Hoboken Budget Debacle Update
2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason responds to State Takeover of Hoboken’s Finances By the State of New Jersey:
“It’s an embarrassment to the city and an indictment of the Robert’s administration that it cannot, or will not work with the city council to solve the city’s fiscal problems. With this drastic step of agreeing to a state takeover, Mayor Roberts now has succeeded in lumping Hoboken in the unfortunate group of deteriorating cities such as Paterson and Camden. This matter should have been discussed with the city council before the mayor agreed to any terms with the state. I have no more faith in the state’s ability to solve the city’s financial problems than I have in Mayor Robert’s financial acumen.”
City Hall is abuzz with rumors about what the state of New Jersey is going to do next to deal with the city’s budget mess. The Dave Roberts budget ballooned to over $102 million dollars with a deficit of $11.7 million. After 11 months of misinformation from the administration, the City Council essentially threw up its hands and called for help from the state to clean up the mess. When the state didn’t act immediately, talk of bringing in outside consultants to do efficiency studies and forensic audits kicked in to high gear. Now the state is beginning to make its move.
Why does the state care about Hoboken?
The tax base of Hoboken and Jersey City drives Hudson County, and Hudson County drives the New Jersey state government. The Governor lives here, along with a U.S. Senator and many others who have a lot of say over what moves in the state. They don’t want Hoboken to get too far out of their control, and they have help from friends on the Local Finance Board. Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner essentially calls the shots at the LFB, which is part of the Division of Community Affairs run by former Bayonne Mayor Joe Doria. Both Doria and Turner are key power players in Hudson County politics looking to protect the gravy train, which departs from Hoboken Terminal. Turner also works for Congressman Albio Sires. These people know Dave Roberts and they know Hoboken.
So far the state has told Hoboken the fourth quarter tax rate will be set at the same level as the third quarter, which means we will not be getting a 50% tax increase in one bill thanks to the $11.7 million Roberts Deficit.
Instead that overspending will be spread across the next fiscal year. Some say that lets Roberts off too easy, but apparently that is not where the state is going to end it. There is talk of a state appointed monitor for city government spending, taking a lot of the power from the Mayor and Council. It’s not clear if it means a takeover of all spending or simply advice and consent for spending by the state, but that may become clear in the next few days. Rumors are also swirling that there may be some special meetings called.
The bottom line
The explosive rate of growth in the city budget from $52 million when Roberts took the Mayor’s office in 2001 to the $102 million plus it is today in finally coming home to roost. Several years of fiscal tricks and one-shot revenue deals lulled some into thinking they could do this forever, but the buck stops with fiscal 2007… or does it?