Hoboken City Council votes 5-4 in favor of $136M budget with 6.18% tax increase


The Hoboken Council approved a $136,004,550.65 budget with a 6.18 percent tax increase by a narrow vote of 5-4, later also approving the latest version of the Neuman Leathers Redevelopment Plan, at last night’s meeting.

Screenshot via Facebook Live.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“What part is that you’re amending? Did you ask for budget cuts from any department? Where in the budget did anyone make any suggestions or any changes … for cuts?,” Manuel Solar Rivera asked.

“This was a difficult year given economic conditions … The finance committee did work diligently where we could address the initial budget,” Hoboken Council President Emily Jabbour replied, noting there would be a 6.18 percent tax increase.

She said there are many immovable costs in their budget and that due diligence was done to get the budget below the rate of inflation. The preliminary budget okayed last month was about $53,000 less and came with a seven percent tax increase.

“I reached out to the entire council … to reduce the burden on our taxpayers. There were a number of proposals I presented to the administration,” 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, who is also the council vice president and chair of the finance subcommittee, said.

For example, Russo said a health insurance plan for the city and the board of education could have been combined, but that never came to fruition, the same with removing budget expenditures for public safety positions that haven’t been filled.

“It’s not my job as a councilman to negotiate those things. I, in good conscience, cannot support a 6 percent increase.”

Hoboken Business Administrator Jason Freeman said they had met several times to discuss the municipal spending plan.

“As you said, this is where we are,” he stated.

Both an amendment and then the full budget passed 5-4, with Russo, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino voting no each time.

The Hoboken Board of Education’s preliminary $74,875,799 budget came with an 8.47 percent tax hike and their budget hearing is on Tuesday, May 2nd, at 7 pm. at the Demarest School Auditorium, located at 158 4h St.

The county has not introduced their budget yet.

In a statement, Mayor Ravi Bhalla thanked the council for voting in favor of the municipal spending plan.

“I am glad that in partnership with the City Council, we are once again passing a balanced budget that prioritizes critical infrastructure upgrades to our water mains, resiliency projects, and quality of life initiatives,” he said.

“Despite the challenging economic times, taxpayers will see minimal impact to their local property taxes, all while maintaining a healthy surplus. Thank you to Council President Emily Jabbour and the council finance sub-committee for working with my administration on this budget that continues to put us on a sound fiscal path for years to come.”

The Neumann Leathers Redevelopment Plan also received a long-anticipated vote on second reading.

“Please vote no. We don’t need another 100 units on this building. I just don’t see why we need to add a boatload of residents,” exclaimed tenant advocate Cheryl Fallick.

“The town is so saturated. That is a very crowded area, Observer Highway,” concurred Mary Ondrejka.

However, those connected to the building said they felt the plan, which includes a mixed-use retail and residential structure with 375 units and a minimum of 200 parking spaces, were on board.

“I’m here to voice our support for this project. We need the light industrial spaces Neumann Leather provides. We provide services that bring a tremendous benefit to our town. It’s a community-minded complex,” Neumann Leathers Arts Community Association Vice Chair Dylan Wissing said.

“It’s a necessity that we have affordable spaces that are safe, substantial, and affordable,” asserted Andrew O’Beirne, another Neumann Leathers tenant and artist.

5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen said it was a project that took a number of years to develop (an iteration was approved back in December 2015). He noted rising rents have displaced artists and other tenants at the building.

“For artisans, for craftspeople, for musicians, there are precious few places in our city where they can work,” he noted, indicating this is a long-term commitment to those professionals.

“This is bringing affordable rentals for the artists in perpetuity. In addition, there’s going to be a number of affordable housing and workforce housing units,” Councilman-at-Large Joe Quintero noted. He also pointed out there would be plenty of market-rate units.

Fisher noted that an earlier draft of the plan did not contain perpetual affordable rent protection for the artist studios, expressing that she didn’t feel a decade was enough.

