Monday, June 17, 2019

Joshua Einstein: Government housing policies creating a tale of two cities

The May 23rd editorial by the Star Ledger Editorial Board entitled “Jersey City mayor would build more housing for gentrifiers, call it ‘affordable’” is right in its critique of the housing problem facing Jersey City (and many Democratic controlled cities across the county) but misidentifies the problem. First and foremost, the issue is not the assignment or dolling out of limited housing stock to ill-defined groups (ie gentrifiers or non-gentrifiers) with inherently subjective definitions (what is affordable to one, is not to another), but that there is a nationwide shortage of housing stock in the medium to large American cities under Democrat rule. 
In cities from San Francisco to New York, South Bend to Jersey City, and more, limousine liberals have pursued the height of hypocrisy - a dual policy of presumed property value protection and neighborhood development that props up existing upper-class owners and the 1% big developers. They have done so by creating a bifurcated two-tier system in which the bottom level is that of a "just say no" policy to the small scale development of carriage buildings (backyard or “granny” apartments), limiting additional new floors to existing housing, preventing the conversion of single-family housing to apartment buildings (unless it’s a tony condo conversion) and adding costs to new construction that make medium scale housing for the non-luxury building market unaffordable. The second and top tier is that of the rarified large-scale developer who can trade favors for exemptions from the existing rules. (To see this sad truth one need only look at the Hoboken Hilton project in which the city shamelessly negotiated in public over what “donations” to select non-profits the developers would give to get their variances). In Jersey City, the small to medium developers have not received the same treatment the large scale luxury 1% developers has, nor the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement (that has further brought chaos to the city's education funding) for building in areas that were already developing and becoming "desirable".
This inequity artificially adds to and acts as an accelerant to the wildfire that many identify as gentrification. Yet it remains a reality of life that entropy, the status quo, never holds, and applied to housing - that neighborhoods always change. This principle applies when a neighborhood is becoming wealthier or poorer. It applies to neighborhoods in which the economics have remained constant but the community has changed ethnically. To acknowledge change in neighborhoods is not to advocate for it, but to recognize that it is a constant. Yet, everyone wants a system that is more equitable than the current en vogue one ruining American cities and communities. No one should want to boot out working-class Americans.
Indeed, the Star Ledger editorial board is right to attempt to suss out a more equitable idea in response to the repeated bad ideas of the Democrats who rule Jersey City and Hudson County. This desire should be applied not only to Jersey City but also to the urban areas around the country suffering from a housing shortage, almost all Democrat run. But the editorial board is wrong to posit that more of the same top-down government directives provide a substantive solution. Whether the proposal by Jersey City Mayor Fulop to define 50% of new development set-aside apartments as “affordable housing” for a family of four making $100,000 or the editorial boards critique that this is a set-aside for the wealthy, one need look at the reality of government intrusion in the market - every single non-set-aside apartment in a new development required to have set-asides will be more expensive. This will push up the price of and put beyond reach for even more people, the non-set-aside apartments. 
In and of itself, ending set-asides, which help those lucky enough to line up for them first, but leaves every other working-class citizen in a crunch, does little to solve the problem of the housing shortage. Indeed set-asides actually create two problems. First, it creates a client-patronage relationship with the politician that gets credit for their creation.  It is almost guaranteed that those living in set-asides will form a special interest voting block to hold local government hostage and support only those politicians who bend to their will. Second, and even more morally important, is that developments with set-aside units are used as an excuse to justify the uneven playing field that created the same housing stock shortage they are used as a Band-Aid for. Politicians point to the small number of lower-income apartments in rich neighborhoods they claim to have created as a distraction from the fact that their “just say no” policy to small and smart growth through regressive zoning rules and double standard for the small homeowner have created the housing shortage, have limited the options, and raised the cost of living of the working class.
Only when zoning is reformed to allow the mom and pop small property owner to convert their house into rental units rather than incentivizing condo conversion, build a new floor without the added cost of municipal micro-management, lower their tax burden and kill regulations that preclude them from building new apartments on their property, can a greater supply of housing stock accessible to working class Americans be realized. If the small homeowner or small developer were given the same latitude, freedom, and lower taxes as the 1% big developer receiving a PILOT agreement there would be more housing stock across the board within reach of working-class Americans.
There is no situation in which 100% of the people will be satisfied. There is not even one in which everyone will have their basic need for a more affordable situation met. Yet the question remains how to best address the needs of the greatest number of people, both in Jersey City and in cities across the country. Both the editorial board's critique of Mayor Fulop’s proposal and the proposal itself show that top-down command economics decrees are selective, limited in whom they assist, and ultimately harmful to the majority of the working class. The board disagrees with the favoritism being shown towards an economic slice it believes is just a subset of gentrifiers. Economic history shows that both Mayor Fulop and the board are methodologically wrong both in that they misidentify the problem and that their proposed solutions will actually accelerate it. The way to create greater housing options for working-class Americans is to liberalize the top down regulations of the housing market and end the regime of special deals for large 1% developers. Only then will Jersey City, Hoboken, and other small to large urban areas have greater housing options for all Americans.

