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,

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,