“When we look at redevelopment plans … it’s an optimization exercise. We understand the developer has to get some level of acceptable return. We’re not looking for 80-story buildings. We’re increasingly in support of height along our edges. This is an edge building,” Fisher explained.

She also said that she would not support a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement if one was proposed in the future.

“I just don’t want to make a no vote out of principle. I’m shocked that the neighborhood isn’t here. There are many people … who were up in arms over smaller buildings. We’ll rue the day that we support this,” added Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle.

While he said the residential component could have used more fine tuning, he was in favor of protecting the tenants there.

1st Ward Councilman Mike De Fusco, who represents the area, said every development has both a positive and a negative impact.

“There is overwhelming support in the community,” he began.

He noted some were unhappy about the height, but realized it was integral to keep the affordable artist studio rents, as well as that the building also needs renovations after decades of no infrastructure improvements.

De Fusco said it would likely have become a storage unit facility or an industrial site where even more traffic would be brought.

“I would not be in favor of a PILOT. The concerns heard on the schools was loud and clear. This is going to put a burden on our schools,” the downtown councilman added, noting that they estimate this would add 42 more students to the public schools.

“We start every year about $9.6 million in the hole. That’s a 16 percent tax increase if we do nothing. We need projects in this city to move forward. We need to look at all viable options to make this project work,” Russo said.

He said the debt was due to debt service on money borrowed. Russo declared a PILOT was absolutely necessary to make it work.

“That’s where we are,” he said.

Russo explained ratables, or taxable property in the city, have been relatively flat despite a fair amount of new development.

“This is the way we offset that .. vote against it now. If you vote no, I welcome that.”

Giattino said the numbers had been recalculated and that a PILOT may no longer be essential.

“I fully support you making whatever decision you make. We’re closer to maybe getting a project. But at the end of the day, you have to be prepared to move forward to make the project work,” Russo said.

“A PILOT is based on future projections,” Fisher argued.

She continued that the initial market price of $4,000 a month for a three-unit apartment in the building seemed too low, given issues with even more expensive apartments in the city.

“They revised upward all the projections. They got fixed. It doesn’t close the gap 100 percent. We just gave them multiple floors. They’ll make more than enough money,” she said.

“The public has not been part of the conversation. It’s a big deal for us to give a PILOT in the most lucrative housing market in the State of New Jersey. Happy to get off my soap box now.”

Jabbour agreed with Cohen and Doyle that this is a great way to support local the artists and craftspeople.

“I’m very pleased with the affordable housing units … the historical preservation,” the council president added.

“There have absolutely been meetings between the administration and the Board of Education on how this would impact our district,” Jabbour noted

“This isn’t just a matter of the budget. This is a matter of capacity. All of our elementary schools are at full capacity. Where are we putting kids? That is a very different conversation.”

Despite the different points of view, the plan passed unanimously (9-0).


Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

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  1. Hoboken has become less affordable to those who must pay full taxes to live here.
    Soon only the very well off and those who live in subsidized housing will be left.

  2. DeFusco is literally Dialing it in again
    Now he throws a huge tax hike on his ward ( or is it his ward?
    Nobody sees him
    He can’t be that busy – unless he’s in the Peace Corp – who else travels to tropical lands and Eastern Europe that often unless oh, he’s a Dr without borders employee?

        • Wrong on all points.
          It should be interesting to see who Bhalla tries to run in the Ward seats. He was able to finance the at large seats. Ward seats he has failed.
          Will his consultants even try to find someone to run against Russo or Ramos?

          • Ravi is not running anyone against Ruben Ramos unless it’s just a sacrificial candidate who is willing to be cannon fodder.

            Ravi will not run anyone against DeFusco. That deal is done. DeFusco was the crucial vote approving Ravi’s fattened budget and bloated, overpaid staff.

            Ravi will not run anyone against Russo. He’s waiting for the Feds to finish the job and hope Russo leaves quietly.

  3. Where’s Mike living this week?

    DeFusco fired off a tirade of unhinged tweets yesterday rather than help his neighbors….
    Oh well are we his neighbors if he doesn’t really live here much anymore?