Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said that city will be laying off 26 City Hall workers this morning, as struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic are causing added problems for a budget that already had a projected multi-million dollar shortfall.
The 26 positions, while not specified, make up roughly 4 percent of the city’s total workforce, Bhalla said in a statement.
“While my administration has been working tirelessly to address previous budgetary challenges and has made progress to this effect, the pandemic and our fiscal standing makes it extremely difficult to withstand such a major impact without layoffs in City Hall.”
“As a result, we had to make the unavoidable decision to submit a plan to lay off 26 positions. I hold a responsibility to the taxpayers of Hoboken to do everything possible to mitigate a large tax increase due to these factors and must act on that obligation. I recognize the impact this decision will have on some of our employees and their families, and we will do everything possible to assist them with their next steps,” he added.
Officials also said that this is a reduction of the 79 employees that had been noticed of potential layoffs back on March 2nd and the layoffs will be effective as of May 7th.
That decision came a time when the city was facing a budget hole ranging anywhere from $7 to $14 million, all prior to the current public health emergency.
HCV highlighted some of the tensions over the municipal budget that boiled over at Wednesday’s remote council meeting.
Expectedly, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco chided the timing of the announcement, given that they had not provided any specific budget updates 48 hours prior.
“Less than 48 hours after the administration refused to provide additional insight on the budget to the City Council and failed to share preliminary numbers as promised, we’re learning, through a Nixle alert, that a portion of our workforce is being terminated next month,” he said in a statement.
“Now isn’t the time to be putting people out of work … frankly, it’s unacceptable for the Mayor to mislead the public about our municipal finances and use a global health crisis as an excuse for a budget deficit we learned of two months prior to the local outbreak.”
He also said he’s seeking for a special council meeting to be convened on Wednesday to discuss this topic.
In response, 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen said that “DeFusco continues to play politics” and would be more informed of city business if he participated in the daily call made available for local officials during this public health emergency.
” … Councilman DeFusco has had the chance to provide input and gather budget information during the daily COVID-19 calls the Mayor’s staff has held with the City Council, but the councilman has failed to do so, or even attend the vast majority our virtual meetings,” he said.
“It’s sad that Councilman DeFusco, again, is pushing his political ambitions to the fore, while the city addresses an existential public health crisis.”
To that end, Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour said that the council and administration are “doing everything we can” to manage the coronavirus pandemic and the budget simultaneously, accusing DeFusco of being critical to advance “his planned mayoral campaign.”
At Wednesday’s council meeting, President Jen Giattino intimated that she believed speaking about layoffs during the daily city call about coronavirus updates would violate the Open Public Meetings Act.
“I will say that I’m glad you didn’t ask it at the meeting this morning because we all would’ve been in trouble for discussing something, council agenda items, at the meeting.”
Chief News Correspondent John Heinis contributed to this report.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_