Zimmer to families: Pay up!
One (angry) Hoboken (soccer) Mom thinks the City of Hoboken has their priorities mixed up:
Angry Soccer Mom: City Hall Nickel & Diming
“I see the Administration is still trying to keep these “fees” alive. While I agree our recreation department can be more efficient, I and many others think there are better ways to do this. Our Athletic Director is working to do what he can; however the Mayor should recognize that the Council Majority reflects a majority of our City’s views.
We have a $100 million dollar budget that is currently in surplus. What will these fees accomplish?
I am against fees for recreational sports. There are simply too many benefits from exposing kids of all backgrounds to organized, skills-building, team sports. The league is sponsored, and run by volunteers (including parents who spend hours of their time) coaching our kids. In reality, what do the kids “use”?
A patch of grass at 1500 Park this past fall?
- Basketball? We pay for the gyms as part of our taxes and/or tuition. Spring sports are also sponsored.
- Are the soccer fees getting us better fields for soccer? No. $30k does not get us a field. They may help the multi-service center, but what if my child only plays one sport? I want to know where the money is going.
- If these really are “user fees” then why isn’t the High School football team being told to pay “activity fees”? The Team uses the field more than soccer teams do.
- I’ve heard “commitment” mentioned as justification… $25? Maybe some forget what instructional soccer is all about. For many it’s an intro to organized sports. These kids are 5-7 years old. Parents don’t know how their kids will like a particular sport until they play…. As the child ages, if he/she signs up for a team he/she should show up for practice; if not he/she should get less playing time… but that’s a coach’s decision. If your kid is chosen to play Travel and Rec, he or she is told that Travel has priority. It doesn’t mean the athlete or parent is not “committed” to the Rec team.
- Charge the “out of towners?” OK, but in some cases the “out of town resident” is sponsoring the team. I would argue that the “best” field currently available to Hoboken soccer kids is in Weehawken. Do we really want to jeopardize the use of that field for a “minimal” $25 that goes to a general fund?
- What about the reality that it all adds up and some can’t afford it? Oh don’t worry, apparently we don’t need the money “that much” if you can’t afford it, it’s on the honor system. It will be “codified”. Can’t wait for this one, but I guess the Code of Honor worked in the Middle Ages.
- Most importantly, I object to these fees as a matter of governance. This allows a Mayor to circumvent a City Council. I’m disappointed that rather than work with the Council to try and improve our recreation, the Mayor chooses to follow a divisive route of pitting the “haves” against the “have-nots.”
What about the rest of the mess?
This is just a distraction. Where are the playing fields? When will they be available?
Rather than focus on the Henkel site that for environmental reasons won’t be operational before my 7 year old is graduating High School, let’s look at the low-hanging fruit. Apparently even 1600 Park won’t be ready for play in 2011. We need fields and we need them now. Mama Johnson and Sinatra will need Council approval for Millions of dollars, why are we quibbling over “activity” fees that accomplish so little?
The next Community Parks meeting is scheduled for January 10th from 7-9pm at Wallace School. The focus will be on 1600 Park and the Cove. Please attend the meeting and reach out to your Council person so they know what YOU want from OUR Park space.
Thanks and Happy Holidays.
See the rest of the confusion and misinformation about who pays and who doesn’t, after the jump!
Mayor vetoes council vote to end her Recreation Tax
One of the big issues in the 4th ward election was Tim Occhipinti’s promise to sponsor the repeal of Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s tax on families who participate in recreation programs.
On top of the many out-of-pocket costs associated with participating in sports leagues and programs, Zimmer launched an aggressive $25 fee on applications for each program. That means a family with 4 kids participating in 4 different recreation programs can pay an extra $400 a year in fees on top of their already bloated municipal taxes. This is unprecedented in Hoboken history, and adds insult to injury to those hit by recent tax increases.
Pellegrini: fees raised $32k in a $100 million budget
Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini says the $25 fees he levies on children and adults who sign up for programs through the city has raised $32,000 since the Zimmer Family Tax went into effect.
Occhipinti says the fees are wrong, and he got four of his council colleagues (Terry Castellano, Beth Mason, Nino Giacchi and Mike Russo) to agree. On Wednesday night by a 5-3 vote the fees were rescinded. On Thursday, Zimmer quickly announced she had vetoed the ordinance rescinding the fees. The council needs 6 votes to override a veto, and the 4 remaining Zimmer-aligned council members have made it clear they will oppose any initiatives launched by anyone not in lock-step with Zimmer.
Occhipinti: Put my $23k taxpayer savings in recreation
In response to a series of political attacks from council members Ravi Bhalla and Peter Cunningham, Occhipinti reminded them he saved $23,000 a year in taxpayer money by defeating the un-elected councilman who preceded him. Mike Lenz opted out of his full-time health benefits at his Hudson County Patronage job and put the city on the hook for a $23,000 health plan that helped put a $4600 cash bonus back in his pocket.
With Lenz gone, and Occhipinti refusing city health benefits, the newly elected 4th ward councilman has directed the Business Administrator to earmark the money that would have been spent on Lenz’s benefits to make up for the majority of the recreation department funding lost from the repeal of the Zimmer’s tax on kids.
Zimmer: answer is an Honor System
Zimmer’s original Recreation Tax ordinance did not include any conditions under which families could avoid the fee. With many Hoboken children in lower income households, this led to concern that the kids who need the rec programs most would not be able to participate. In response, the Rec department was told to ask for “proof” the kids were poor, such as enrollment in a free school lunch program.
This wasn’t legal.
Instead, it became at Pellegrini’s discretion who paid and who didn’t. Sound familiar? To some it sounds like the kind of discretion that some former Hoboken officials have abused in the past.
Now Zimmer is admitting her law was flawed, but won’t budge on the fees because her political adversaries are the ones who want them repealed.
Instead, she says she wants to institute an “Honor System” where people who simply claim they don’t have the means to pay the $25 per-program fee can simply skip it. Critics say this will lead to proud, hard-working lower-middle class people paying up while those with more money but less scruples will get off with nothing.
By the way, the Zimmer tax doesn’t even pay for programs. It goes into a discretionary fund spent by the Director. The families and leagues still have to raise funds and fork over money to for travel, uniforms and supplies not paid for by the city.
No charge at other towns; or have cut back fees
Another fact is that the Township of Weehawken does not charge for most recreation programs. The Roberto Clemente Little League in Jersey City made headlines when it decided to offer free sign-ups. Turns out many families hit by the recession couldn’t spare the cash to enroll their kids in baseball, which hit enrollment so hard the only way to continue was to offer it for free. In Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer introduced fees for the first time (in 60 years) in the face of a recession and a 47% tax increase.
Her husband’s wealth from his family’s diamond business has kept her insulated from financial concerns most of her adult life. To her, a few hundred dollars a year in family recreation fees is just a drop in the bucket. Zimmer has never felt the financial pain so many others in Hoboken feel today.
What do you think? Is Zimmer’s political pigheadedness hurting Hoboken families, or do you believe the she should be allowed to add fees on all city services? Comment below and let everyone know how you feel.