Jersey City Council at odds over spending $180k on new office furniture during COVID-19 crisis

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on municipal finances, the Jersey City Council authorized the purchase of nearly $180,000 in office furniture earlier this month: a point of contention among some members of the governing body.

The Jersey City Council at their November 12th, 2019 caucus meeting.

By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View

The resolution, approved by a 6-3 council vote on May 6th, authorized spending $179,396 on new office furniture for the city council’s offices.

The purchases range from $500 arm chairs to a $1,146.99 electric corner table, according to the city’s invoices, which were made available by CivicJC.

“[The funding] is not from the current budget as it was capital money from previous years that was re-prioritized … to make offices at the city council COVID-19 resilient for constituents and employees,” Council President Joyce Watterman said in a statement.

She added that the money “will largely be reimbursed by FEMA as it will expand partitions, expand walls, expand separation and will have furniture with supply space to fit the new configuration.”

However, not all of the council was in agreement with the decision. Councilmen Rich Boggiano, James Solomon and Rolando Lavarro voted no.

“We are in the midst of an economic crisis. All non-essential expenditures should be halted,” Solomon told HCV.

The expenditures come as the city is facing serious financial difficulty due to the forced expenditures made to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tax revenues from hotel taxes, parking fees and other critical revenue sources, meanwhile, have essentially dried up.

City officials have previously said they are facing an estimated shortfall of at least $70 million and, last month, announced they would be offering voluntary separation packages for some workers.

“This pandemic has pushed our budget situation from being serious into a potentially devastating crisis. According to our finance office, the city is staring down the barrel of a $40 million to $46 million revenue shortfall in just a three-month period with talk of furloughs and layoffs as a last resort,” Lavarro said.

“The city council has the statutory responsibility of providing financial oversight of the city’s budget. If we are going to claw our way out of this hole while protecting workers’ livelihoods, we all need to tighten our belts, prioritize what is essential, and show fiscal restraint.”

On the other hand, another council member who voted in favor of the measure, Ward D Councilmen Youse Saleh, said that the new furniture will provide “a better layout in a new coronavirus environment.”

He also took aim at the city’s board of education for passing their $736 million budget, which will result in a 39 percent increase in school taxes.

“Good afternoon Keyboard Warriors and Facebook Budget analysts,” he said in response to a Facebook post from Patrick Ambrossi that was highly critical of the purchase.

“While the JCBOE was approving 400 new hires and increasing property taxes on every soul in the City through a 39% tax increase … you’re arguing over an expenditure of less than $200,000 for 9 city council members and between 18-20 aides.”

“Please feel free to bring your milk crate to the city council offices and see how close everyone has to work together. I want to serve my community but we should not be asked to put our colleagues and families at risk of dying especially older folks /immunocompromised in our families.”

“Furthermore, stand up desks are expensive and if you *ever* managed an office and someone has back/other health issues, you need to provide that. But you haven’t managed an office so I understand.”

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_