This guest piece comes courtesy of Hoboken resident Joshua Einstein.
Guest pieces of 1,000 words or less may be submitted for publication to smartyjones@me.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Ravi Bhalla declares war on Gov. Phil Murphy over NY Waterway

An oddly timed release leading into a summer Friday out of the Hoboken mayor's office officially declared war on NJ Governor Phil Muprhy.

The release on behalf of Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced restarting eminent domain efforts again to seize the site of  the former Union Dry Dock, now NY Waterway.

The cold war now will run hot, at least politically, as Bhalla makes an eminent domain run where Hoboken is subservient to the same eminent domain law held over it via NJ Transit.

Citing "the lack of any real progress in negotiations with the Governor's office," the release contradicts recent discussion held in Trenton only last month. Those discussions between Ravi Bhalla and Phil Murphy were declared "productive" by Vijay Chaudhuri, communications and 2017 Bhalla campaign manager.

NY Waterway countered another recent statement by Bhalla where he said ferry refueling property  operations on the land would only occur "over his dead body." NY Waterway heard the message and after obtaining the needed permits for operations filed a lawsuit in Hudson Superior Court against the City last week.

The mayor's office release says it has compromised with Governor Phil Murphy but "now is the time to once again begin eminent domain proceedings."

NY Waterway ferries thousands of Hoboken residents and thousands more daily to Manhattan. They are an essential element in the regional transportation hub for both the area and city residents.

The City Council as previously requested in late 2017 is likely to muster the votes needed a second time for any eminent domain action. Hoboken's eminent domain action was later withdrawn at the urging of the NJ governor's office.

Hoboken's eminent domain action, if taken would be nullified with NJ Transit taking ownership of the property. The City of Hoboken would have no standing at all in such a scenario.

NY Waterway flies its flag over the former Union Dry Dock.
Don't expect that to change anytime soon, no matter what political
statements are made out of the Hoboken mayor's office.


Talking Ed Note: The real question here is what's changed? Is this part of a grander strategic plan or is it political grandstanding for Ravi Bhalla leading into an election come November? Maxwell Place residents are starting to get the whiff of being played.

At least it beats a "midnight" terror flyer tossed on the streets of midtown at dinner time on a Friday night before Election Day, right?

As a reminder, official releases are not published out of City Hall here due to the mayor's office refusal to comment when given every opportunity to do so on simple questions. Hobokenhorse.com continues its years-long policy where local elected officials may have official releases published here without comment. Most of Hoboken's officials do so over many years.

On a troubling note, another recent political operation out of the mayor's office is revealed against the First Amendment and this website over mere satire from a movie comedy starring a white Jewish male leading an imaginary country called Wadia.

It failed. No press in the area would dirty a finger touching the absurdity.

Councilman Mike DeFusco: eScooters, Park Entrepreneurship & Other News

Official release:

As everyone is getting ready to roll out their summer plans, I wanted to quickly share some Hoboken neighborhood updates that might be of interest:   
An Unfortunate Tax Increase 
Despite having a larger tax base than ever before, the mayor’s budget initially proposed raising taxes nearly 3% and dramatically increasing parking rates, up to 260%, to compensate for his administration’s unprecedented spending over the past year. Working with my colleagues on the City Council, we passed an amended budget that sized back the mayor’s tax hike and cut nearly 700k in excess spending, while simultaneously increasing funding for our short-staffed Fire Department.  While no rate hike is acceptable, the 1.7% increase represented a solid middle way compromise that protects taxpayers, renters and businesses while giving the administration all the tools necessary to operate effectively and efficiently.  

However, instead of moving forward and accepting a responsible spending plan, Mayor Bhalla went on the defense about why he was looking to raise our taxes.  He attacked the Council members who voted for this budget and worse, used taxpayer-funded mechanisms like the City’s emergency alert system “Nixel" and his City Hall staff to spread a false political narrative.  Keep in mind, the Mayor increased his own office spending by an alarming 40% over the prior administration likely to compensate for his broken campaign promise of serving as a full-time Mayor, instead choosing to work a second job at a politically connected law firm.

To set the record straight, the adopted budget funds the Mayor’s Office at the same level Mayor Zimmer's was at the end of her term, and it doesn't impact the Office of Constituent Services.  I hope that all residents can see through the Mayor’s bizarre rhetoric and attempt to divide our community.  We may not always agree politically, but that does not mean we should ever stop having productive conversations to protect residents and make Hoboken even better than it already is. 
eScooter Safety Law
In the last few weeks we’ve seen new electric scooters come to town as part of a six-month test program and I was proud to be an early advocate of this transportation technology.  I know that feedback has been mixed and in my opinion resulted from a poor roll-out and awareness program.  
Watch my interview on News 12 following the eScooter rollout 
As you may recall back in April, both the City Council and Hoboken Police Department advanced and supported the Lime eScooter contract. Shortly after that, Mayor Bhalla called to introduce a secondary operator, Ojo, whose scooters more resemble mopeds or vespas, and in my opinion, encourage misuse through tandem riding.  I did not support this unfounded expansion as I didn't believe the administration had adequately addressed safety concerns before looking to introduce a second operator.  Sure enough, the eScooter rollout made regional news both for having the highest ridership of any of Lime's markets in the world, but also for dangerous user error and misconduct that characterized the launch.

