Tuesday, April 21, 2015

City Council President Ravi Bhalla: Budget, taxes, open space, parks

From the desk of Hoboken City Council President Ravi Bhalla:

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

It has been a productive first quarter for Hoboken city government. We approved funding for a wet weather pump to alleviate flooding in the west end of Hoboken (near Shop Rite), we've passed a resolution enabling Hoboken to become the first city to establish a residential composting program, and we worked to be a strong voice to help lead the charge against proposed cuts in PATH service back in January, among other initiatives.  Here is a taste of what's to come: 

Municipal Budget and Taxes

The budget was recently introduced with a proposed increase in municipal taxes of just under 1%.  Now the Council has the task of rolling up our sleeves and seeing where cuts can be made to achieve a zero increase in municipal taxes - which is my goal. 

Residents may see changes in their tax bills this year due to the revaluation process, which updated the city's records to redistribute the tax burden in a manner that is more equitable and reflective of the current, actual market value of homes.  My property taxes increased too, and needless to say, I was not happy!  The "reval" process resulted in tax decreases for some residents, and increases for others.  However, it is important to note that the city did not see a major increase in total taxes to be collected this year.  In an attempt to help provide context, please see below for the size of the municipal budget, along with the amount in taxes raised through the municipal levy for the past three years:

YearTotal Budget SizeAmount to be raised
2015*$108,225,422$52,843,075
2014$110,511,523$51,785,769
2013$106,481,310$50,832,990
*2015 numbers are based on budget at introduction - total may change. Source of data: City of Hoboken

The increase in the total amount raised in taxes between 2014 and 2015 was not a result of the reval process. Rather, it is driven by annual increases in salaries owed to our City employees (police, fire, municipal employees) under legally binding contracts negotiated with various municipal unions.  Over the next few weeks, the City Council will amend the budget and hold hearings. I will keep residents informed of these proceedings through my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ravibhallahoboken.

Open Space and Parks

In March, the City Council approved an application for a low interest loan from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust to purchase a six-acre property commonly referred to as the BASF site located at 11th and Madison streets in northwest Hoboken.  It is our vision to use this opportunity to obtain a large portion of land for a public use in the form a large, beautiful park for all of our residents to enjoy. 

A major added benefit is that the design construction of this park will have a substantial impact on alleviating flooding in this area of Hoboken.  While the city is still in negotiations with the property owner, we anticipate designing the park to also act as a defense mechanism against flooding. The plan for the six-acres is to build a multi-purpose park and a large-scale underground storm water retention chamber.

The City's efforts to combine park space with flooding solutions places Hoboken on the cutting edge of green infrastructure development, and is being watched with great interest nationally as well.  I will continue to provide updates on this park and other open spaces.

Composting

Hoboken is becoming the first city in New Jersey to establish a composting program for its residents. I recently  wrote a letter to The Hoboken Reporter outlining the basics of the program, which was approved by the City Council on March 18. The City will be providing more information on this program as it is introduced. 

Constituent Outreach

Lastly, in an effort to stay in contact with residents, in the past three months, I've launched a Facebook page and an official website. To stay up to date on the latest happenings in Hoboken and what the City Council is working on, "like" my Facebook page here.

My new website is located here.  The website is another avenue for residents to contact me regarding any problems, read about issues of importance, and if you like the work we are doing, join us by making a  donation to help with our efforts to make Hoboken an even better place to live, work and play.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or need assistance with anything, feel free to call me at (201) 647-6090 or email me at councilmanbhalla@gmail.com.

As the Spring is finally here, and the sun is coming out (slowly), the highlight of this time of year for me is always the beginning of baseball!  I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to my Yankees.  They were off to a rocky start, but seem to be getting back on track - fingers crossed!

Sincerely, 
Ravinder S. Bhalla
City Council President