Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Surprise: Mayor Ravi Bhalla as Secret Santa puts up initial 5% tax increase for summer

In a secret move unrevealed to the public, Mayor Ravi Bhalla, sitting on a time bomb of a budget deficit since early this year estimated in the ballpark of $20 million, has snuck in a 5% tax increase onto the City Council agenda for tonight's meeting.

While Hoboken taxpayers won't be surprised there is a tax increase coming, they will be taken aback there's an immediate and secret tax increase of 5% being thrust upon them with no notification. So will the City Council which has yet to see any budget from Ravi Bhalla.


Ravi Bhalla has acted similarly in the past with one of the all-time largest developments downtown in NJ Transit. In a similar effort, the public was given no notification last year his administration would put up the massive redevelopment for council approval.

As Yogi Berra would say, "it's deja vu all over again."

The announcement of the pending tax increase legislation didn't come from the mayor's office but in from Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher. The Ravi Bhalla secret Santa surprise is sure to raise eyebrows.

This would be an interim tax increase allowed under NJ law with an obviously bigger one to follow with introduction of Ravi Bhalla's budget.

Fisher made the revelation in an email release to the public earlier. In it she writes:

Did you know there is a 5% tax increase on tonight’s City Council agenda?  So your total tax bill in August would be increased 5%?  Did you read about it any communications from the mayor’s office?  
If you go to the online agenda for tonight's meeting, scroll down to resolutions, and under section 8 “Tax Collector”, the third one listed is a resolution titled “Resolution Authorizing Estimated Tax Billing Per N.J.S.A. 54:4-66.3”.  Obvious, right?  If this captured your curiosity, you could click on it to read the resolution.  You know what, I’ll just copy it here as it is short…

WHEREAS, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted municipal, county, and state governments, the 2020 budget process and property tax billing process may not be as timely and certain as they have been in past years; and,
WHEREAS, the City of Hoboken (“the City”) has not introduced its 2020 Municipal Budget and the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services may be delayed in reviewing the City’s 2020 Municipal Budget prior to adoption due to the current fiscal uncertainties, and the Hudson County Board of Taxation may be delayed in certifying the City’s 2020 tax rate once the City’s 2020 budget is adopted; and,
WHEREAS, without a certified 2020 tax rate, City of Hoboken Tax Collector will be unable to prepare and mail property tax bills in accordance with statutory deadlines for the third quarter installment of 2020 taxes; and,
WHEREAS, because of these above-mentioned uncertainties, the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services issued Local Finance Notice LFN-2020-07 which strongly recommends that municipalities issue estimated property tax bills for the third quarter installment of 2020 taxes, and,
WHEREAS, the Tax Collector, in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer and Finance Director, computed an estimated tax levy in accordance with NJSA 54:4-66.3, and each signed a certification showing the tax rate and tax levy for 2019 and the range of permitted estimated tax rates and levies for 2020; and,
WHEREAS, the 2020 estimated tax rate and estimated tax levy are within the permitted range, the Director of the Division of Local Government Services does not need to approve the estimated tax levy;
WHEREAS, the City seeks to authorize the Tax Collector, if she deems necessary, to prepare and issue estimated tax bills for the third quarter installment of 2020 taxes.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the City Council, City of Hoboken, County of Hudson, State of New Jersey as follows:
1.  The Tax Collector is hereby authorized and, if she deems necessary, directed to prepare and issue estimated tax bills for the third quarter installment of 2020 taxes. 
2. The estimated tax levy for 2020 is hereby set at $196,600,000.  

So… did you find the 5% increase anywhere?  Does $196M mean anything to you? Do you see any actual information about the 2020 municipal budget or why the administration believes a 5% increase is warranted?  As Co-Chair of the Revenue, Finance and Infrastructure subcommittee, I have asked the administration to provide some information about these items.  I told the administration that it is not fair to ask the City Council to approve a 5% increase without it, but moreover it is not fair to the residents of Hoboken who either pay taxes directly or indirectly.  As of this writing I am told they will be uploading a memo providing more color.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla is unavailable for comment and his staff avoids answering uncomfortable questions which this certainly generates. 

Talking Ed Note: Hey Ravi, "got transparency?"