The Jersey City Council approved a resolution related to the city’s preliminary $620 million budget unanimously (9-0), while a memorandum of understanding for the Centre Pompidou project passed 8-1.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“We keep on borrowing and borrowing and borrowing, and we seem like we’re giddy, and we do it so frequently with great frequency,” Jeanne Daly said regarding the $15 million being bonded to renovate the Pathside building, which will house the Centre Pompidou museum.
“The question is how are often are we taking into account our wastefulness?,” Daly asked, also calling for an audit since their debt load is “an abyss that’s going to destroy our town.”
Lavarro also criticized the amount being spent on bonding for street resurfacing in the budget.
“I think it’s an election day budget, right, an election year budget. And kind of the giveaways that are so common in elections to pave the streets and be able to say your tax dollars at work for you in that regard,” Lavarro said.
“That particular tax dollar is going to cost the people of Jersey City nearly $2 million on a down payment in the 2021 budget,” arguing that their are other ways to save taxpayers money.
He continued that when the city purchased the Pathside Building in 2018, he was told the city could sell it for $25 million and receive a profit.
“With this $15 million, we are now essentially exceeding that $25 million cost,” Lavarro said, noting that recent media reports have pegged total costs between $30 to $40 million.
Furthermore, he pushed back on Mayor Steven Fulop’s remarks from Monday’s caucus, arguing that there has been no financial study to see if the project will benefit the city, or even be feasible, later calling it a “vanity project.”
Prior to the vote, Daly said the city’s tax decrease – spurned by $69 million from the American Rescue Plan – was as outrageous as Oprah Winfrey giving out cars, and calling Pompidou “Pompi-don’t.”
“I am absolutely appalled by this Pompidou thing. I think it should be called
Pompi-don’t: it’s a real fiasco,” she exclaimed.
From there, Lavarro said that he wasn’t going to vote against a budget with a tax reduction, at least not initially, but noted he’s looking forward to parsing through each expenditure as the process moves forward.
“Last year, I voted against accepting the budget. This budget comes in with a tax reduction on the levy on the city side to offset the levy increase on the school side,” he said.
“So I will accept this budget this year, but I look forward to the hearings to further scrutinize some of the expenditures in this year’s budget.”
Additionally, Ward E Councilman James Solomon expressed trepidation about the Pompidou plan, though he ultimately supported moving the initial phase forward.
“We’re not signing off on a final deal tonight committing every cent to this museum … I’ve been very sort of torn on this issue.”
Solomon said that a cultural institution could provide education and “jobs to literally hundreds of thousands of Jersey City residents” in a best case scenario.
In a worst case scenario, the city would spend money it would not recoup, and the Pompidou would break off the agreement in five years.
“I think we need to be cognizant of both outcomes,” he added.
The Downtown council also pointed out that the MOU gives the parties six months to flesh out a longer agreement that would likely see financial data.
“I want to be clear we don’t have enough right now,” Solomon added.
“I couldn’t agree with Councilman Solomon much more,” chimed in Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, who said the project could be a grand slam, but due diligence is needed.
To that end, Lavarro said he has been asking questions about Centre Pompidou since September, noting that he sought copies of the non-disclosure agreement and compared it to the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that were never found.
Business Administrator John Metro said he would work with the legal department to try to provide that.
While others called it a slam dunk, Lavarro simply responded “I don’t see that” as the city is dealing with long-term financial issues related to issues such as school funding and affordable housing.
“I think we’ve lost our way,” he said before voting against the measure, which was approved 8-1.