Thursday, February 6, 2020

Horse Sense: Hoboken enters a BA quagmire

The departure of Business Administrator Stephen Marks with his resignation this month closes the chapter to a Hoboken where financial stability and low taxes were a benchmark.

Following in the footsteps of the very able Quentin Wiest, Marks learned from someone who mastered the details, saw the big picture and acted decisively to keep the City's numbers in the black. As one example, Hoboken saved two million dollars when it made the bold move to self-insure its health plan for employees and retirees.

Stephen Marks
The biggest downside in a move such as this? You can only reap those benefits once and then the genie keeps rearing its head. So how do you maintain cost controls in a small NJ municipality?

Wiest departed Hoboken in the fall of 2016 and Marks took over without the same business experience but walked into some emerging problems.

Hoboken is facing a $7 million dollar budget deficit. The way it's talked about from the mayor's office, it sounds like a meteor landed on City Hall and it was just bad luck the hot rock crashed into the Mile Square City.

Reality says different. Hoboken knew revenues were down for obvious reasons in parking and the Municipal Court. The construction on Washington St. led to a seven figure drop in revenues and with the lengthy delays it could have been worse.

While Mayor Ravi Bhalla accelerated the Washington Street reconstruction faring better than it had under former mayor Dawn Zimmer, was it a secret revenues would be impacted? Hardly, and those projections are known to the mayor's office as they were incurred over many months. So why was nothing done about it?

Well, as we're beginning to learn something was done. Ravi Bhalla spent money on his office like a drunken sailor coming in to port for holiday. He created a much-heralded "Constituent Office" insulating himself from the public as he collected on his second job, landed HudCo legal contracts for his Republican law firm friends and took trips fundraising with an eye on his next political job.

The mayor's office budget increased almost 50% and fat double-digit raises went to his inner circle who spent more time promoting the boss than implementing savings on plummeting revenues. This when they weren't orchestrating vile political attacks on members of the City Council and anyone deemed an "Enemy of the State."

Marks himself got caught up in this "bow or be destroyed" mentality. Some insiders claim he was the person giving the order to City Hall security to throw out City Council President Jen Giattino and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher who were sighted on the third floor trying to help a resident at the rent office.

Now Hoboken needs to look ahead and find a new Business Administrator. The circumstances will make it harder but at this late stage in the budget cycle, the attraction will be less than appetizing. Some luck will be needed and some common sense overdue from the mayor's office.

Let's hope that political reality finally hits home.

In the interim, good luck to Stephen Marks who had some good years before the lean years.

A report on the budget dilemma from the City Council meeting last night:



Talking Ed Note: Meanwhile, the details on the Ravi Bhalla budget deficit are getting worse.

According to the report on Hudson County View:

"While outgoing Business Administrator Stephen Marks announced last month that the budget deficit was in the ballpark of $7 million, Fisher said that the actual figure should exceed $10 million and could actually approach $14 million."