In a 5-4 vote, the City Council approved the Hoboken budget last night.
A budget amendment introduced by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher sought to roll back Mayor Ravi Bhalla's proposed three-percent tax increase to approximately one-percent and remained largely intact.
A furious lobbying battle ensued with the mayor's office pulling out all the stops to block spending reductions across non-essential services including $115,000 in the mayor's office.
Bhalla doubled the staff of the mayor's office and increased spending in his office by 40%.
By contrast, Mayor Dawn Zimmer in one of her first acts as Hoboken mayor reduced spending in the Office of Mayor by over four-hundred thousand dollars paying two mayoral aides modest salaries.
The final council budget vote saw Councilman Michael Russo flip with no explanation. Councilwoman Vanessa Falco also reversed her previous vote.
Efforts by the mayor's office and CFO, George Destefano, unheard from in years of budget wrangling saw limited modifications by the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
The mayor's office lamenting to the State, however, did not satisfy its spending appetite.
Talking Ed Note: Final figures with a smaller tax increase are not available but neither is a veto from the mayor's office. A modest tax increase won't be pared back to one-percent but it won't be Ravi Bhalla's three-percent.
In March 2017, only two months in office, Mayor Ravi Bhalla coming off his broken promise announcing a second job with a Republican law firm held a fundraiser at 10th and Willow declaring war on the City Council focused on the good government trio of Peter Cunningham, Jen Giattino and Tiffanie Fisher. Those council remnants of Reform continue to follow the Reform Movement banner of fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.
Political operations run out of the mayor's office against City Council members during its meetings followed with "friends" of John Allen attacking council members using race-baiting tactics and filing shoddy ethics complaints. One such operation was exclusively uncovered on HobokenHorse.com last December.
Last month Bhalla announced a slate of mostly unheard of candidates with zero involvement in Hoboken government issues. Councilman Michael Russo has publicly bragged how he cut a backroom deal with Ravi Bhalla and so will face no mayoral opposition candidate this November.
Update: Analysis and opinion on the mayor's office response to its proposed tax hike rejection below.
Amidst the whining, praise for Councilman Michael Russo for flipping his final vote and holding to the Ravi-Russo Alliance. Russo will see no council candidate opponent sponsored by Ravi Bhalla. Deal!
There's lots of carping, sleight-of-hand and distractions about a "drastic" $836,000 cut in an almost $118 million dollar budget. The NJ DCA retained as stated earlier above, the vast majority of the council spending reductions in the council budget amendment.
The DCA did not reject the City Council budget amendment. The vast majority of the reductions across departments saw no adjustment whatsoever. This is the kind of rampant dishonesty one expects from a campaign staff but fostered in Ravi Bhalla's mayoral office.
Vijay Chaudhuri was paid thousands and reportedly targeting City Council members as a paid political operative of Ravi Bhalla last fall. Immediately after, he was brought into the mayor's office replacing under odd circumstances, the communications manager and obtaining a fat $23,000 increase in salary for the same position. His issued statements out of the mayor's office are ill-tempered, fraught with fabrications and misogynistic.
There's more dishonest moaning about how $100,000 reduced in legal "could" jeopardize Monarch litigation and "critical" legal presentation. It won't.
The massive bloated expansion by the Office of Mayor is called "the most understaffed in the region" which is laughable in any comparison of Hoboken itself under former mayor Dawn Zimmer. More complaining about an alleged staffer reduction in Jason Freeman who is not targeted but may be selected by Ravi Bhallla. He certainly could eliminate the politically vindicative staffers in John Allen or Vijay Chaudhuri but of course, the more loathsome, the more valued.
This release shows more of the same with little self-examination and less self-awareness by people who abuse taxpayer money for purely political and very vindictive objectives.
Hoboken will be fine.