In response to the critical safety issues, I have authored an eScooter safety law which requires a court appearance and a gradually escalating penalty schedule for repeat offenders. The law also prohibits scooters from being operated within public parks unless they are being operated on a bicycle path or roadway through the park and is up for a final 
vote next Wednesday.  I’ve long believed in advocating for new ideas in our local government and pushing Hoboken to think outside of the box, which means trying new things.  I’m listening to everyone and working to address concerns and make changes in hopes that we can make eScooters work in Hoboken.  

Hoboken's Hilton Hotel
Late last year after significant back and forth, the City Council approved the mayor’s agreement for the long awaited Hilton Hotel project on River Street, behind the US Post Office. The deal included $4.85 million in community givebacks to local organizations, but last month a court ruled that these payments were not legally permissible, saying they “would create unacceptable possibilities for abuse and fraud and cannot be permitted for reasons of public policy.”
The Court specifically opined that the givebacks must be directly linked to improvements connected to the redevelopment, something I had asserted since the beginning.  Since then, I have actively worked to ensure these funds are used for downtown streets, overburdened water mains and dated parking garages, which not only responds to the Court's ruling and protects us against further litigation, but also strengthen the neighborhood most impacted by the hotel.  Next Wednesday the Council will vote on a significantly revamped redevelopment agreement which memorializes these community investments and I will continue to stand firm through this process, and in the coming years, to ensure downtown gets a fair shake from any large scale development.
Helping Small Businesses Succeed 
Small businesses play a vital role in our community and bring character to our neighborhoods. It’s important for us to give these mom and pop shops the resources they need to succeed, which is why I am proud that the City Council finally adopted my Small Business Expansion Plan. This is a proactive policy and will encourage makers, creators, and mom and pop shops the opportunity to open up in Hoboken and stay open. 
Rendering of a re-imagined kiosk on Pier A
With that said, I do believe there is more that we can do, which is why I am introducing legislation at the next council meeting to begin activating empty kiosks along the waterfront as popup shops for local businesses. When these kiosks were first installed, Mayor Roberts envisioned they would be used by Hoboken businesses to expand their visibility and help reach a larger customer base. Unfortunately, this has gone mostly undone and I’m excited to begin working with the city to implement a plan that will make our waterfront an ever more desirable place to grab a cup of coffee while supporting small businesses.

Downtown Improvements

Newark Street Multi-Modal Plan:   After years of advocacy I am particularly proud to let you know that Hudson County has approved a multi-modal street design for the Newark Street corridor to better protect pedestrians and cyclists while calming traffic passing through our neighborhood.  Shovels will be in the ground later this summer.
A conceptual rendering of the dog park (green wall will not part of the initial rollout).
Hudson Street Dog Park:  In last year's budget I earmarked funds to turn underutilized City property on Hudson between 1st and 2nd into a much needed dog run. I’ve always believed in making Hoboken more friendly for our pets, which is why I took steps to repeal the dated rules that prohibited dogs in our city parks. Penalizing irresponsible owners and bringing new dog parks to our city is a win for all of us. I’m excited to see the new dog run move forward and hope you will join Rocco (my dog) and I when it officially opens! 
Waterfront walkway:  Earlier this spring my young niece tripped and fell on a loose brick along the South Waterfront walkway, causing me to call on the administration to fix the deteriorating conditions.  I am happy to report that the mayor has heeded my call and the pathway will be receiving long overdue upgrades through the South Waterfront Corporation, which consists of the City as well as adjacent property owners. The City recently held a workshop discussing planned improvements which include new paving materials, updated plantings and restoration of the bike path and the first phase, which included replacing pavers, will begin this fall.  

Pride Month
As the Chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s LGBTQ Caucus, I couldn’t have been prouder to have kicked off Pride Month right here in Hoboken celebrating love and understanding at a jam packed Drag Queen Story Hour.  In the last four years we've made so much progress embracing LGBTQ rights, and just last fall became the second city in Hudson County to score a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index (MEI).  The MEI examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership's public position on equality.
Proud to see our city finally paint the Pride Flag across Washington Street! 
When I first came into office in 2016 Hoboken's MEI was second lowest in NJ but after working with both Mayors Zimmer and Bhalla, we are now a leader for equality.  However, from the recent protests against Harmonica Sunbeam, to the misunderstanding from community members over our Drag Queen Story Hour — it’s clear we need to keep engaging the community to educate and make our City and County more inclusive, for everyone.
Upcoming Events
I’m excited to be running for re-election this November, but despite all he progress we've made, and ideas that have changed the political conversation, the political machine is already working hard against me in support of an establishment candidate. I need your support and friendship now more than ever to keep bringing new energy and new ideas to Hoboken and hope you will join me at my campaign fundraiser, Tuesday June 25 from 6-8p at McSwiggans Pub.

