Metsch on Hoboken’s Mess
Dr. Jonathan Metsch continues to be outraged at the state of things at City Hall, and took time to put fingers to keyboard about it this weekend. The opinions are his own and not necessarily those of Hoboken411 or any other website or group Dr. Metsch belongs to:
BNRs and Newer Hobokenites:
Let’s Take Back Our City! Together!
Jonathan M. Metsch
We All Love Hoboken!
BNRs and Newer residents alike, we all LOVE Hoboken with its energy, diversity, friendliness and pride.
But suddenly and profoundly something has gone wrong. Hoboken is in the midst of a fiscal calamity – the budget and taxes are out of control. If there is not an immediate course correction the success achieved over two decades will evaporate and quality of life in Hoboken will rapidly deteriorate, causing families to leave, property values to drop, and merchants to fail.
WE need to act now!
Read the rest after the jump…
We all know how badly Hoboken municipal government is broken after reading story after story after story about City Hall paralysis, petty bickering and finger pointing between the Council and Mayor (where is the Mayor hiding anyway?), repeated examples of mismanagement, and the need for a State appointed Fiscal Monitor to run the city and “fix” the problems.
It is embarrassing to attend recent Council meetings and watch our nine elected representatives micro-manage parking violation fee-setting for hours at a time, “brilliantly” debate arcane procedural minutia, and non-stop “showboating” as they all seem to be campaigning for Mayor – but never, ever mention finishing the FY ’09 budget and getting to work on an austerity budget for FY ’10 that will lead to a reduction in the property taxes. Add to that pomposity, rudeness to each other and lack of respect for the members of the public who come to listen and speak.
The whole mess is colorfully and sadly reported in a February 5th Hoboken411 article “Why can’t Hoboken be as careful as me?” “Today, I struggle to make my mortgage payment, now $400 more a month…even though I did everything I thought was right. I saved. I lived modestly. I bought something well within my budget. And because my local government didn’t do the same – I’m broke.”
How Did This Happen to Hoboken?
- “Cooking the Books.” The Hoboken budget went from $53,000,000 to $110,000,000 in eight years but by persistently using one time revenue sources (e.g., sale of a piece of property) to pay for permanent operating expenses the budget was made to look like $80,000,000. Only when the Mayor and Council reached an impasse on the ’09 budget necessitating the appointment of a State Fiscal Monitor did we get an accurate picture and an unbelievable immediate tax increase. For example, we value our police and fire officer but it has been established that the number of supervisors in place is excessive.
We need to get the budget back down to the $80,000,000 range!
- “PILOT Abuse.” PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes) can be a useful development strategy if used thoughtfully and appropriately. But when a PILOT is granted those property owners pay only municipal taxes, and do not pay anything for the Board of Education or the County taxes –so the rest of us pay a tax “surcharge”. Hoboken government has become addicted to PILOTs, the most egregious example being an attempt to renew an expired PILOT for Church Towers. And last week there were two new PILOTS on the Council agenda.
We need a clearly articulated PILOT strategy and an approval protocol and schedule that are totally transparent and allow sufficient time for public review and comment. The “value added” of any approved PILOT should be obvious; if its not then it should not be approved.
- “Conflict of Interest.” Our Council members never seem to recuse themselves. A Council member who lives in Church Towers (and it is unclear how he jumped the waiting list) threatens the Council that he will bring hundred of CT residents to a Council meeting. A Councilwoman who’s husband is a Battalion Chief advocates for the HFD budget.
We need a strong COI policy with automatic expulsion of Council members who violate it.
- “Revaluation.” There has not been a comprehensive Property Revaluation in twenty years in apparent violation of State law. Reval is simply a matter of equity and a level playing filed for all residents.
But a Reval is useless unless the budget is lowered; otherwise we are just moving the excessive taxes around.
We need the Mayor, every Council members and every senior city executive (and County official too) to disclose the property they own in Hoboken, and its assessed value. Are they avoiding Reval to protect their own investments (go back to Conflict of Interest).
- “The Hospital.” It would be great if Hoboken can support a hospital but making the Hospital a City entity should have been a short term transition measure. Now the City is on the hook as the guarantor of over $50,000,000 in bonds and no one can explain the property tax implications if the hospital is unable to cover the debt service. Let’s hope the recently reported $4,000,000 FY’08 deficit does not grow substantially when the Audited Financial Statement is issued.
We need the hospital reverted to a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation immediately with the City no longer the bond guarantee.
- ”Pension Blunder.” Now this week we learn of the $4.2 million in pension costs that Hoboken must apparently pay due to an unapproved retirement plan.
We need to know who is responsible and who will be accountable.
- The Board of Education
We need transparency about the BOE budget, a Report Card demonstrating improved student performance, and more community opportunities for input and comment before we are asked to vote on the BOE budget.
- The County
We need make sure that Hoboken is paying only its appropriate and fair share of county expenditures (Hoboken overpays now since Jersey City approves so many PILOTs). What does County Government do for us anyway?
Call to Action!
We all need to be engaged and demand Good Government. Here’s what you can do:
- Write letters-to-the-editor and post comments on web sites such as Hoboken411.
- Call the Mayor’s office. Call the State Monitor Judy Tripodi. Call your Council member.
- Join community based advocacy groups.
- And VOTE!
The Bottom Line
Are there any candidates for Mayor or Council with the courage to present a comprehensive financial responsibility and accountability plan – the courage enough to risk losing an election, but saving our city.
Hoboken411 note: Readers of this humble website have long known that a fiscal calamity of large proportions was coming. WE have been warning you for YEARS! Things are not “suddenly” “out of control”. The chickens are just now coming home to roost.
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