Special Council Budget Meeting
Here’s your analysis of last night’s “we’ll speak just because…” Hoboken budget council meeting:
Budget Passes despite Overspending
Five members of the Hoboken City Council took a leap of faith last night that the state would be lenient with them if they played ball in the eleventh hour. Literally just a few hours away from the close of the fiscal year, a majority of the council adopted a budget strongly suggested – but not mandated – by the state Department of Community Affairs. The $92,688,726.87 plan does not include several bills that will have to be rolled over into the new year. This is against state law, but it was the state that suggested the vote. The actual amount of spending in fiscal 2008 exceeds $102,188,576.07, and that is not counting the Parking Utility.
Full house for the 6pm Meeting
Mayor David Roberts did not show up to the emergency budget meeting he called. The meeting began and went right into public comment on the only item on the agenda: the adoption of a budget framework set up by the state Local Finance Board. Helen Hirsch kicked things off by encouraging the council to vote no. Former city CFO Michael Lenz suggested a yes vote. Richard Tremitiedi said he had done a survey of people in town and found most of them were against the adoption of a budget in this manner, and one in particular noted it was bad fiscal policy to roll over the deficit into the new year. Don Pellicano said the council has been lied to, and complained that about the mess he received when he requested a copy of the Parking Utility’s balance sheet with profit and loss statements. Mo DeGennaro said spreading this year’s deficit over next year is like using a credit card, and he asked for a clarification about whether it was against the law to do that. He was told normally it is, but that is what the state was suggesting the council do.
Where’s the DCA and LFB?
Hoboken resident Lane Bajardi asked why the council and public was not hearing an explanation from the DCA, especially since new Commissioner Joe Doria made some public statements that sided with Mayor Dave Roberts. It was then that Local Finance Board Assistant Director Judy Tripodi rose from the audience made a brief statement on behalf of Director Susan Jacobucci indicating this was a last chance for the council to act on the budget, and that the state was not directing the council to act, but giving them the opportunity to do so before the end of the fiscal year. She also said she wouldn’t answer questions beyond the statement, though she did anyway, adding the city had put the state between a rock and a hard place. The council responded by saying it was Mayor Roberts who hid his overspending and non-payment of health insurance and many other bills until May that put them in the same bad position.
Bajardi pressed on, asking whether the state would still take over the city’s finances in the new fiscal year no matter what the council did last night. The question was not directly answered, though City Attorney Steve Kleinman said it was possible the state could petition a court for a full takeover of Hoboken no matter what the council did, since the statutory deadline to pass a budget had passed.
READ ALL THE REST AFTER THE JUMP!!!
(Council, budget, mess, continued…)
The Council’s turn to weigh in
Once public comment ended the council took a shot. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham indicated he thought it was time to move forward with the state. Councilwoman-at-Large Terry LaBruno made an impassioned plea to “Stop the elect-cha-teering” and cease with the politics that have divided the council and Mayor. (In fairness, she did correct herself and say electioneering.) 3rd ward Councilman Mike Russo noted state law was clear that it was a crime to willfully and purposefully vote on an underfunded budget, and said even if the state waived budget penalties there could still be criminal charges brought against the council. Councilman-at-Large (and State Assemblyman) Ruben Ramos said he didn’t share LaBruno’s “vigor” on the issue, and said he wouldn’t hold any votes against his colleagues whether they voted “yes, no, or abstain” because of the weight of the matter and the grey area surrounding the legality of the vote. Peter Cammarano said he doubted the state would bring charges against the council, and warned a no vote by the council would practically guarantee a state takeover.
The head of the Finance Committee speaks
Russo pointed out the state never approved the budget sent to them earlier in the year, a point brought up by Cunningham. That showed how the comments by DCA Chief Joe Doria and LFB Chairman (and Weehawken Mayor) Richard Turner against the council were incorrect. Russo noted the council invoked salary and hiring freezes that the Mayor ignored. Russo went on to say the council had no legal right to vote on an underfunded budget, and no authority under law to defer a $10 million increase in the tax levy into the next budget year.
Mason says city not paying bills
2nd ward Councilwoman Beth Mason asked, “Where does an underfunded budget leave the taxpayers? Taxes are going up one way or another. Are we going to address this or continue as we have been going?” Mason noted the FY2007 budget included many one-shots that were not likely to be repeated in FY2008, such as the sale of many taxi medallions that raised over a million dollars. Mason said Hoboken has “An even more challenging situation next year.”
Mason also pointed out the administration was hiding unpaid bills, including $20,000 owed to the company that prints the tax bills. She said they wouldn’t send out more tax bills until their bills had been paid. The story was similar to the months and months of bills owed to the city health insurance provider. Mason also noted the budget included a $540,000 line item for providing police to the Hoboken Housing Authority which has not been paid, as well as other underfunded reveue lines, and the dumping of $2.6 million in UDAG grant money originally earmarked for affordable housing into the general fund of the budget.
Castellano says the council did it’s job
Council President Theresa Castellano noted the budget Mayor Roberts originally proposed was for $86 million, up from $73 million the year before. She said the truth about the $102 million spent by Roberts would not have come out if not for the council’s prodding and probing. Castellano noted when the council asked the Local Finance Board if it could just pass the original budget, it was Turner who said no and that they would need to adopt a $102 million plan because “The cat was out of the bag.” 4th ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer expressed surprise at how bad the overspending was, but said she wanted the state’s help and to spread the tax bite over four quarters.
Call the vote!
The vote was taken, with Cammarano, Cunningham, LaBruno, Ramos, and Zimmer voting Yes, Mason, Russo, and Castellano voting No, and 6th ward Councilman Nino Giacchi still in Italy on vacation missing all the fun in Hoboken. The vote passed 5-3.
Cunningham: Roberts must go!
After the vote Cunningham made a motion to call for the resignation of the Mayor and former Business Administrator Richard England, who is still the purchasing agent. The grounds? They knowingly overspent the budget and mislead the council. At first Russo seconded the motion, but upon further review Castellano seconded it. The vote was seen as more of a headline grabber than anything that would lead to any resignations.
Cunningham gave the first aye vote, followed by a laughing Ramos who later said the vote was just done in frustration with the Mayor. Russo, Zimmer, and Castellano also voted yes, while Cammarano, Mason, and LaBruno voted “Present”. The resolution was not on the agenda of the special meeting and is generally deemed little more than a gesture of disgust, though it could lead to further investigations that could lead to something that might stick. The council can’t fire the Mayor, so that point is moot, but they could put England under oath and have a “What did you know and when did you know it?” moment.
Then there was more public comment. Some speakers supported the council’s actions while others said it remains to be seen what will happen next in this political climate with a DCA and LFB controlled by friends of the Mayor. The next step is Wednesday when the council meets to reorganize for the New Year.
See the rest of the history behind this embarrassing display of poorly managed city finances after the jump…
Special Meeting TONIGHT
The City Council meets tonight for a special meeting called by the Mayor. Sources say the budget that will be offered by the Mayor and his partners from the state Department of Community Affairs will be underfunded by about ten million dollars, in violation of widely accepted municipal finance law. The state may use the excuse that they will give Roberts a pass because it is a state law that he wants to break, and they are complicit in the deal. The meeting was scheduled by Roberts for 6pm instead of the usual council start at 7pm to make it harder for taxpayers who work in New York City to attend. It should be a doozy.
Got hold of the “memo.”
One Hoboken411 reader got word of City Council members being “hand delivered” notices of a special budget meeting for Monday night. No specifics yet on the time, and it’s not on the city website yet.
“The Mayor may not want the public showing up…,” they said.