Together, let's continue to speak truth to power, work to find productive solutions and bring about the meaningful change Hoboken deserves.  If you can't attend but would still like to donate, you can do that here -- as a grass roots candidate, each dollar donated goes a long way!  
Learn More
On a legislative level, I’ll be hosting a First Ward community meeting this Tuesday June 18 from 6-9pm at Mulligans Pub where we’ll discuss these and other downtown issues.  For my Marineview neighbors, I will be hosting a community meeting on Monday June 24 from 7-8pm at Union Hall. 
I am so thankful for the opportunity to advocate and work on behalf of my 1st Ward neighborhood.  If I can be of any assistance please don’t hesitate to call my cell directly at (646) 372-4341.

Your Councilman,
Mike DeFusco
Hoboken City Councilman
PS - please join me in signing the petition to stop a diesel refueling station from cutting off public access to our waterfront at the former Union Dry Dock site!


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Councilman Ruben Ramos: W/ATTACH Youth Basketball, Trees and SW Park

Official release:

Dear friends,

I am sorry for the second email, but the basketball application was not previously attached.

Free Youth Summer Basketball League - Spots Still Available

The Boys & Girls Club of Hudson County is offering a FREE basketball league this summer and there are still a few spots left.  Season begins June 24th and runs until August 23rd.  All games are on weeknights from 4-8pm at the Hoboken Viaduct Park.  Transportation will be provided, also free of charge, if needed. Players would meet at the Boys & Girls Club of Hoboken (123 Jefferson St.) and be bussed to and from the park.

The registration form is attached to this email and is due back to either myself or Deloris Gibson at B&G Club as soon as possible as space is limited.  If you have any questions about the league, please contact Deloris at dgibson@bgchc.org.

New Trees in SW Hoboken

We were all upset to see the removal of trees in SW Hoboken for the PSE&G project.  As promised, PSE&G has begun their replanting with 24 new trees planted to date and another 40 to be planted by the end of June.  PSE&G will continue this program in the fall as well.  

SW Park Fence Is Finally Here

I walked by the park this morning and took this picture.  A great and necessary addition to our neighborhood park.  



Thank you for your continued advocacy and patience during these projects.  Please share this with everyone you think might be interested in or affected by this information.  And don’t hesitate to reach out to me at any time to discuss this or any matter that is important to you.  

Regards,

Ruben Ramos
Hoboken City Council, 4th Ward 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sign of the Times: The Ravi-Russo Alliance rears its head again

The latest evidence in the Ravi-Russo Alliance mocking the dead body of the Reform Movement appears in this sign of the times.

It's "Uncle" George DeStefano on the Hoboken Democratic Committee controlled by Mayor Ravi Bhalla with a hat tip to his ally, Councilman Michael Russo.

Uncle George DeStefano (r) joins the crew! He's placed on the Hoboken Democratic Committee as Sargeant at Arms.

Last heard, DeStefano was running interference on the Hoboken budget attempting to stop the City Council efforts from reducing Ravi Bhalla's tax increase. It didn't work but an A for effort and unity for the Ravi-Russo Alliance.

Last seen, DeStefano was captured in an exclusive election violation story on Hobokenhorse.com on Election Day in 2017 at the polls in the 3-1. 

The Russo Clan took action teaming up with Ravi Bhalla's paid political operative. A photo submitted from the lobby was used to allege criminal activities in the polling station versus actual poll watching.

The Ravi-Russo Alliance, not exactly the legacy planned by former mayor Dawn Zimmer, is it?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Councilman Peter Cunningham on the 2019 Hoboken budget

Official release:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As many of you know, City Council passed the budget last Wednesday which cut the Mayor’s proposed tax increase of  2.8% to 1.7% ($670K cut).  It is the responsibility of the Council to review and pass or amend and pass the budget.  This year, members of the Council reached out to members of the Mayor’s administration (public safety in particular) to ensure a thorough and collaborative process and a fair, fiscally responsible result. 

Specific problems focused on the increased number of hires in the Mayor’s office including an Office of Constituent Services and three aides in his office.  Although the Council supports the Office of Constituent Services, we did not support the increase in his office staff.  He awarded these individuals double-digit salary increases well above and beyond what the market calls for, especially civil servant employees.  Mayor Zimmer's office operated without this additional unnecessary overhead.  Remember that the Mayor made the choice to take a second job.  Perhaps he doesn’t have the time necessary to perform the functions of his first job?  Thus, the need for additional personnel at your expense.  These expenses are the fat cut from the budget.

It is also extremely important to note that the Mayor has severely depleted the City's surplus which helps support our credit rating.  While our rating has been affirmed - one notch below triple-A, given our surplus depletion, and wasteful spending, this is an administration that needs to be watched and kept in check very closely!

