Jersey City Make It Better, a group that recently featured Council President Joyce Watterman breaking down the tax bill, has ties to development powerhouse LeFrak, incorporation filings show.
The nonprofit identified Jeremy Farrell, George Fontas, and Jared Rodriguez as being initial board trustees when the entity was incorporated with the state on March 21st, 2019, records show.
Farrell and Rodriguez worked for LeFrak at the time, while Fontas has served as a lobbyist.
Also at that time, Farrell, the managing director of development and community relations for LeFrak, was the registered agent and office. However, that was switched over to the Rutherford-based Legalinc Corporate Services Inc. on August 11th, 2021.
“Do you know there’s a misconception about the Jersey City tax bill. As the council president, I want to be clear: I am only responsible for the city’s budget, I have no authority over the Jersey City Public School’s budget: none whatsoever,” Watterman says in the video embedded above that was posted to YouTube a week ago.
“The last couple of years, taxes have went up due to the increase in the Jersey City board of ed budget: it has nothing to do with Jersey City. We need to come together and begin to hold the board of ed accountable. Not only are our taxes unnecessarily high because of the increase in the school budget, but the United State Department of Education has determined that the State of New Jersey has underfunded our district.”
The two most recent BOE spending plans’s undeniably came with a sizable tax increase: this year’s $974 million budget with an annual tax increase of $1,608 on a home evaluated at $460,000.
Meanwhile, last year’s $814 million budget, which activists praised for being fully funded, came with a $1,000 tax increase per household assessed at $460,000.
On the municipal level, the city’s $620 million budget last year came with about a $967 tax decrease per household assessed at $470,000 thanks to American Rescue Plan Funds.
This year’s $695 million municipal budget, which is still awaiting council approval for second reading, comes with a $1,030 tax increase per household assessed at $470,000.
The city blamed the tax burden on the BOE, which they expectedly disagreed with.
About a week before the aforementioned video was released, Watterman was featured in another Jersey City Make It Better clip, in this instance a short highlighting women who have been firsts in their respective fields in government and politics.
Both videos have become part of sponsored ads on social media, as well as advertisements to varying degrees on HCV, NJ Advance Media, and TapInto Jersey City.
In a statement, Jersey City Make it Better said they’re goal is to highlight problems in the city ranging from schools, public safety, transportation, and more.
“Jersey City Make It Better was established with the goals of shining a spotlight on problems in our city and finding common sense solutions,” the group began.
“Accordingly, we focus on enhancing the local quality of life by working to improve public safety, transportation, open space, local education, and the environment. Public officials, such as Council President Watterman, who fight for residents on a daily basis will always have a forum with us.”
Government accountability and transparency is another topic highlighted on their website.
“Over the last decade, Jersey City residents have more questions than answers regarding the city’s fiscal responsibility Government officials have received double-digit pay increases, contracts are given to unqualified vendors, and taxes and user fees continue to rise with no end in sight,” the excerpt says.
“Jersey City is at risk of losing its residents to other area communities with less crime, easier commutes, and better education outcomes. Our community needs to come together to ask questions, meet with our elected officials, and shine a light on our taxpayer-funded government to improve its value.”
Farrell is also the chair of the Fairer NJ super PAC, which is chiefly financed by developers, which has provided support to the “Change for Children” BOE slates since 2019.
He and Waterman also both serve on the seven-member Exchange Place Special Improvement District Board of Directors.