Monday, May 4, 2020

City Council begins cost cutting measures as dissent grows over park shutdown

The Hoboken City Council is expected to introduce several cost cutting measures at this Wednesday's virtual meeting.

Among them, a mostly symbolic salary reduction of ten percent is proposed for all council members, the mayor and directors and would remain in effect through December.

Also up for a cut is the Office of Constituent Affairs, an office Mayor Ravi Bhalla created with additional staff when he took office. Last week, he specifically praised that office perhaps with the expectation of the City Council proposal.

The mayor has been in a fight with the council for the past two years for his double-digit salary increases, stipends and expenditures for his personal staff. The Office of Constituent Affairs reports to him in the mayor's office.

Critics have pointed to the extra government layer as more insulation to keep the public away from the mayor.

Prior to the pandemic, Ravi Bhalla announced he was lining up 79 municipal layoffs when his almost $12 million budget deficit came to light. The reductions however didn't include a single reduction in the mayor's staff who were mostly shuttled into other roles and budget lines last December, a glaring indicator of the red ink in City Hall that was to come.




In recent days, the warmer weather and flattening completely of new Hoboken cases of the Chinese Communist Party virus has led to residents complaining about the insistence on keeping Hoboken parks closed.

As the cases have dwindled to the low three figures with the data collected over 45 days pointing to seniors being mostly at serious risk, Hoboken residents are becoming increasingly irritated with park closures.

Last month, a scientific study showed the CCP virus dies in under two minutes in natural sunlight further boosting the push to allow the public use of the parks. Additional studies indicate the risk of transmission in public outside of closed in public transportation is minimal, way down in the low single digits.

Councilman Mike DeFusco offered the release below announcing the measures up for a vote.


Hoboken City Council Will Vote on Cost Saving Ordinances Wednesday Night to Cut into Budget Deficit 
The Hoboken City Council will vote on three ordinances Wednesday night to help reduce city spending and address the growing, multi-million dollar budget deficit. The first ordinance, being co-sponsored by Council Vice President Vanessa Falco and Councilman Mike DeFusco, would temporarily reduce the salaries of all City Council members, the Mayor and City Directors. This 10% reduction would remain in effect through the remainder of the year. 
“Hoboken was facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit long before the global health crisis and yet we’re still lacking the necessary financial planning to responsibly move forward,” said Council Vice President Vanessa Falco and Councilman Mike DeFusco. “With such an astronomical municipal shortfall, City leadership should be leading by example and willingly forgo a portion of our own salaries. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen the mayor heartlessly and carelessly move forward with 26 layoffs in the middle of a pandemic before even sharing a budget proposal with the City Council. Hoboken residents and municipal employees deserve better and it is only responsible that we begin making cuts at the top and work our way down.” 
A separate piece of legislation, sponsored by Councilman Ruben Ramos and Councilman Michael Russo, would eliminate the Office of Constituent Affairs. In 2009, an independent and nonpartisan state appointed fiscal monitor referred to the division as a luxury department. The same auditor also determined the office was expendable and ceasing its operations would play a significant role in restoring the fiscal health of Hoboken. A third ordinance will also eliminate the City’s Engineer in favor of utilizing one of the vendors already approved to do work in Hoboken.
“Four months after learning about the anticipated multi-million dollar deficit in this year’s municipal budget, the City Council has still not been presented with any formal plans to address this issue,” said Councilman Ruben Ramos and Councilman Michael Russo. “When Hoboken found itself in a similar crisis 10 years ago, a governor-appointed state auditor fully eliminated the Office of Constituent Affairs to advance the city’s fiscal health. Given the current state of our finances, it is only sensible we again follow this same advice. We are all elected to public office to serve our residents and remain committed to being constituent focused and address the everyday needs and concerns of our neighbors.” 
Hoboken’s virtual City Council meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.