Let's be clear, the City Council supports 99% of the Mayor's agenda (mostly a carryover from Mayor Zimmer), with the exception of the recently passed e-scooter program.   We challenged the Mayor on the budget spending issue which was the right thing to do and maintained city services while cutting back on unnecessary waste.  In fact, the Mayor specifically called out the Hoboken Police Department.  The HPD response in short to budget cuts was "there wasn't an urgency" and the reduction in Other Expenses will be managed by working with the Administration. 

Please share with your friends and neighbors, and as always, if you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.  Thanks, Peter

-- 
Peter Cunningham

City Council President Jen Giattino: "The truth about the Budget"

Official release:


 

Hello Friends and Neighbors,
 
I had planned on sending out an email this morning celebrating the reductions the City Council made to the introduced budget but instead I am being forced to discuss how the Mayor is happy to raise your taxes, keep his friends in positions we don't need, and use taxpayer funded staff and Nixle communications to send out politically driven emails that define "petty politics." Because the Mayor comfortably uses Nixle for political propaganda please forward this email to your friends and neighbors to help get the truth out.

The majority of the City Council put much thought and time into a fiscally responsible budget that affords Hoboken with a smaller tax increase (1.7%) than the Administration’s introduced budget (2.8%).  Councilwoman Fisher and I went to Trenton and met with the Department of Community Affairs and went through all of the changes to ensure they were statutorily compliant.  On June 5, 2019 the Department of Community Affairs emailed "Please be advised that the budget amendments dated May 1, 2019 and June 5, 2019 are approved. You may proceed to the final adoption this evening."  The City Council adopted this approved budget that evening.

The details behind the amendments are below and please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Related, the emails sent out by the Mayor last week regarding the budget that you may have received have many fabricated and misleading statements in them that I would like to clarify for you:
  • The Department of Community Affairs did not reject the City Council budget amendment.  They approved both budget amendments submitted by the Council on May 1 and June 5 as noted above.
  • The City Council cannot fire employees (except for certain Directors and it requires six votes).  It can only appropriate money to line items in the municipal budget.  It is the Mayor who determines how to spend the funds allocated by the Council including who to hire and how much to pay (as long as it falls within the Salary Ordinance).  
  • The City Council supports the Office of Constituent Services and made no changes to the budget introduced by the Mayor. If the Mayor decides to remove this office that is solely his choice.
  • The adopted special counsel budget line is $1,020,000, this covers the legal costs of the City.  Year to date we have spent less than 30% of that line. There is sufficient money to pay for Monarch, Union Dry Dock, a tenant advocate and all of the other issues the city faces.  Historically the special counsel line item has been over budgeted to generate surplusOur Mayor has shown that he needs to have his purse strings kept tight and that is what the majority of the City Council decided to do. 
  • The Mayor increased the Salary and Wages in the Mayor’s Office by 80% since Mayor Zimmer left office in 2017, while reducing the responsibilities of his office by creating a seperate Constituent Service Office.  He made a campaign promise not to take a second job, but then took one a month into his first term and has required taxpayers to pay for staff ever since.  The City Council has amended this line item to be closer to the cost of Mayor Zimmer’s office in 2017.  The Mayor also has the ability to reduce the salaries of his staff, instead of reducing headcount, staff which he uses as part of his political operation with YOUR tax dollars. His staff are the only department to see raises between 10%-28% while the majority of our City employees are lucky to get a cost of living increase.
The Mayor is clearly frustrated that the City Council is doing their job in looking out for Hoboken taxpayers.  He made the decision to hold a second job and the residents of Hoboken should not be picking up the bill of his bloated staff and taxpayer money should not be used to run his political machine.  The mayor continuously fundraises, but by using taxpayer money in this way it allows him to use more of the political contributions he receives from across the country for his own political purposes including funding other campaigns. 
 
My job has always been and always will be, to look after the residents of Hoboken. That is the number one job of a reformer and I will not change that.

Again please feel free to reach out with any questions,
-Jen
 


 
CY2019 Amended Municipal Budget
 
The rationale behind the first amendment (May 1) and the second amendment (June 5) to the CY2019 introduced budget.   
 

Department: Environmental Services Other Expenses
May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $220,000
Reason: Amount carting contract came in under budget net of increased recycling costs.

Department: Corporation Counsel Other Expenses

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $125,000
Reason: Reduction in special counsel costs; still $990K total and 9% more than historic average spend.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $30,000, net change of $95,000 to $1,020,000.
Reason: Adds back $30,000, to ensure tenant advocate.  Amended amount is 9.9% higher than the 5 yr. historic average and the City’s year-to-date spend is only at 29.5% of this amended number. The 5 year average for Special Counsel Costs was $927,969 (source audited financial statements).

Department: Mayor’s Office Salary & Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $115,000
Reason: Restore costs of mayor's office to 2017 levels - up 115% in 2 yrs. and included salary increases of 10-28%.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $29,995, net change $85,005 to $329,945.
Reason: Salary differential between 5/1/19 and 6/5/19.

