much smarter. For example, there is already a shared service agreement between the City and the Board of Education regarding recreational services. The City and School District could enter into other shared service agrreements such as garbage pick-up and disposal, and the purchasing of goods and services. These joint agreements could potentially save taxpayers millions of dollars. These shared service agreements are successful in other cities and would be cost-effective as well for taxpayers in Paterson.
Aslon Goow: We should explore the possibility of combining or utilizing the Passaic County Vehicle Repair Services to reduce costs in the area of vehicle repair and body repair services. We can work closer with the Sheriff’s Department and share a host of services there. We should have our own garbage collection.
Sonia Torres: I believe that working with the Department of Community Affairs we can provide joint services in the operation of our building/community improvement department streamlining regulatory processes which would increase our revenue receipts from planning, zoning and building permits.
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?
Aslon Goow: We need to hire personnel with proven track records for bringing business ratables to the city. The present economy will allow the city to hire personnel that could have been only a dream when the economy was better. As Mayor Jose Torres once said, "behind every great man is a great woman". I couldn't agree more. Candidate Sonia Torres claimed at the City Hall debate that she worked “behind the scenes” with Mayor Torres. Was candidate Sonia Torres standing behind the mayor when he left the city facing an over 70 million dollar shortfall in the budget cycle following his defeat?
Paterson needs to be clean and safe before anything else. Eminent domain needs to be exercised in the case of abandoned properties. We need to restore this city block by block. Visible presence of police officers must be part of any plan, along with enforcement by both the police and city inspectors.
Sonia Torres: If elected, I will aggressively move forward to reassessing all real property to get the true market value for the real estate so that everyone is paying their fair share of the taxes. I will continue to work with Community Development to shift the tax rate from the residential to a commercial tax base, by encouraging and supporting adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Work to increase our tax base. Given that approximately 20% of the property in the city is tax exempt, and most of it is in support of county government, since Paterson is the county seat, I would fight to create a county seat pilot (payment in lieu of taxes) similar to the Paterson Housing Authority and Parking Authority making payments in lieu of taxes, I believe the County should pay the county seat a pilot. Also I support the privatization of St. Joseph’s Hospital which would move that property from being tax exempt to paying taxes thereby increasing our tax base.
Joseph Atalllo: It is important to remember, that when a taxpayer is successful in their tax appeal that loss in taxablerevenue is passed on to the rest of the taxpayers. The long-term solution is two-fold. First, a fair and objective re-valuation needs to be conducted, where ALL taxable properties are assessed in the current real estate market, not the inflated market of several years ago. Second, the City of Paterson really needs to get serious about not only developing but implementing an economic strategy to bring in additional ratables in order to provide property tax relief for Paterson homeowners who are unfairly carrying this tax burden.