Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop talked about giving residents a say in “meaningful infrastructure projects” as part of a new pilot program, making 2022 the “Year of Open Space,” and a whole lot more during his annual State of the City Address.
“Looking ahead, I’m pleased to announce this year we will be launching a participatory budgeting pilot program to directly involve residents in the city’s spending decisions,” Fulop said in the nearly 33-minute pre-recorded speech that was released this afternoon.
“We want you, the residents, to tell us which community projects you want to see funded. Our team will then convert the community-driven ideas into concrete proposals with a defined scope, timeline, and cost.”
He continued that the goal is to make the budgeting process more transparent, as well as to have community input “on meaningful infrastructure projects.”
City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that the pilot program would be implemented for the upcoming budget cycle and that further details will be released at a Thursday morning press event.
The Jersey City Board of Education allocated $100,000 towards a participatory budget program at the end of last year, allowing each high school senior class to case a vote.
Fulop, who was re-elected to his third term in November, also spent a few minutes explaining why 2022 will be considered the “Year of Open Space” in Jersey City.
“The goal is to reimagine existing public spaces for a post-pandemic world and create more innovative, non-traditional public spaces throughout the City, such as pocket parks, pedestrian malls, plazas, and other outdoor areas,” the mayor noted.
“Investing in parks and open space is my personal priority because the return on these investments is invaluable. Access to open park space improves residents’ mental and physical health, property values, environmental impacts, community engagement, and other intangible benefits. This inter-departmental initiative builds upon the recently updated Open Space element of Jersey City’s Master Plan.”
Fulop indicated that this was made possible by implementing an Open Space Trust Fund, which has allocated $3 million dollars over the past two years.
Along those same lines, the Jersey City Council approved a measure to expand Ward F’s new Fairmount Square Park by acquiring a scrap yard.
Inevitably, the mayor also discussed the implications of the COVID-19, at one point stating “we refused to let this pandemic paralyze our progress. As a result, we’ve made historic advancements on nearly every front.”
Several city directors also spoke of their recent accomplishments, including Jersey City Housing Authority Executive Director Vivian Brady-Philips, Department of Recreation and Youth Development Director Lucinda McLaughlin, Housing, Economic Development and Commerce Director Annisia Cialone, Police Director Tawana Moody, and Health and Human Services Director Stacey Flanagan.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen our COVID cases rise and fall. We’re now at a really great place and continuing some of the work we’ve done over the last year, like expanded homeless services in the community; utilizing our health bus, which provides mobile showers, laundry services and support with mental health; driving more food to our senior community; impacting support for immigrants and our Afghan and Haitian refugee families,” Flanagan said.
“We’re providing additional tools community by community, ward by ward with health educators, increasing health education in the community and trying to move that uptake in vaccines.”
She also highlighted the city’s AeroFarms (vertical farming) program, operating a lunch program for seniors that has 10 locations, violence prevention, and veterans affairs.
Meanwhile, Moody discussed the importance of Centralized Booking for the police department.
“Centralized Booking is something they’ve been trying to get together for years here at the police department. It cuts down the amount of arrest time, the liability of escape, the liability and danger to the officer as well as the person that’s in custody,” she explained.
“And now, it is like a one stop shop, you come to centralize booking, we book them, we process them. And then we get our cops to return to the street to be able to assist for anything else that’s out there for the residents.”
Fulop also discussed ongoing efforts to keep taxes stable (noting last year’s tax decrease), bolstering the arts community with the Arts and Culture Trust Fund and the Pompidou Centre, committing to green initiatives, and constructing another seven miles of bike lines this year as part of Vision Zero.
“When I gave this speech in 2019, I could have never imagined the unprecedented obstacles that lie just ahead,” he said towards the end of his speech.
“While the past two years have been extremely difficult for all of us, I’m humbled by the way our community has come together to make Jersey City stronger than ever. We didn’t just survive, we thrived.”