By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“This unbudgeted, previously unknown liability is a shocking display of either incompetence or obfuscation by the Zimmer administration and its Council allies Ravi Bhalla, who is a member of the Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Council President Jen Giattino, who is also a member of that committee,” DeFusco said in a statement.
Giattino, Bhalla, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher and 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham sit on the aforementioned subcommittee, with Fisher being the first person to question the administration about the liability.
“It’s difficult to believe that a publicly traded company would allow a liability to get so large over several years and not say anything to the debtor. This could amount to a 15% tax increase to pay off this unfunded liability, which would be a harmful outcome for our city.”
At last night’s council meeting, Zimmer urged the governing body to approve a new Suez deal, that would include $31 million in infrastructure improvements and $10 million in debut forgiveness – despite the majority of the council already indicating they would vote against it.
After a lengthy, heated back-and-forth exchange between Zimmer and multiple council members, President Jen Giattino ultimately tabled the measure with no objections from her colleagues.
In a letter to DCA Director Timothy Cunningham, DeFusco says that the liability has accrued over the past three years and has not been included in those corresponding budgets or audits.
“I respectfully request the assistance of the DCA in investigating these troubling developments so that our municipal government, as well as our taxpayers, can ascertain the true state of municipal finances and pursue an honest city budget,” he wrote in a letter dated today.
At last months meeting, DeFusco said that Bhalla had a potential conflict of interest due to working as partner for a law firm that is a client of Suez.
While Bhalla subsequently denied there was any conflict, he has recused himself from any future votes on Suez.
“As further details come to light, it is becoming more and more clear that the root of this mess was Mayor Zimmer’s intent to try and take this debt off the books through a hasty and ill-planned restructuring of the city’s contract with Suez so she could claim a tax cut for residents going into an election year,” DeFusco further stated.
“It’s not yet clear exactly when Mayor Zimmer became aware of this mounting debt, but her decision, and the willingness of her Council allies, to try to sweep it under the rug rather than publicly acknowledge and address the problem flies in the face of open and responsible government.”
Zimmer said she stood by her remarks from last night, which implored the city council to put politics aside, and declined to comment further.
“Simply saying ‘I have concern’ or ‘this agreement isn’t good enough,’ or that ‘Mayor Zimmer is a lame duck who should no longer be permitted to do her job as mayor’ is not fair to the public that we serve and does not provide the information needed to consider next steps,” she said during the public portion of yesterday’s meeting.
A spokeswoman from the DCA declined to comment.