The Hoboken City Council will consider allowing residents’ third quarter tax bill to show a five percent tax increase, according to council documents made public today.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“On the May 20, 2020 Hoboken City Council meeting, there is an agenda item entitled
‘Resolution Authorizing Estimated Tax Billing Per NJSA 54:4-66.3.’ Estimated tax billing for the third quarter of this year has been discussed and agreed to over several meetings with the Finance Subcommittee,” Director of Operations/Acting Business Administrator Jason Freeman wrote in a memo to the city council today.
He also indicated that the Local Finance Board from the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS), part of the state Department of Community Affairs, sent a notice asking to send tax bills for the third quarter, even if municipal budgets haven’t been adopted due to financial woes caused or amplified by COVID-19.
“The Administration recommends that the City Council approve an increased estimated third quarter tax bill based on a 5% increase in the total levy to mitigate the possibility of an outsized bill for taxpayers in November 2020,” Freeman continued.
“By passing this resolution, the City Council allows for flexibility and less pressure to be put on the taxpayer come November 2020.”
He added that the goal is to have a budget based on “sound financial principles” and the most up to date information possible.
According to a copy of the resolution, the 2020 estimated tax levy is $196.6 million.
In an email blast where she chided the administration for not announcing the agenda item publicly, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher provided her break down of the resolution.
” … The city, because of the significant shortfall, is recommending that we use the highest available rate increase of 5%,” she wrote.
“The rationale is that if the anticipated rate increase is going to be 5% or greater, if the highest rate isn’t selected now, then the financial impact will be even greater in the November, February, and May billings.”
Hoboken’s financial short comings have been discussed since January, where then-Business Administrator Stephen Marks said the budget hole could be around $ 7 million.
More recently, both Fisher and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco have estimated the figure to be around $20 million, though City Hall has disclosed a number between $10 to $13 million.
DeFusco said that he felt the resolution was “the epitome of a lack of transparency,” reiterating that the council is yet to see a budget.
“Attempting to sneak in a 5% tax increase in the middle of a pandemic is the epitome of a lack of transparency in our local government,” he stated.
“Presenting this plan to the Council hours before a vote and before we’ve even seen a budget proposal is nothing short of irresponsible. If the Council President and Finance Committee co-chairs believe in transparency and honest budgeting, I hope they will accept the request I’ve made to remove this from the agenda until we have been presented with a budget.”
As part of a cost savings initiative, 26 municipal employees were issued layoff notices last month, drawing the ire of both local unions.
City spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said 11 employees were ultimately laid off, while 15 retired with benefits – including terminal leave.
Union reps said at the May 6th council meeting that these retirements were “forced.”
In response, city council members have introduced measures to eliminate the Office of Constituent Affairs and the city engineer, which Mayor Ravi Bhalla has opposed.
Another ordinance up for second reading at tonight’s meeting would temporarily reduce the salaries and compensation of all department heads, the city council, and the mayor by 10 percent.
There is yet another measure that asks the council to temporarily downgrade their health benefits.
The Hoboken City Council will convene via a Zoom call at 7 p.m., which can be viewed live on their Facebook page.