Hoboken City Council votes down prelim $144.3M budget with 5.9% tax increase


The Hoboken City Council voted down a preliminary $144,253,164.85 budget with a 5.9 percent tax increase at last night’s meeting, with several electeds expressing dissatisfaction with getting the municipal spending plan the day of the meeting.

By John Heinis and Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

Business Administrator Jason Freeman did a roughly 20-minute budget presentation to explain what was before the governing body.

“Since 2018 through 2023 the levy increase was 16.2 percent. Over that same period of time inflation rose 21-and-a-half percent. Our revenues are not growing at the same rate,” he stated.

Freeman noted their debt service, the pension plan, the city healthcare plan, trash collection and payment in lieu Of taxes (PILOT) payments to other entities s like the county and board of education, as well as that utility costs have increased.

He explained that 2024 will be the last year they will be able to utilize American Rescue Plan (ARP) COVID-19 stimulus money.

“We’re receiving $579,000 more than we received last year. But Governor [Phil] Murphy has already said that program is sunsetting,” Freeman noted.

He emphasized how little control they have over significant cost increases. So, they imposed a one percent reduction in salary and wages across the board.

“The piece we can control is remaining relatively flat year over year,” Freeman added.

He explained the pension program controlled by New Jersey is becoming more costly year after year, with costs going up 83 percent since 2018.

“It is incredibly difficult for the city to maintain these mandated increases,” Freeman declared.

He noted the Department of Public Safety is about one third of the budget, while Hoboken’s largest revenue source, aside from taxes, is state aid which has been flat for years.

“We are still the lowest taxing body in Hudson County,” Freeman stated, referring to municipal taxes.

For example, the average Hoboken tax assessment for homeowners is $2,813, while in Union City, it’s $6,506.

“It’s hard to have a starting point on the financial stability of our city without understanding the debt profile, what the ratables look like. When are we going to get that information?” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher asked.

Freeman said they would provide it soon, also noting that they had only a 0.5 percent increase in ratables or taxable property.

“It always frustrates me when information isn’t provided to the public. The budget was not given to the city council until noon or 11, 12 this morning. I glanced at it just cause I didn’t have time. The public didn’t really get a chance to see it. We just should have set a special meeting for it,” Fisher continued.

Hoboken Council President Jen Giattino then asked how state aid is calculated.

“I don’t know all of it. I have tried to get an understanding as to why some see increases,” Freeman said.

“Union City receives a lot more money than we do. A lot more,” 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos exclaimed.

“They get like $30 million which is transition aid which is only supposed to be a moment in time and lowered over the course of a couple of years. He’s [state Senator/Union City Mayor Brian Stack] been able to advocate and have it to be a 30 million plug in their budget,” Fisher argued.

“The bond rating is not a magic wand. It’s based on the assessed value of Hoboken. Hoboken has a far superior tax collection rate than most municipalities. That’s what helps us get that double A rating,” Ramos added.

He was curious about the tax increase and also expressed frustration. about how little time they had to review the budget before the meeting.

“We get this the 11:30 the day of. We would have better questions for our public if we had more time to prepare for this,” said Ramos.

“That’s the purpose of the 28 days which is very different than any other kind of ordinance,” Freeman argued.

He explained the State of New Jersey operates similarly with the governor introducing a budget that is then reviewed by the legislature on the same day.

“There are nine workshops that are had. Different opportunities for the public to understand each department, each division. He said they can amend it extensively after a state-mandated 28 days,” stated Freeman.

The introduction of the Hoboken budget failed 5-4, with Giattino, Fisher, Ramos, 1st Ward Councilman Paul Presinzano, and 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo voting no.

“Everyone else is required to have everything in a timely manner. But it wasn’t in new business. And I don’t think it’s an emergency,” Giattino declared.

“Whether we have a special meeting or whether we introduce it at the next one, we should, hopefully we’ll be able to see this presentation,” Fisher said.

“We can’t have a workshop because there’s no introduced budget,” Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour argued.

Giattino said they could convene a special meeting on April 15th prior to the budget workshop, with Fisher asserting that the workshops can be held at any time and aren’t mandatory.

“Point of Order. Can we vote on a budget, schedule public meetings, or workshops where we have not introduced a budget?” 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen asked.

“Let me just look into it and I’ll get back to you,” Hoboken Assistant Corporation Counsel Alyssa Bongiovanni said.

“Quickly, find a way to make that happen,” Giattino said.

Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle agreed they could hold a special meeting.

“Can we even notice the workshop?” Cohen asked

“Of course we can. We’re not taking any legal action at a workshop,” Giattino argued.

U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez (D-8) chided Mayor Ravi Bhalla on the budget fail, with his June 4th primary opponent returning fire.

“Ravi Bhalla 🤝 House Republicans

Inability to do government 101 like pass a budget,” Menendez wrote on X.

“Budgets are easy in the Menendez household when you have endless supplies of gold bars,” Bhalla replied.

This morning, Russo, who called into the meeting, released a statement elaborating on why he voted against the municipal spending plan.

“The administration pushed this through at the last minute. The budget document
was given to us less than 12 hours ago, and before we even had a chance to read the
complete proposal, the Mayor had already put out a press release with the
administration’s spin. This is a non-starter.”


Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo.

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  1. Once again, our council is asked to vote on something they’ve had limited time to review, yet has significant impact on Hoboken residents. This should not be so hard. Prepare a budget in time for adequate review and provide explanations of significant increases. Yes, many of our coats are fixed and inflation has been high, but this administration has added a number of questionable hires at top salaries and benefits. We knew the COVID money wouldn’t last forever so should have been planning for that. Someone needs to rein in spending. I’m thankful for those on the city council who voted no.