Hoboken Budget Hearing – Recap I
Want to know what went down at last night’s Budget Hearing?
Part 1 – The Public Speaks
It was another packed house with many new faces turning out for a special meeting of the council budget and finance committee. The entire council was there with the exception of President Nino Giacchi (on vacation). The meeting got off to a dubious start because state fiscal monitor Judy Tripodi squashed the council’s effort to subpoena directors to get budget answers under oath. As yet another stick in the eye to the council and the public, Mayor David Roberts did not send his cameraman to record the meeting for Channel 78. Instead, a videographer hired and paid by Councilwoman Beth Mason recorded the session.
The public’s message: Cut Baby Cut!
One after another taxpayers sent a loud and clear message to cut the budget. Some said they had only started paying attention when they got the latest tax bill with its massive tax increase, and what they learned about the explosive growth in spending over Mayor David Roberts’ watch — from $52 million in 2001 to over $120 million this year — made their skin crawl.
Jon Gordon was one of the first speakers. An active critic of Hoboken spending for decades, Gordon took one last turn at the microphone before he moves out to take a new job in Texas. A victim of the collapse of Bear Stearns, Gordon recommended the council consider either a merger with another municipality or filing for bankruptcy to fix what is wrong with the budget. Maureen Sullivan noted the City tax hike may be just the start of the pain, as the Board of Education stands poised to give their unions a rich contract. The raises there are rumored to be in the neighborhood of six percent a year.
Read what the rest of the public speakers said – after the jump…
(Hoboken Budget Hearings – Part I, continued…)
Donna Antonucci takes aim at the budget
Donna Antonucci continued her passionate criticism of the budget documents provided by the city, offering several suggestions on how to cut spending. One place she suggested was the Office of Constituent Services. Many ask “What is that anyway?” The answer is it’s a taxpayer funded nest built for Sandra Ramos, mother of Councilman/Assemblyman Ruben Ramos. Shortly after Roberts was elected Mayor in 2001 with Ramos as Councilman-at-Large they created this office and hired Ramos’ mother to work there. Like most city programs, it started small but led to big raises for Mrs. Ramos and an over $200,000 annual budget.
Chris Bianco speaks out
Many people who work with numbers and budgets on a daily basis rose to complain about the administration’s paper documents, which did not include backup information such as specific salary and wages. Chris Bianco noted the lack of transparency in the paperwork, saying “I don’t know how any responsible person can look at this (budget) and determine whether these (numbers) are reasonable or not.” Bianco said one thing that was clear was Mayor Roberts had been “spending furiously without your consent.”
Toni Tomarazzo takes them on
Despite over 22 years experience as a senior counsel for a financial services company Toni Tomarazzo noted she couldn’t make sense of the paperwork provided by the city. She had many questions for the directors, including the head of the Parking Utility, who didn’t show up. Tomarazzo has been trying to get copies of the actual contracts for projects that don’t pay taxes, but special PILOTS or Payments In Lieu Of Taxes. These agreements outline the rationale for why these projects pay what they do. They include Applied Housing, Church Towers, Clock Towers, and Marine View. These are apparently paying PILOTs that compare to ancient tax rates, and may be seriously outdated.
Tremitiedi and Hirsch take their turns
Former $1 a year advisor to the Mayor Rich Tremitiedi was brief, perhaps sensing not much would be accomplished at a meeting that didn’t include directors or the state Fiscal Monitor. He did note there was talk in City Hall of selling the 916 Garden automated parking garage as a way to raise funds. However, there has been so much borrowing done to build and fix that debacle there is a question of whether taxpayers would ever be able to be “made whole” by the sale.
Longtime fiscal watchdog Helen Hirch told the council they were “looking at this job upside down,” noting “Nobody is minding the store” and “You can burn these papers because they don’t mean anything.”
Scott Delea resurfaces
Two-time city council candidate Scott Delea pointed out the city needs to look at cutting personnel to get spending in line, correctly noting cuts in discretionary expenditures are not going to do it. Delea also accused some council members of wanting a $2200 stipend in lieu of taking redundant city paid health care benefits on top of their salaries, but he didn’t name names. Some in the audience chuckled when Delea said “I think we all have to share some of the blame for the tax increase.” They said Delea should get more blame than most because he endorsed Roberts, Ramos, Cammarano and LaBruno after failing to gain enough votes for himself to move on to the 2005 runoff election.
More taxpayers speak out
Ray Laboi followed up on Jon Gordon’s bankruptcy suggestion by noting a Chapter 9 filing would essentially nullify all of the bloated union contracts that have helped to explode the budget. A judge would then be placed in charge of restructuring the city. Anthony Olden told the council to look at infrastructure needs before allowing any more big construction projects. Matthew Epstein noted when he deals with budgets in the private sector they include “Zero Growth”, while Hoboken’s budgets routinely rise by double digits. Epstein told the council “You will have our support if you do something aggressive.”