The Hoboken City Council approved a $131,666,700.96 budget with a 2.56 percent tax hike last night, which makes their overall tax bill flat largely due to a decrease at the county.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour, the chair of the council’s finance subcommittee, noted that the governing body had to approve budget amendments, which included raising the surplus used from $ 9 million to $10 million, before they could vote on the full spending plan.
She also explained some of the changes they made from the preliminary budget approved in April, when it was $131,971,734 with a 5.6 percent tax increase.
“As you may recall, the introduced budget from the administration was a 5.6 percent overall [tax increase]. We we then able to have some discussion, I think we were around five percent when we discussed some of the other council members proposals,” Jabbour stated.
She also indicated that the amount of surplus used is $1.5 million more than what the city used last year, miscellaneous revenue was increased by about $250,000, $300,000 in cuts were made, and $550,000 in group healthcare savings.
The councilwoman further stated that the budget includes items her colleagues requested, including the $300,000 for the study of the redevelopment of the multi-service center pushed for by 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, $25,000 for an arts master plan pushed by 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino, and $15,000 in senior services 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher had advocated for.
Fisher said that line item actually didn’t make it to the budget, eventually prompting Assistant Business Administrator Caleb Stratton to say that the item would have required another public hearing, so instead if will be included via a budget transfer at the next meeting.
“When I first saw the 5.6 percent tax increase, when it read it like everyone else, I thought I was reading an Onion article. I didn’t think it was real. I thought being at 5.6 [percent] in the climate we’re living in, I thought it was a little obscene,” Ramos asserted.
” … I also thought, at the time, that it left out some priorities that council members had that were important for their constituents … We had to find a range of a tax increase that your comfortable with … So that range that I was comfortable with was between two and 2.5 percent because that’s pretty much the norm throughout the State of New Jersey.”
While Council President Mike Russo commended Jabbour and his colleagues, as well as the rest of the administration for their efforts, he said he couldn’t support the current proposal since some of his amendments to increase revenue streams did not make it through.
“One of those amendments was to start to allocate a dollar amount for rent from our library. We allocate almost $6 million a year to our library and they constantly, year after year, put that money into our surplus,” he explained.
“We know that they do not need $6 million a year to function. We have the ability to use for rent anywhere in the range of $500,000 to a million dollars so that we didn’t have to allocate all that money to the library.”
Russo further stated that between that, along with revenues from the parking utility and the surplus, would have brought the municipal tax increase to less than one percent – effectuated an overall tax decrease.
“I cannot, in good conscious, support two-and-a-half percent municipal tax increase. I never have. Last year we had a two percent decrease and we’re eradicating that now. We’re taking that small little savings that we gave to every resident in the City of Hoboken and we’re taking that back this year and that for me is just unacceptable.”
Just before the vote, Jabbour noted that the city settled all six of their municipal union contracts in one year, which made balancing this budget a little more challenging than usual.
Both the amendments and the full budget were approved 6-2, with Fisher and Russo voting no. 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino was absent.
On Thursday evening, Fisher released a statement explaining why she voted against the budget.
“I’m happy to be one of five who pushed the administration to get a much lower rate than their initial 5.6%. My ‘no’ vote was mainly because instead of adding funding for senior services to provide much needed programming for those living in the north end of town, they cut funding instead. Notwithstanding what was said, a budget transfer can’t happen until November which is too late.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.