The Hoboken City Council voted down proposed budget changes that would’ve come with a 4.5 percent tax decrease, as well as reforms to the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, at last night’s meeting.
The budget amendment, sponsored by 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, would have also brought back employees of the rent control office, as well as put a down payment on repairs and restoration for Castle Point Terrace and Court Street.
After taking a few moments to reiterate these points, as well as that the municipal tax rate was at 7.4 percent last year, 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo indicated that he didn’t feel the finance subcommittee had sufficient time to review the plan.
” … I do have to just point out that the subcommittee didn’t really have the ability to kind of go over all of this and discuss any of it. I’m really disappointed that we didn’t have that opportunity to do that, I just don’t see how any of us here tonight could vote on this without really looking at it or reviewing it.”
Russo also mentioned that Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco had suggested her own amendments to the subcommittee, a notion that Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour agreed with.
“I can actually point out that there was a different set of amendments that the finance subcommittee did meet to discuss, one in particular from Councilwoman Falco that actually renders some of what Councilwoman Fisher is proposing here as redundant,” she said.
Jabbour then made a motion to vote on Fisher’s amendment, which was seconded by 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen.
The amendment failed 5-4 after only around five minutes of discussion, with Fisher, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino voting yes.
DeFusco then asked for an explanation on what Falco’s amendments are, to which Fisher responded.
“Almost all of the amendments are what was in this proposed amendment: not all, but almost all of what was in the proposed amendment was actually send to the finance subcommittee about a month ago so this wasn’t a new [idea],” Fisher said, with Giattino noting that the amendment was sent to the finance subcommittee on May 12th.
While Jabbour said that was correct, the subcommittee last met on May 11th and therefore never met to discuss the proposal.
Russo added that Fisher’s amendments did not address concerns about recreation, while Falco’s did, further stating that it’s standard procedure for the finance subcommittee to present any budget amendments to the council.
“Any council member can submit amendments at any time. This issue has past so we’re gonna move on to the next agenda item,” Ramos concluded.
Falco’s amendments did not receive a vote from the council last night.
“Good governance has not been the hallmark of this administration and delaying the budget only hurts taxpayers. I am heartened that at least three of my City Council colleagues put the interests of our taxpayers and ethics ahead of politics last night,” Fisher said in a statement this morning.
“In my mind another faction of good government is transparency and operational responsibility. You can’t put up a large tax decrease on the dais without ensuring your not hurting the day-to-day operations of the city,” Jabbour told HCV over the phone this afternoon.
The council approved the first reading of a roughly $125 million budget with no tax increase introduced by the administration back on April 7th.
As for the ABC Board matter, the resolution introduced by Fisher and Giattino called on Mayor Ravi Bhalla to assign two separate people for the roles of ABC counsel and “liaison to the bars and restaurants.”
The matter became a bit of a hot button issue at the council’s April 22nd session, where McSwiggan’s Pub faced flak from residents for building a new parklet on Bloomfield Street.
At the time, Giattino asked Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia “Would it be appropriate for the ABC attorney to be the liaison to the mayor for bars and restaurants?”
She later explained that at a meeting with local restaurant owners, Bhalla, and Assistant Corporation Counsel John Allen – who is also the ABC attorney – the mayor introduced Allen as his liaison.
Aloia said last night that while Allen had received a Rice notice related to the agenda item, he had asked for any discussion to occur in closed session.
“My point is if we are having someone in two positions that clearly have conflicting interests, I don’t think it’s appropriate. Now, I would like to know too if our insurance company knows, whoever the city’s ensured by, that we’re doing this,” Giattino exclaimed.
“There’s definitely liability that falls upon the city because of this and if everyone just wants to shut it up and go into closed session because they don’t want to deal with it …”
Cohen interrupted at that point, stating “we can have a full discussion in closed session legally.”
Visibly annoyed at that point, Fisher challenged Aloia on what a Rice notice is for.
“I think we have varied understandings of what the state law is, and that the law applies. My understanding is that the Kean University of Teachers vs. Kean University is the relevant law that applies: is that correct or not correct?,” she asked.
“That is certainly one of the cases that applies, that is correct,” Aloia answered, later adding “it’s a very fact-sensitive thing” and therefore he will always recommend closed session to ensure that employee privacy rights are protected.
“Factually, that’s not what the Rice notice says, that’s not what the Kean decision says … The Kean ruling gives the right for the public body to have an exclusion to the Open Public Meetings Act …”
After some further back and forth, the council voted by the same tally as before opposing the measure, 5-4, with DeFusco, Fisher, Ramos and Giattino voting yes.