PATERSON, NJ – State officials said on Friday they will deny Paterson’s request to rehire 37 police officers until city officials present “responsible plans to address the $8 million structural deficit in the budget they introduced.”
City officials had expected to put 37 of the 125 police officers who were laid off earlier this year back on the job in December.
“That’s what we don’t need to hear,’’ City Council President Anthony Davis said of the state’s rejection. “I thought for sure they were going to let us hire them by December.’’
The state also has refused Paterson’s requests to hire part-time recreation department employees to staff evening centers for city teenagers, officials said. As a result, city officials said, the centers have not been able to open this fall.
“I have a problem when someone uses public safety and children’s programs as a bargaining chip,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.
In a forceful letter dated November 15, the director of New Jersey’s Division of Local Government Services said Paterson should not count on getting a last-minute state loan to balance its budget, as it did last year.
The director, Thomas Neff, criticized the city council for not approving a proposal by Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ administration to increase sewer fees – a move the state says would make the sewer operation self-sufficient and eliminate the need to use millions of dollars in property taxes to subsidize that service.
“I encourage you to make addressing this budget imbalance your main priority,’’ Neff said in his letter. “The failure to identify solutions and to address this problem in a timely manner will result in a late tax increase that no one believes is in the best interests of the City.”
“Additionally, the State will be unlikely to approve any new or replacement hires, including rumored police rehires and recreation program hires, until such time as the City has demonstrated a good faith commitment to addressing this structural imbalance,’’ Neff wrote.
“As you know from last year’s budget experience, the longer the City goes without identifying tangible solutions to address the structural imbalance, the more difficult it will be for the City to find those solutions,’’ he added.
Under a agreement covering the $28 million in transitional aid the state gave Paterson last fiscal year, the New Jersey Department of Community Affiars (DCA), which includes Neff’s office, has authority to approve or deny all Paterson hiring decisions.
City officials pointed blame at each other for the rejection.
“The DCA has been clear that what the city council has done is irresponsible,’’ said Jones. “It’s a disappointment, but the administration has done everything we had to do in this regard to satisfy the DCA.’’
“I’m deeply disappointed,’’ said Councilman Andre Sayegh. “Other municipalities are hiring our cops. We need them. The administration has to get more aggressive. They have to work overtime on this without getting paid.’’
DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said on Friday that Paterson’s application for rehiring the 37 cops would be rejected, but the city could apply again once it resolved its budget deficit.
Morris and Sayegh said Jones’ plan for doubling the sewer fees at one shot was too onerous for city property owners, especially after they endured a 29-percent tax hike last fiscal year. Morris also said there were flaws in the argument that a sewer fee increase would be less burdensome on homeowners because the hike would be shared by groups that own tax exempt properties. He said many of the large tax exempt groups already have side deals with the sewerage authority.
“The council wants what they want, they want a perfect world,” Jones said. The city needs to take a more practical approach towards the budget and accept some things that might not be ideal, such as a sewer fee increase, the mayor said. He also criticized the council for not offering constructive suggestions on how to fix the city’s budget problem.
“They’re not supposed to just sit there and say no, they should come up with something that’s going to make us all look good,’’ said Jones.
The state’s rejection of Paterson’s request to rehire the 37 police officers means it’s unlikely that the city’s depleted law enforcement ranks will get a boost until late in the winter at the earliest. That also means the evening youth centers may not reopen this year, officials said.
The shutdown of that program has Davis upset.
“I know what DCA wants and we’re going to give them what they want,’’ he said. “But c’mon, we need the evening centers. They’re a safe haven. They save the lives of our children.’’