Thursday, June 20, 2013

Old Guard council wins slashing additional $196,500 funds in budget amendment

Victory in budget process cuts program funding, a win for suing Hoboken in council lawsuit

The Old Guard council scored a major success last night when their budget amendment passed 5-4 with  Council President Peter Cunningham joining to keep the city finances in order moving toward a final budget.

The alternative amendment put forward by council finance chair Jen Giattino failed on a party line 4-4 vote with Jim Doyle sidelined sitting in the audience as the OG lawsuit appeal funded by the Mason family reaped major benefits for them politically but at the expense of funding items in the City.

Councilwoman Jen Giattino who heads the Finance committee interjects to correct Councilman Michael Russo on the
budget amendment last night in the City Council.  She countered Russo's inaccurate information on the reductions.

Much of the discussion focused on a high water vehicle where reform members asked Tim Occhipinti if he would support funding of approximately $40,000 so Hoboken would have that equipment in public safety for an emergency.  Ironically, that figure is in the ballpark of what the Castellano-Russo-Mason-Occhipinti lawsuit has cost the City since last fall.

The compromise request was rejected with Councilwoman Beth Mason clearly signaling Occhipinti not to agree.  The difference in the two amendments was less than 200K and retains a nominal tax decrease of $50 this year.  The budget surplus under constant attack by the council minority is reduced to approximately $1.4 million.

In addition to the the funding yanked for the high water vehicle, the following reductions were put forward by Occhipinti on behalf of the Old Guard council according to their own comments in the discussion.  Those items include:

From the capital improvement fund - initial funding for 9-11 fund, park bonds (passed earlier this year), high water vehicle and a pedestrian safety bond.

Also cut was a person working on economic development, sponsorship for events in Hoboken (aiding revenue to the City), park amenities and bubbling parks for recreation activities in colder weather.

Giattino fought to keep funding for the repaving of Washington Street and Sinatra Drive's design process and stated her opposition to depleting the infrastructure budget to zero.

Occhipinti called that a success and trumpeted his reductions supported by his MORTe allies.  He added that the City should have "budgeted" for terminal leave pay of $900,000.

Mayor Zimmer noted much of the argument centered on those dollars under state law whereby terminal leave can be paid out over five years.  As the costs is incurred over the lifetime of service, it's both a logical and legal way to pay that way but the Old Guard council members refused to approve it just as they did the municipal garage refinance in 2011.  The savings then would have been $50,000 and instead the City was hit with a four million charge due to a tax status change.

Most finance observers see those techniques as a way to deplete the City surplus and put the municipality in position for a tax increase.

That's the underlying political theme of the entire finance actions.  A public hearing on the budget amendment is scheduled for June 26th.

Talking Ed Note: Councilman Michael Russo's contribution to the discussion among the two budget amendments was an offer to cut all the directors working for the City.  He bragged his father, convicted felon and former mayor Anthony Russo had half the number of directors.  (He failed to note the major failures to the City with over $12 million in costs with Sinatra Park's collapse back in 2009 and the water contract he obliquely defends under his father with the defense, "You weren't here."

Even Beth Mason admitted the obvious when a rare accurate statement was issued earlier this year saying the water main problems are connected to the bad water contract under Anthony Russo.

In the Jersey Journal story, Mason bluntly says the City had been harmed due to "campaign contributors... adversely (influencing) important city planning decisions."

Anthony Russo was arrested and served time in federal prison for extortion with a city vendor to the tune of $300,000.  No one has tallied the full total on what his corruption's true cost was to Hoboken.

Many observers say the final tally is yet to be calculated.