The Jersey City Council went back to the drawing board on their $701,380,029.82 budget, with several expressing concerns over police overtime, during this morning’s caucus after the annual spending plan was voted down last month.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Council President Joyce Watterman was absent, necessitating Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera to preside over the meeting. Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise were also absent.
For starters, Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore asked Public Safety Director James Shea about ongoing police overtime issues while measures related to the department were being discussed.
“Can we get a breakdown of the overtime so we can make sense of the spending? For any business, any corporation… they have to prove stuff,” he said.
Shea said that should be requested through the business administrator, to which BA John Metro explained why the report wasn’t available yet.
“It’s 26 separate reports for the 26 pay cycles. We’re combining it. It takes a little bit of time,” he said.
Finance Director Carmen Gandulla added that nothing in the budget has changed since their July 24th meeting where the budget failed to pass 4-3 (five affirmative votes are required.
Gilmore continued by asking if the council would have the overtime reports before Wednesday’s meeting, to which Metro said they would.
“Are we able to reduce overtime spending or are we going to let it be a runaway train?What are we doing about it next year? They can’t fund the ice rink. What are we doing about the low-hanging fruit to reduce overtime spending?” questioned Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh.
“It’s about monitoring and regulation. We’re working close with the council,” Gandulla replied.
She explained they are trying to have quarterly meetings with Watterman, however, their efforts, in general, are hindered by old equipment.
“I understand your frustration. It has to be a working conversation until we modernize our system,” she added.
Gandulla also said she met with Gilmore on Friday.
“We don’t have a control on overtime, namely the public safety. I understand it’s not necessarily you. At some point, we have to address that. Our phones are blowing up. It becomes extremely frustrating to justify that. This is done nowhere else,” Gilmore declared.
“We spoke about this during the budget hearings. The concerns were brought about the overtime. It’s not a conversation if one side is not hearing the other. Do we have to say it earlier? I want more officers in my area,” Saleh said, claiming officers in the Heights were not receiving overtime even after a homicide in the spring.
“Legally, if someone works overtime, we have to pay them. The department of finance has to produce a balanced budget,” Gandulla responded.
Saleh continued that the council has to decide what they think is a fair amount to budget, asserting that the police department’s overtime went $13.5 million over what was anticipated.
“We need to just call it as it is,” Rivera said.
He suggested they have a meeting with Shea and Police Director Tawana Moody for them to explain line-item budget items.
“We want to sit down with them. Give us a breakdown. Show us where the overtime is going,” Rivera added.
Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, a retired police detective, complained about the two percent tax increase, though he still acknowledged inflation, before offering his two cents on the JCPD.
“I’ve had more than 55 shootings in my ward this year. I’ve asked for a greater police presence. And nothing has been done,” Boggiano stated, going on to credit the administration for addressing the budget deficit.
While he said he would support the budget, further cuts are needed next year, claiming police overtime has nearly doubled.
“I know you made huge tremendous strides to fixing the budget hole,” Boggiano said.
He said the overtime has nearly doubled.
“We could use that in our ward. I want police in my district,” Boggiano added.
Rivera said the council should not be involved in day-to-day police activities and that Gandulla shouldn’t be blamed for overtime that has to be paid.
“I’m not saying it’s your fault. You got thrown head-first into the deep end. We need to make sure we are controlling the overtime,” Saleh replied.
Gandulla said they’re doing a five-year budget outlook for the first time going forward.
“We will work with the council to identify plans of spending. Let’s get through this hurdle and work towards the other aspects,” she added.
“We have cops sitting in cars. That’s not the way we do policing. Get them out of the cars. Let them patrol the area. All the cops are laughing at this,” Boggiano exclaimed.
“We should just sit down with the director and have the conversation,” Rivera suggested.
Boggiano also mentioned that lagging police salaries inevitably lead to more overtime spending.
“That process is essentially limited. It’s almost a lack of accountability. The onus is essentially on the department heads to justify what they’re doing,” Gilmore argued.
Metro explained they’re at-will employees who get reviewed every four years. He said cutting services to save money has to be examined.
“The most challenging thing in government is to remove a temporary position. It will be a holistic conversation,” Metro added.
The Jersey City council will vote on the budget again at Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall, 280 Grove St., at 6 p.m. and will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.