The Hoboken City Council is expected to vote on a preliminary $131,971,734 budget that comes with a 5.6 percent tax increase at Wednesday’s meeting.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Hoboken has grown almost 20 percent over the past decade to 60,419 residents, and our services must grow simultaneously to support those residents, visitors, and business owners,” Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in a statement.
“We are putting forward a responsible, balanced budget that provides the services our community deserves through investments in our frontline workers, our first responders, and our infrastructure. I am proud that our budget reflects the appreciation of our essential staff that stewarded our community through the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most difficult times in a generation.”
He added that he looks forward to collaborating with the council on adopting a municipal spending plan in the coming weeks.
The 80-page draft budget lists $128,671,734 for general appropriations, including $68,180,705.47 to be raised by taxation for municipal purposes, and $9 million in anticipated surplus.
According to Bhalla’s office, the proposed budget provides for “crucial personnel investments” with approximately $8 million in salary and wage increases through union contracts already adopted by the council.
Furthermore, as the city begins to transition from a pandemic to an endemic, “critical investments” in quality-of-life initiatives have also been included in this budget.
Those include the creation of the Division of Housing, led by former Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco, to help residents maintain affordability in Hoboken with a budget of about $757,085, along with the reestablishment of the Office of Constituent Services.
Their goal is to assist residents with any issues they may have across the city with an allocation of $82,000, along with relaunching the Department of Public Safety.
Former Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante was named the city’s new public safety director at the April 6th council meeting, along with a $29,000 pay increase for Acting Police Chief Steven Aguiar.
The public safety department, which includes the police and fire departments, along with the office of emergency management, currently has a robust $43,335,038 in the current draft budget.
As for the municipal tax increase, that equates to approximately an extra $12 a month for a homeowner with a property valued at $525,000, the mayor’s office said.
The increase remains below the rate of inflation and below the increase of the Consumer Price Index, while Hoboken will continue to have the second lowest municipal tax levy in Hudson County, officials said.
Furthermore, as a way to offset the rising costs due to inflation and non-discretionary spending, the administration worked closely with the city’s Self-Insurance Fund Commission to reduce the cost of health insurance by over $3 million.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco chided the administration when addressing the budget in a tweet thread this morning.
“#Hoboken Politics 101. Step 1: hire friends, inflate contracts look the other way when inefficiencies are present and right before your election, pass an unsustainable tax decrease,” he wrote.
“Step 2: once re-elected, introduce an inflated budget, despite nearly 30million in federal funding due to Covid. Step 3 (forthcoming): have an ally on City Council cut spending + call it a win-win, even though residents are still getting nailed with an unnecessary tax increase.”
Last year’s budget was $124,878,217.96 and came with a 2.8 percent tax decrease, thanks to federal relief provided to municipalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resident Paul Presinzano, a former council-at-large candidate who recently called for the city to start introducing their annual spending plan in January, said the union contracts shouldn’t all be settled at once and that salaries shouldn’t be doled out as political favors.
“At first glance, the majority of this is coming from salary increases. Some of this is due to the fact that the union contracts were just settled. We should be spreading those out over the life of the contract,” he said over the phone today.
“Ultimately, I see a very large portion of the budget increasing due to new positions created by the mayor and raises for those closest to him.”
Back in December, the city council approved salary range increases for electeds, municipal directors, and a handful of employees.
Council President Mike Russo, who has routinely voted down budgets with tax increases in the past, did not immediately return a call or text message seeking comment on Monday.
The Hoboken City Council convenes at City Hall, 94 Washington St., Wednesday at 7 p.m.
CORRECTION: This story originally included an outdated number for total budget appropriations.