Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Wile E Coyote - Eric Kurta

$700,000 for a couple of parks the size of a few large suburban houses.  Eric explains how he's tracked a couple of parks and how absurd the costs are with an army of full time and part time workers.  
Houston, we have a problem.

Jimmy the K complained about seeing workers out on Sunday in the park but when he hears this...

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

Zoning Board Process

City Council President speaks about the process for identifying two zoning board candidates.  With the discussion from many corners about transparency, here's an explanation for the candidates submitted and those considering doing so.  It appears we have a rich pool of folks already.

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

Emergency Appropriation

The City Council is working well together tonight.  In terms of overall seriousness of items on the agenda and effectiveness, this is the best we've seen in a long, long time.  Everyone deserves credit for actually taking the business of the city seriously and working together in a constructive manner.

Finance Director Nick Trasente is now up going over these numbers.  Councilman Mike Lenz seems to get lots of quiet approval in terms of examining this and giving it his support.  That probably carries a lot of weight based on his financial background.  It will with the majority coalition on the council no doubt.

Sudden motion to table the spending bill from Councilman Lenz.  Not happy there is no flexibility to alter to just get priority items paid.  Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi has told Nick not to alter the emergency appropriation bill.  His hands are tied by his boss who is charged by the State.  In fact she can go ahead and push this through and has done so before.

Councilman Lenz is asking for clarification on what Nick can do on paying the bills need to be paid.  Nick Trisante is not bending to that desired reality.  He's saying she can do it on her own authority under State supervision.

(Outside chambers Nick Trasente explains he agreed to sort through some changes some months back and later the fiscal monitor had gone ahead with the original plan under her authority.  He said he's just following through on her instructions.  Councilman Lenz comes out and tells Nick he is doing a good job. All the tension is removed.)

9-11 Memorial

Director Forbes speaking on its behalf. Mentions 250K NJ grant.  Councilman Lenz is questioning the needed 58K.  Councilwoman Mason is presenting options on containing the costs.  Other people on the Council agree with this approach.

Director Forbes explains a limited location choice at Pier A should help to contain the overall costs.  Amendment will provide for a location, then the design will fit into that selection.  They are amending to cap the overall costs to $227,000. The vote is approved 9-0.  Nice job!

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

Battalion Chief Greene

Speaking for the Fire Dept. for the pumper truck under bond consideration.

The Battalion Chief just left. Turned to us and said "Wow!"  He could not believe the bond for the truck went through that smoothly and so said to him, "You did the preparation." He also thanked resident Scott Siegel for his remarks on behalf of the bond.

Councilman Lenz deserves credit for the meeting held earlier this week covering the ground on this.  It made for a smooth process tonight.  Councilman Ravi Bhalla also spearheaded that meeting.  The financial questions covered there made for a smooth easy vote of approval tonight.

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

Councilman Lenz on the Budget

His first observations are about the 3MM surplus and there being some unknown issues and how the State dictates these be accounted for and "things coming up."  Mentions the next year projected looks better in present than what it is when you get there.  Talks about the pension impact, said 10% increased due to pension costs totalled in at the end.

- Fiscal Monitor is playing the role normally a mayor would typically play.
- It's the beginning and the public and City Council will play a big role.

Nick Trasante Finance Director - more on taxes, details

Credits will be showing in taxes for the 3rd and 4th quarter but they will show on the tax bill into early next year.
Taxes credited for people who have appealed successfully
Taxes not anticipated in this year that are collected re: construction.

Councilman Lenz is saying any surplus (3.4MM collected) gets rolled over in the following year per NJ law.  The State allowed Hoboken to use 300K for unanticipated expenditure.

"Irresponsible to use all your surplus." - Should "Regenerate it year by year."
Nick Trasente, Finance Director

Councilman Lenz - "control taxes by controlling spending"

- Going to County for bonding and their rating saved Hoboken several percentage points.

Councilman Giacchi asks for a summary:
Judy Tripodi email explained how the 8% is about $360 per 160K of assessed value.  That is only the municipal portion.  The County and BOE are variables the city doesn't control.

