The Hoboken City Council is set to vote on a few budget saving measures in light of municipal employees pushing back against layoffs, including public official salary cuts and axing the Office of Constituent Affairs.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Hoboken was facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit long before the global health crisis and yet we’re still lacking the necessary financial planning to responsibly move forward,” said Council Vice President Vanessa Falco and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco said in a joint statement.
“With such an astronomical municipal shortfall, City leadership should be leading by example and willingly forgo a portion of our own salaries. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen the mayor heartlessly and carelessly move forward with 26 layoffs in the middle of a pandemic before even sharing a budget proposal with the City Council. Hoboken residents and municipal employees deserve better and it is only responsible that we begin making cuts at the top and work our way down.”
The ordinance they have proposed would temporarily reduce the salaries of all council members, the mayor, and city directors by 10 percent from the time the local legislation takes effect through the end of the year.
A separate piece of legislation, sponsored by 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, would eliminate the Office of Constituent Affairs.
In 2009, an independent and nonpartisan state appointed fiscal monitor referred to the division as “a luxury department.”
More recently, the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association said in an April 22nd letter to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission that the “department was created solely to provide employment to two individuals politically connected to the mayor.”
The NJ CSC will review a request for stay on the layoffs later today, according to a letter obtained by HCV.
“Four months after learning about the anticipated multi-million dollar deficit in this year’s municipal budget, the City Council has still not been presented with any formal plans to address this issue,” Ramos and Russo said in a joint statement.
“When Hoboken found itself in a similar crisis 10 years ago, a governor-appointed state auditor fully eliminated the Office of Constituent Affairs to advance the city’s fiscal health. Given the current state of our finances, it is only sensible we again follow this same advice. We are all elected to public office to serve our residents and remain committed to being constituent focused and address the everyday needs and concerns of our neighbors.”
Migdalia Pagan-Milano, who unsuccessfully challenged DeFusco in November, is the only other employee of that office.
Caulfield earns an annual salary of about $70,000, while Pagan-Milano is paid approximately $44,000 a year, according to payroll records forwarded to HCV.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said over the phone that she’d like to see Caulfield remain employed by City Hall, though is in agreement that the Office of Constituent Affairs is not necessary right now.
“This isn’t about ending constituent services, this is about rightsizing during a difficult time,” she began.
“As the mayor reabsorbs this function back into his office, hopefully he will choose to keep Caroline to continue to provide this function, who I think does a great job working for Hoboken, and maybe more appropriately downsizes his own staff – who primarily just work for him.”
In their own joint statement, Council members Emily Jabbour, James Doyle, and Phil Cohen opposed the ordinance.
” … [Our colleagues] are leading the seemingly politically motivated charge to eliminate the Office of Constituent Affairs, an office that has helped hundreds of residents in need as a result of COVID-19 who are out of work and looking for assistance, as well as coordinating volunteers to process and deliver food to our seniors, and much more,” they stated.
“This is a clearly targeted move taking aim at one of Mayor Bhalla’s first initiatives as Mayor, and we would hope that our Council colleagues will overwhelmingly oppose this senseless ordinance that will only hurt our residents in this time when they need help the most help from their City.”
Last night, Caulfield sent out an email from her City Hall address, to an undisclosed list of recipients, asking for assistance since her office and job “are now in jeopardy.”
She also provided contact info for all nine council members, along with instructions on how to speak during the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting – which will be hosted via Zoom.
The city’s Law Department said this afternoon that they believed that this communication was consistent with the city’s policy about using emails for official city business.
On Friday, after the ordinance had been submitted to be placed on the agenda, Mayor Ravi Bhalla praised Caulfield and Pagan-Milano in his daily COVID-19 update.
“Caroline Caulfield and Migdalia Pagan-Milano have shifted their duties in serving residents on routine issues, to being the first points of contact for so many seeking assistance,” he said.
“They have helped dozens of residents successfully navigate the state’s office of unemployment insurance, with many landlord/tenant issues, and most recently coordinated the many volunteers to deliver thousands of meals each week for our seniors. Caroline and Midgalia are among the many unsung heroes who work around the clock for Hoboken residents.”
Finally, a third ordinance will seek to eliminate the city’s engineer, Kimberli Craft, in favor of a vendor. That measure is being sponsored by Falco and Russo and is also opposed by Doyle, Jabbour, and Cohen.
“Councilmembers routinely seek to bring ‘in-house’ various functions that often have been performed by outside consultants because it saves taxpayers money. Ironically, this proposal would actually squander $200,000 a year in savings of critical taxpayer dollars that this office has saved, which is inconsistent and defies all logic,” they stated.
With any approved ordinance, the mayor has the ability to veto after it becomes municipal code, though the council would then subsequently have the ability to do a veto override with six votes.
The Hoboken City Council will convene Wednesday at 7 p.m. via Zoom and the stream will be available on the city’s official Facebook page.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.