Department: Police Acquisition of New Vehicles

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $75,000
Reason: Delay purchase of new motorcycles.

Department: Environmental Services Other Expenses / Streets & Roads Other Expenses

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $75,000 in Environmental Services.
Reason: Use of "snow & ice removal trust" (currently at $196K) to offset current year budget of $90K.

June 5 Amendment
Department: Environmental Services
Addition: $75,000, net change to $0.
Reason: Incorrect budget line item; should be Streets & Roads
Department: Streets and Roads
Reduction: $17,400
Reason:  Use of snow trust; amount limited to 10% of total line item.

Department: Business Administration Salary and Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $50,000
Reason: No re-hire of assistant business administrator.


 
Department: City Clerks Other Expenses Elections
May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $40,000
Reason: Reduce amounts proposed for run-off elections.

June 5 Amendment
Reduction: $7,500, net change $47,500 to $125,500.
Reason:  After reviewing the history of this expense in more detail and being conservative we wanted this line funded for 6 runoffs in the 2019 elections.  This revised amount of is 226% of the amount spent in 2015 which is the last year there were ward elections (2015 also included a primary election).

Department: Municipal Court Other Expenses

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $35,000
Reason: Reduce excess budgeted amounts relative to historical averages in Municipal Court (2.5% of total).

Department: Police Other Expenses

May 1 Amendment

Reduction: $30,000
Reason: Reduce excess budgeted amounts relative to historical averages.

Department: City Engineer
May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $25,000
Reason: Expected allocation under new Water Utility.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $25,000, net change $0.
Reason: Not reducing for the proposed water utility that has yet to be established.

Department: Tax Assessor

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $15,000
Reason: Reduce excess budgeted amounts in Tax Assessor OE (still 20K over 2018 act).

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $7,500, net change $7,500 to $211,725.
Reason: Ensured budget compares favorably with 5yr average costs.

Department: Corporation Counsel Salary and Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $14,000
Reason: Reduce proposed salary increases of 6-20% to 3%.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $4,900, net change $9,100 to $377,567
Reason: To give the Mayor more flexibility to give raises.

Department: Zoning Salary and Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $9,000
Reason: Reduce proposed 4-10% salary increases to 3%.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $3,150, net change $5,850 to $200,453.
Reason: Gives the Mayor more flexibility to give increased stipends.

Department: Planning Salary and Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $5,000
Reason: Reduce stipends in planning to 50% of proposed.

Department: Revenue & Finance Salary and Wages

May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $5,000
Reason: Reduce excess budgeted amounts in Revenue & Finance.

June 5 Amendment
Addition: $1,750, net change $3,250 to $714,040.
Reason: Gives more to pay overtime.

 
Department: Senior Citizens Other Expenses
May 1 Amendment
Addition: $2,000
Reason: Restore Seniors Budget to 2017 for additional programming and classes.

Department: Capital Fund

May 1 Amendment
Addition: $6,000
Reason: Down payment for new Senior ADA compliant van at est. cost of $60,000.

Department: Fire Salary and Wages
 
 
May 1 Amendment
Addition: $90,000
Reason: Increase for new Fire Chief salary and firefighter/OT - TBD by Fire Chief.

Department: City Clerks Salary and Wages
June 5 Amendment
Addition: $15,000
Reason: We want to ensure the Mayor has the funding to give raises for step and responsibility increases.

Department: Public Defender
June 5 Amendment
Addition: $4,300
Reason:  Due to bail reform Public Defender needs to be available an additional day. This happened between the 2 amendments.

 
 
Hoboken Parking Utility CY2019 Budget

Department: HPU Other Expenses
May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $63,000
Reason: 2019 OE budget of $3.4M is fairly flat to 2018 and 2018 underspent budget by $664K; Proposed reduction reflects only a 1.9% decrease in total which should be able to absorbed within estimates across many items.


Department: HPU Salary and Wages
May 1 Amendment
Reduction: $40,000
Reason: HPU has operated at ~85% staffing levels; this is a small reduction of only 0.85% of total S&W which can be absorbed in a $4.7M budget.


Department: HPU Investment in Property
May 1 Amendment
Addition: $7,000
Reason: Down payment for new HOP at est. cost of $70,000.


Department: HPU Surplus Contribution to Municipal Budget
May 1 Amendment
Addition: $96,000, equal to net reductions above.
Reason: Increase use of HPU surplus from $3.2M to $3.296M (historically above $4M) funded by net reductions above.
 
 
 

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher: Correcting the record on the budget and reducing the mayor's tax increase

Official release:


 
Dear friends and neighbors:
After weeks of working with the Administration and the Department of Community Affairs, last week the City Council voted 5-4 to adopt the Amended Municipal Budget.  Although we will have an increase in the municipal tax rate for the first time in several years, we were able to keep the increase to 1.66%, down from the 2.81% originally introduced by the mayor in late March.  
 