Councilman Ravi Bhalla is interested in more reductions in costs for salary & wages.
Asked for details.  Headcount reductions are 15-20 over the year all told.
About 7-8 positions were added, some in demand and some to satisfy state requirement.
Their total cost is only half built in to the overall budget.
Councilman Russo is equating the two categories.  It is still an overall reduction.

Councilman Ravi Bhalla
Salary & wages, and operating expenses not reduced based on his view.  He's asking for more on what heads of departments were asked to do.  Nick Trisante explained the overall review and identification process.  Indicates the Mayor had asked for 10% reductions.
Councilman Bhalla is suggesting the fiscal monitor could have been more aggressive in this area.
Going through the savings of 1MM in insurance costs.  Indicating the additional benefit in using in and out-of-network insurance options for employees.  This is an unknown dollar savings for both active and retired employees.  Some needs to be sorted out in contract negotiations.

Councilman Russo
3MM retro pay is part of the older wages not paid for yet.

Councilman Mello
Asking about the cost in the negotiations and how the numbers are calculated for budget purposes.  Retro pay factored in but is not final.  Councilman is interested in the increases in retro pay and how that meets up with current reality of economic hardship: 10%+ unemployment, etc.  Says it's "tough to swallow."

Councilwoman Marsh - looking for debt service details.  Trisante is saying a longer timeframe was requested.  Fine with firetruck being done over time as typical.  Wants to see what additional typical items for forecasting.

Council President Cunningham - wants year to year department analysis with any cuts.  Trisante says he'll give him a year to year comparison in spending figures in 2009 vs. 2010.  He's asking for efficiencies and disappointed there wasn't any efficiency audits for police, fire, parking, environment services, etc.  Giving a heads up really to Department heads.


Taxes go DOWN

Taxes are going to be reduced:

$60,442,000 in prior year to

$55,611,214 for the current fiscal year

As originally reported first by Mile Square View in an exclusive interview with State Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi a week before the mayoral election, taxes have been reduced.  All the conspiracy theories, false accusations, and skepticism ends.

County, School & Municipal Levy

Municipal 43%           58MM
County 29.43%          39.5MM
Board of Ed 26.19%   35MM

Those are the big three.

Open Space is less than 1%

The Board of Ed cost is especially irksome as the cost of the actual cost per pupil is apparently not driving it to such a high figure.  That comment came from Nick Trisante.

The 2010 Salary & Wages Costs

44.74% of Budget is just Salary & Wages

Fire 30.57%
Police 40.35%

So those two total over 70% of the whole city's employee costs.

Overall Department Costs:

Police 24.74%
Fire 16.2%
Library 4.8%
Environmental 6.8%

2010 and 2011 Projection

Nick Trisante is showing a decrease from prior year of 8% from 2009.
2011 is actually flat projected for 98MM with a planned 21% decrease.
You don't see the numbers change because of things both coming in and going out.

Items in 2010 not in 2011

TAN Interest 1.1MM
Salary Adjustment 3 MM  - this number corrected.  Not changed the final total though.
Salary Increase 1.6MM
Pension Reduction 600K
Attrition 3MM
Note Interest Savings 820K
Health Insurance Savings 1MM

Total Savings in 2010 (but not for 2011)   $11,194,426

Spending Analysis

Discretionary items:

Total budget:  $98,766,211

Deferred charges 1.6MM
Debt Service 8.6MM
Pension 6.8
Salary & Wages 44MM
Statutory Obligations 2MM
Health Benefits/other insurance 16MM
Salary Settlments 4.5MM
Library 3.35MM
Other 1.8MM
Reserve for Uncollected Taxes 380K
Total Non Discretionary $89MM

Budget Blow Out - City Council Tonight

Finance Director Nick Trisante is giving the highline. Here are all the COST DRIVERS:

