The Hoboken City Council narrowly approved a roughly $117.6 million budget that had cut about $642,000, compared to the initial spending plan introduced by the administration, that comes with a 1.7 percent tax rate increase at last night’s meeting.
“The prior amendment that was approved for basically $836,000, at the time, in cuts. Since that time, we had a few changes that we had to make, some corrective, some additional changes the administration had put in since the budget was still open,” began 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, the chair of the council’s finance committee.
“But then there were also some that were discretionary changes based on feedback that we heard from many of you, feedback we had heard from other council members, based on further review of some of the numbers, to put some of the money back.”
Fisher continued that the latest amendment, the fourth of its kind for this budget season, that some funding had been restored to the mayor’s office, zoning, revenue & finance and corporation counsel.
She also mentioned that some additional funding had been restored for snow plowing and the new water utility deal with Suez.
About a month ago, the governing body approved a preliminary $117 million budget that would have cut $115,000 from the mayor’s office and approximately $836,000 overall from the budget introduced by the administration.
Two weeks later, Council members James Doyle and Emily Jabbour introduced a resolution that would’ve cut the initial budget by just $240,000 as the spending plan was being reviewed by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, but that measure was voted down.
Prior to last night’s vote, Jabbour questioned if all of the concerns brought to the DCA had been addressed, particularly layoffs caused by certain departments being underfunded, prompting Council President Jen Giattino to weigh in.
“We are not cutting any money from any classified salary and wage line items,” she exclaimed before Business Administrator Stephen Marks responded with a less definitive answer.
“So Director Walter of the [DCA’s] Division of Local Government Services down at the state had expressed concern that the council amendment was underfunding the budget. I will have to do a reassessment of salary and wages to determine if a layoff plan is in face necessary,” he stated.
Doyle then pressed Marks to provide clarity on whether or not this budget would come with any layoffs.
“There are reductions in offices and line items structurally where there are current or existing employees, where if those offices were to be funded at the same rate for the rest of the year, it would lead to an underfunding of the budget.”
Giattino responded immediately, stating that salary and wage line of classified workers have not been changed and therefore it would be the administration’s choice if they decided to move forward with layoffs.
Marks and Jabbour appeared to have more to say, but Giattino cut them both off before the vote on the budget amendment, then the budget as a whole.
Both measures were approved by an identical 5-4 vote, with Doyle, Jabbour, 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo and Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco voting no.
The two resolutions were decided by an up and down vote with no one on the dais explaining why they voted for or against the measures.
Russo and Falco had previously supported the May 6th budget amendment approved by the council.
The budget calls for just over $85,000 in cuts from the mayor’s office, which consists of a communications director, a deputy chief of staff and a chief of staff.
In a lengthy statement, Mayor Ravi Bhalla commended the council for allocating funding for the HOP bus, the Office of Constituent Affairs, public safety, snow removal, sanitation, recycling, a water main replacement and the Northwest Resiliency Park.
However, he also made it quite apparent that he did not agree with the cuts approved, calling them “fiscally irresponsible and politically vindictive,” claiming that the spending plan would impact the legal and police departments, as well as forcing the ouster of his deputy chief of staff – Jason Freeman.
“The cuts to the legal department could substantially jeopardize our ability to continue fighting the Monarch waterfront development, pursue additional affordable housing initiatives, and other critical services offered by the city that require legal representation,” Bhalla stated.
“Second, their amendments target my office and eliminates a member of my staff, Jason Freeman, who goes above and beyond to respond during emergencies, and other important duties. Already, the Office of the Mayor is one of the most understaffed in the region, as documented by our legal department.”
He added that the cuts would eliminate $100,000 from the police department (Fisher has previously said most of that money would’ve been spent on motorcycles) and will likely cause other necessary layoffs.
In response, Fisher and Giattino said in a joint statement that they were proud of the approved budget since it’s “fiscally responsible, it supports essential city services and public safety” and arrived through a thoughtful, collaborative process.”
They also disputed Bhalla’s assertion that critical cases being handled by the legal department could be put in jeopardy, stating that the funding is in place for “crucial issues” such as the city’s tenant advocate and the Monarch project appeal.
Furthermore, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, who voted on the budget over the phone last night, said it was long overdue that the “bloated mayor’s office” faced cuts due to consistently participating in “highly questionable political hit jobs.”
He also commended Giattino and Fisher’s leadership, calling them “two dedicated community leaders.”
Then, after those statements were released, Doyle and Jabbour fired back, claiming that the budget aimed to “surgically cut funds” so that employees like Freeman would be let go and also criticized Giattino for calling a budget vote before a full dialogue could take place.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.