As I stated previously in my May 15th newsletter, this is the year the City needed to tighten its belt and show that it can do more with less.  The Adopted budget reflects financially responsible reductions in excess and wasteful spending yet still provides adequate funding for all of our valued municipal services, wage increases for our lowest-paid employees, and support for our seniors and public safety teams.  On June 5th, the DCA concurred and notified us that they approved the Council's amended budget.  Below you will find a description of the final amendments that were made.
 
Although we agreed many of the reductions with the Administration, we did not reach agreement on all.  And instead of moving forward together, at the end of last week the Mayor and the City’s Communications Director took to email, and once again the City’s Nixle alert system, to send out political attacks in an attempt to discredit all of us who worked hard to deliver the lowest taxes possible.  He manufactured crises where none exist and specifically used fear mongering about topics like Monarch and our Constituent Services Office that are important to Hoboken, and to 2nd Ward voters in particular, to get you to vote against us in the upcoming election.  I ask that you please consider this perspective as you read on.  In this era of “fake news” becoming reality if unchecked, I feel compelled to correct the record below.  
 
$641,529 in Net Savings Achieved on $117.5M Budget!
 
This is the most exciting and important part of this email!  Getting to these savings involved the efforts of many including nine budget workshops, many discussions with members of the administration, reviewing in detail approximately 90 budget line items, and a trip to Trenton with Council President Jen Giattino to meet with the Division of Local Government Services within the Department of Community Affairs.  As a result of all of this, the approved budget includes:
  • $788,600 in reductions in 16 different budget items.  
  • $120,000 of additional funding to 5 line items, including $90,000 to our Fire Department.  
  • $27,071 of non-discretionary adds made by the Administration for prior period charges and County imposed, court-related expenses.
There are two broad categories of “controllable” expenses in our budget:  “Other Expenses” (OE)  and “Salary and Wages” (S&W).  Changes made in the amendment process are to specific line items in these categories.  Once the budget is set, the Administration can only change a line item at the end of the year via a budget transfer where they transfer amounts from unused budget line items to categories that may need more.  And this requires City Council approval.  In most cases, the savings we found in OE were typically where historic spending levels were much lower than amounts budgeted.  For S&W, we found similar situations as well as savings from unfilled positions and reducing excessive salary increases (10-30%) to a more supportable level.  Here is the detail:
 
Council Reductions
 
  • $220,000 reduction to $4,993,000 in Sanitation OE – Carting contract came in $300K lower than budgeted.  
  • $95,000 reduction to $1,020,000 in Special Counsel OE:  Budget is 9.9% higher than the 5 yr. historic average and the City’s year-to-date spend is only at 29.5% of this amended number.  Includes a $30,000 increase as agreed with the mayor to restore funding of the tenant advocate which he had recently cut.
  • $85,000 reduction to $329,950 in Mayor’s Office SW:  Restores costs of mayor's office to closer to Mayor Zimmer’s levels at end of her term in 2017; 
  • $75,000 reduction in Police Acquisition of Vehicles OE:  Delay purchase of replacement motorcycles (agreed by Chief Ferrante).  
  • $63,000 net reduction to $3,306,241 in Parking Utility OE:  amounts in this line item are estimated; amended budget (with 1.9% decrease) would still be $540,000 greater than what was spent in 2018 and still provide full funding for all essential projects. 
  • $50,000 reduction to $506,460 in Business Administration SW: No back fill of Assistant BA position vacated in February.
  • $47,500 reduction to $125,500 in City Clerks Elections OE: Reduces excess budgeted amounts.  This is double the 5 yr. historic average and still 2.26x the amount spent in 2015 which is the last year there were ward elections (without runoffs). 
  • $40,000 reduction to $4,662,258 in Parking Utility SW:  Highly transitional staffing levels less than 100% supports this minor .85% reduction. 
  • $35,000 reduction to $1,234,249 in Municipal Court SW:  Reduces excess budgeted amounts.  Amended amount is 20% higher than 5yr average and 7% higher than last years spend.
  • $30,000 reduction to $568,445 in Police OE:  Reduces excess budgeted amounts relative to historic spend.
  • $19,950 reduction to $673,672 in combined Corporation Counsel, Zoning, and Planning SW: Reduces proposed, excessive salary increases to more moderate increases.
  • $17,400 reduction to $156,600 in Streets & Roads OE: Use of Snowplowing trust to offset expenses.
  • $7,500 reduction to $211,725 in Tax Assessor OE: Reduces excess budgeted amounts relative to historic spend.
  • $3,250 reduction to $714,040 in Finance and Revenue SW:  Reduces excess budgeted amounts.
Council Additions
 
  • $90,000 increase to $16,325,566 in Fire SW: Increase for new Fire Chief and amounts to add capacity to engine teams (either new firefighter or overtime).
  • $15,000 increase to $526,518 in City Clerks SW: Increase to compensate for level / responsibility changes.
  • $7,000 increase in HPU Down Payment on Improvements:  Originally contemplated 10% down payment for new HOP bus that would be funded via debt, however down payment not required within HPU; amounts remain and will go toward surplus regeneration. 
  • $6,000 increase to $426,000 in Capital Improvement Fund:  10% down payment for new ADA compliant van for senior medical transport. 
  • $2,000 increase to $13,000 in Senior Citizens OE: Restore to 2017 levels to deliver more programming to Hoboken Seniors.
 
