Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Younass Mohamed Barkouch went on offense against the city in light of tax bill criticisms, pointing out several instances of what he deemed to be irresponsible and/or unnecessary spending at Monday’s meeting.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In the middle of the roughly three-hour meeting, Board President Gerald Lyons questioned why a new school wasn’t part of the city’s revitalization of Journal Square, which would inevitably lead to new families moving in.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez added that while she understands why residents are upset with recent tax bill, the school board’s responsibility is to budget for student’s needs. That’s when Barkouch came in with specific data points.
“Based on the municipal budget that the city provided, the city business administrator has 112 gross days of accumulated absences – which is almost a third of the year missed. The dollar value of these absences is $80,995.60, for which the BA was compensated,” he said.
“The director of public works has 175 days of accumulated absences, the dollar value of these absences is $124,377.40. That is more than the salary of some of our administrators who put in a lot of work to make sure the kids get the education they need and the schools function properly.”
He continued that the municipal tax assessor has 322 days of accumulated absences, which are worth $204,118.26, which he said is almost equivalent to Fernandez’s salary.
“If you were complaining as to why property tax is so high, maybe its because the city’s tax assessor has missed the entire year,” Barkouch asserted.
The largest expenditure he identified was that the Jersey City Supervisors Association has 11,333 of accumulated absences, which equates to $2,396,949.43.
A source, who spoke under the condition of anonymity since they aren’t authorized to speak on the matter, contends that the accumulated time has not been paid out.
The freshman trustee also noted that the city is currently on the hook for 182 long-term tax abatements and exemptions and that there are 727 tax-exempted properties when short-term abatements are factored in.
Barkouch said that he decided to dig into the municipal budget after the third quarter tax bill included a letter from Mayor Steven Fulop that again blamed the BOE for the tax hike.
“Last year, we successfully reduced municipal taxes by an average of $1,000 to offset the Board of Education’s massive tax hike of $1,000 by utilizing a one-time infusion of federal COVID-19 stimulus funds,” Fulop wrote.
“Our plan was to try and give the Board of Education more time to fix their budget, but unfortunately, they choose not to do that.”
Jersey City residents saw their tax bill go up thousands of dollars this quarter, leading to dismay among property owners and renters alike.
The BOE approved a nearly $974 million budget in May with an annual tax increase of $1,608 on a home evaluated at $460,000, while the city’s $724.8 million budget, which wasn’t approved until last month, comes with an annual tax increase of $1,162 on a home evaluated at $470,000.
Barkouch’s remarks came before his colleague, Trustee Lorenzo Richardson, penned a lengthy response to Fulop’s letter, which he posted on his Facebook page last night.