Health Care Cost is close to $15MM, actual:  $14,800.000
- built in anticipated 10% increase, not actual but scaled in accounting
Pension - this is a full complete figure:  $3,266,918
7.7% increase is for Police & Fire
- an amendment will be required to adjust 7MM
Retroactive Pay - this is approximate - $3,000,000
- 2.5 years of salaries and wages not yet paid $2,900,000
Deferred Charges - $1,619,392
Salary Settlements - $1,500,000
- this relates to those ridiculous benefits carrying special NJ vacations and sick time over years.
It is now being capped to two years.  It is not yet in affect.  Speculated to begin 2010.
Irresponsible Debt Management - $1,200,000
- Nick Trasente said it was done for a full year instead of the needed four months
- Pier C bonded cost is in this but was not necessary - a $5,000,000 bond
Decrease in State Aid - $505,000  another $380,000 is on hold by the State.
Decrease in Revenue - $160,000  cardboard recycling went down

Budget blow out CC LIVE BLOG

Finance Director Nick Trisante first up on budget.

Here comes 2010
They did it. Cleaned it up!  It's a baseline start.

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

Budget blow out CC LIVE BLOG

Patrick Ricciardi, on the job tonight in City Council Chambers.

- Posted by Jhnnynewman, intrepid photographer via iPhone

BOE Tape - Video Down

The City videographer, Patrick Ricciardi, who was taping the last BOE meeting in an interview minutes before the City Council meeting tonight relayed the details of the problems leading to the loss of video and also his release from further duties by BOE Superintendent Carter via email earlier today.

Apparently, the video problems are part of a code issue although still retaining the audio portion.  Unfortunately software tools from the hard disk manufacturer for the special hardware were not successful in fixing the video corruption.  Eric Kurta confirmed to us via email that Patrick had conveyed concern about the video problems a couple of days after the meeting.  The hard drive in the cartridge mechanism, approximately 170 GB goes back to 2007.  It is used for every single city event. 

There's no way at this point to get both the audio and video up but the audio is available for the complete meeting.  Patrick has offered Mile Square View a complete copy and we accepted but we're not optimistic in its recovery.

We will be live blogging the City Council meeting from Chambers.

We're number one!

Hoboken takes the lead in a statewide investigation into government waste and abuse in local government.  The State Commission of Investigation report dated December 2009 reveals all the practices that have helped to get New Jersey both on the state and local level deep into the red.  

Leading the way on the gravy train is Hoboken's own Carmen LaBruno:
"The largest excesses cited came from within the law enforcement community. Former Hoboken police chief Carmen LaBruno left his post with $350,000, which included $200,000 in unused time off, according to the report."

Carmen Labruno and friend on a Swat mission
Photo courtesy: the Jersey Journal

More of the shocking details on the cost to Hoboken among other towns is included in a new story just released Jersey Journal story.  Highlights include:

" From 2004 to 2009, retiring Hoboken employees collected $3.87 million worth of terminal leave, including individual payments as high as $97,000; and $3.14 million in accumulated vacation leave. In numerous individual instances, the combined lump-sum payout was identical to or within several thousands of dollars of the recipient's last annual salary."

As Hoboken is about to release its budget today, our sense of unease comes on several fronts, this being one of them.  Way to go Hoboken.  Represent!

Budget Blow Out - City Council Tonight

Video streaming by Ustream
Judy Tripodi, the fiscal monitor and her team roll out their budget along with the mayor's office tonight to the City Council.  Where will the numbers come in?  We are going to find out with all the promised transparency - per line item along with it.  Okay, who needs a hanky first?  You know there's going to be some crying right?

As most readers here know, Mile Square View broke the story of the tax cuts included with the budget effort a full week before the election.  This caused great consternation to the efforts already invested in a campaign and its tiny minions saying otherwise (no names to protect the guilty) but what can you do, we told the truth.  Of course that caused much gnashing of teeth and frantic efforts worthy of Pravda in its heyday uptown at the home of censorship and self-proclaimed "political truth."  If you are new here, sorry you didn't get the facts sooner.  You really shouldn't listen to a Hobo when you need accurate Hoboken 411 information.  Consider yourself fortunate though; you've made a clean getaway.

Tune back later today.  We have some surprises planned for the folks.  And we think you are going to like it.  We'll have live chat enabled with NO CENSORSHIP available too.  But that's only for starters.

Spread the word.