Fact Checking and Correcting the Record
 
The correspondence from the mayor's office was dishonest and misleading.  There is just no other way to describe it.  Here is some fact-checking and correcting the record:  
 
  • DCA did not reject our amended budget.  Although the Mayor’s letter said they did.  Due to a backlog, the DCA did not review our 5/1 amendment until last week and reached out to meet with us as they did with the Administration.  They had concerns about appropriate funding in 5 line items to which we addressed all 5 satisfactorily and provided a revised amendment on 6/5.  The five items were City Engineer SW, Tax Assessor OE, Special Counsel OE, Streets & Roads OE, and City Clerks Elections OE.  The net amount of our changes to those five line items was $112,500.  To quote the Director of the Division of Local Government Services of the DCA in their approval letter: “Please be advised that the budget amendments dated May 1, 2019 and June 5, 2019 are approved.“ and “Thank you all for your efforts to achieve a sustainable budget this year”.  
  • Legal department increased its spending significantly.  Although the Mayor’s letters said the legal department reduced spending by $400,000.  In fact the total amount spent by Corporation Counsel increased from $2.5M in 2017 to almost $2.9M in 2018.  What did reduce was the amount the City over budgeted in the Special Counsel line item, even though actual spending in the Special Counsel line item went up $145,000 in 2018.
  • Made up crisis about funding Monarch.  The mayor’s letter says there will not be enough funding to continue the Monarch litigation.  As noted above, the special counsel budget at $1,020,000 is more than fully funded to address all critical issues facing the City – including Monarch.  And to date, less than 30% of this budget has been actually spent.  Additionally, counsel has indicated that the go forward costs of the litigation relating to the Supreme Court taking the case will be low because it is an appeal of an already fully briefed case.  I have been fighting against the proposed Monarch project since 2011 and I co-founded Hoboken Residents for A Better Waterfront to organize a resident voice to defend our waterfront which now includes Union Dry Dock.  Do you honestly believe I would do anything at all to jeopardize these fights?  I hope you very quickly say no and also consider why the Mayor would allege that I would.  
  • City Council didn’t fire anyone because we legally can’t.  Although the mayor says that we “attempt[ed] to fire someone” and that “the amendment targets his employment”.  Only the mayor can fire someone and he seems to have chosen to do so.  We didn’t decide how he should handle the reductions to his office budget, and we did not target anyone specifically.  We only said it should return to the much lower budget under Mayor Zimmer at the end of her last term.  In fact, our original amendment had a $115,000 recommended cut, but we scaled it back to $85,000 in the final version to give the mayor more options.  
  • Nothing in this budget will drive a reduction in the Office of Constituent Affairs.  Although the mayor says “the budget amendments have the very real possibility of cutting our Office of Constituent Services”.  Notwithstanding what the mayor has alleged, the Council Approved Budget provides for 100% full funding of this office at the levels originally provided for by the Mayor – the Council made no changes to this line item. It would be the Administration’s sole prerogative to eliminate this office if it were to happen.    
  • About those four dissenting votes...  The mayor thanks the four who voted no for “for recognizing the nuances of the budget and opposing Councilmembers Giattino and Fisher’s fiscally irresponsible amendments”.   I spoke with Councilman Russo who changed his vote after previously voting in favor of our prior amendment and he told me it wasn’t our specific amendment he now opposed, rather he would have voted 'no' for any budget with a tax increase including the Mayors.  Regarding Councilwoman Falco, I am not sure why she changed her vote to not support the lower tax rate (she previously voted yes for the original amendment with higher cuts) other than I know she was concerned about the Mayor retaliating against her efforts to expand affordable housing if she voted in favor.  And as for Councilmembers Jabbour and Doyle, they have consistently voted 'no' for the amendments in favor of a higher tax rate.  
 
Are you ok with this?  With the mayor’s office lying to you for political gain?  That your tax dollars are being used for this including the City’s Communication Director and our Nixle system?  With the Mayor running a smear campaign out of City Hall?  Because I am not.  And neither is the City Council when it voted to reduce his office budget.  
 
 
I am very proud of this budget and what we have done to keep taxes as low as possible.  And this did involve a herculean effort by a lot of people including many members of the Administration, the DCA, our auditor, my council colleagues – Council President Giattino in particular - and the public.  Thank you to everyone who helped get this done.  
 
Because the Mayor's megaphone is loud and vast, please forward this to everyone to help me get the word out about the budget.  And as always, feel free to reach out via email, text or phone (201-208-1674) about this or anything else important to you.  And know that I will always fight with and for you.  
 
Thank you,