Ahead of tomorrow’s Jersey City Council vote on a $658 million budget, Councilmen Rolando Lavarro and James Solomon are proposing redirecting $5 million from the public safety budget into community programs – without laying off police officers.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Our country’s moral reckoning demands bold leadership to create a more equitable Jersey City. Mayor Fulop’s proposed budget fails to meet this moral moment. It fails to invest in Jersey City’s South Side. It fails to invest in Jersey City’s Black and Brown communities,” Lavarro said in a joint statement.
“Our proposed budget amendments instead are a down-payment on an equitable future for Jersey City. They fund the community leaders who work on the streets to make our city better.”
Lavarro, who indicated that he was going to review police retirements and see how those savings could be reinvested in the community at the August 12th council meeting, came up with a plan with Solomon’s help modeled after Newark redirecting up to $15 million from their police budget in June.
The proposal specifically calls for allocating $1.5 million to the Jersey City Public Schools, $1 million to hire social workers and mental health professionals, $1 million to restore cuts to the Youth Enrichment Division for a Fall Youth Jobs program, $1 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and legal services for tenants who may be displaced, and $500,000 for community-based violence prevention strategies.
“In prior years, the Fulop administration used retirement savings from the Public Safety Department to fund millions in over-expenditures on police overtime and on political patronage promotions. We cannot allow that to occur in 2020,” added Solomon.
According to budget documents, 75 public safety employees are departing the city this year, 23 police and 52 firefighters, which could provide up to $10,039,461.19 in overall savings, with $6,426,295.02 coming just from salaries.
The two council members have spoken against tomorrow’s final budget vote, scheduled for 2 p.m., since it was not made public until Friday morning, as well as the fact that it is an inconvenient time to maximize resident participation.
But since the session appears to be moving forward as scheduled, the duo is committing to introducing their local legislation at Tuesday’s special meeting, though amendments are not typically heard at special meetings.
City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that despite the data being referenced, the plan presented by Lavarro and Solomon would still ultimately lead to layoffs in the police department.
“The mayor presented a balanced budget with no tax increase for residents while investing more in affordable housing and public safety,” she said.
“Inversely, there is no question that Councilmen Solomon and Lavarro’s proposal is exactly what they recommended before which would result in police officer layoffs. It’s time for these two council people to stop playing politics with people’s safety.”
Solomon was quick to return fire, stating that through the city spokeswoman, Mayor Steven Fulop is “resorting to Donald Trump-style fear tactics and misinformations to scare voters” rather than getting on board with community investments.
The Ward E councilman added that he’d be happy to delay tomorrow’s budget vote “that he and his allies scheduled” in order to meet and review budget data.
Even if the improbable scenario where the meeting ended up being postponed, the councilmen’s outside the box suggestions would still likely have a tough time gaining traction among their colleagues.
“We have to protect the people of Jersey City. We can’t allow any cutbacks in the public safety division, we have to maintain our police force the way it is … We don’t need to become Seattle or any of those places,” said Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, a retired police detective.
” … We need more police. I think they’re dead wrong in what they’re doing.”
Predictably, Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association President Carmine Disbrow also opposed any new changes to the public safety budget.
“There should be no confusion, less police on the streets makes a less safe Jersey City. It’s disappointing that any elected official would engage in a strategy of ‘us versus them’ when it comes to the public’s safety,” Disbrow said in a statement.
“This sort of divisive politics only serves two agendas: Lavarro’s and Solomon’s.”
In response, Lavarro again reiterated that this plan calls for no police layoffs.
“This is not calling for reductions in the police force: it’s redirecting, reappropriating from money that was saved due to retirements … This shouldn’t be viewed as an either/or proposition at this point and it answers the call about reinvesting in our communities,” the councilman-at-large stated.
“I’ve worked with Carmine and the POBA in the past and I think they know I’m not anti-police, so I’d be happy to talk this through with him and the membership about addressing the calls for change and how we can work together – as well as make sure police are supported since they do put their lives on the line every single day.”