PATERSON, NJ- Following lengthy debate, the City Council voted 6-3 to introduce a $279 million municipal budget on Wednesday.
Tensions circled around a proposed 2.6 percent increase in property taxes, which, according to Marge Cherone, Finance Director, could cause tax bills to increase by as much as $600 for the year.
While the council had previously asked for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in department operating expenses, two departments, the Department of Law and the Department of Administration saw notable increases in salaries and wages.
Marge Cherone, city finance director, clarified that these increases were the result of filling vacant positions within those departments. She worried that the budget was already “maxed out” and that “we can’t cut it anymore.” This answer did not alleviate the concerns of the council, who questioned the necessity of the hires.
Council Finance Committee Chair, Kenneth Morris, was particularly concerned with the increases. He explained that when the council requested the 20 percent cuts, "it was to make sure everyone participated and experience it equally," adding that he wants to make sure every department "has some skin in the game."
Several questions were raised during the discussion regarding the filling of a position within the Department of Law with an employee who is not a resident of the city. Corporation Counsel Domenick Stampone stated that there were six applicants for the specialized position, and only one was from Paterson.
Councilman William McKoy countered that, “I find it difficult to accept without reason why someone [from Paterson] who had the qualifications on an entry level position, would be bounced.” He expressed a desire to amend the ordinance prioritizing residency in hiring to require the council’s permission for any out-of-town hires.
The resolution to introduce the budget was passed with the votes of Ken Morris, Bill McKoy, Andre Sayegh, Luis Velez, Michael Jackson, and Council President Ruby Cotton while council members Maritza Davila, Shahin Khalique, and Alex Mendez voted against the measure.
“We’re not being responsible,” said Mendez prior to casting his vote. “It is easy for us to pass, but the problem is for the taxpayers.”
Those who voted in support made it clear that it was only a procedural matter. Earlier, Mayor Jane Williams-Warren had explained that in order to apply for $27 million in transitional aid from the state, the city would need to introduce a budget.
The aid is provided through a program that was designed as a short-term measure to help struggling municipalities address budget shortfalls, though Paterson has been receiving it for over a decade. The city is lobbying the state Division of Community Affairs (DCA) for an additional $2 million from previous years, which is reflected in the adopted budget.
Morris suggested that he did not hold the Mayor responsible for the city’s financial woes saying that “the council’s non-support of this budget is no reflection on the interim mayor. She inherited this mess.”
The council requested additional information it would need before even considering acting on the budget, including lists of:
- All employees hired in any department going back to July 1, 2016
- All pending requests for changes in employee salary or promotion
- A draft of a layoff plan
- The total economic impact of the increased tax levy (a fact sheet provided incomplete information)
- Every employee who received a salary increase
- Every employee transfer that resulted in a change in salary