Hoboken Budget: State moves in
The State Moves In
As predicted, the state Local Finance Board voted to approve a plan that essentially takes over all spending by the City of Hoboken.
That said, local finance director Susan Jacobucci made it a point to repeat, “This is not a takeover” before listing all of the terms and conditions of “board supervision” of the City of Hoboken. The terms are outlined below, but in a nutshell the city can’t spend a dime without the state signing off on it in some way. They will also have say in who gets those dimes, including professional service contracts and consultants.
Here’s what Hoboken411 found out about how it went down:
Packed house, but LFB gets off to a late start
The meeting got underway about a half hour later than scheduled, and people guessed that there might have been last minute wrangling going on between the politically appointed members of the Local Finance Board and staff members of the Division of Local Government Services. Mayor David Roberts was there with a cadre of taxpayer-paid professionals. City Council members Beth Mason, Dawn Zimmer, and Peter Cunningham were there, but no other council members made the trip to make their case and hear what the state had in store for them.
Taxpayers Helen Hirsch and Maurice DeGennaro also addressed the board. Once called to order, Director Jacobucci opened by saying the actions of Hoboken’s officials have “Substantially jeopardized the fiscal integrity of the city. ”
Mayor Roberts blames others
The board recognized Mayor Roberts to speak first. He began by calling Hoboken an “Interesting city,” extolling it’s virtues and again repeating the old saw that Hoboken’s property value has jumped during his term, citing numbers cooked up at the height of the real estate boom. Roberts then started pointing the finger of blame for his budget – up from $52 million when he took over to well over $100 million today – at public safety, pension, and health care costs before using the P word: Politics. He admitted his budget was wrong, and that there was a “sizable mistake” ($11.7 Million) but blamed the council for not taking action on his revenue generating ideas (new meters, higher fees, selling the Police Station, etc.) Roberts wrapped up by saying he was embarrassed, but happy the state has intervened.
READ THE COMPLETE RECAP AFTER THE JUMP…
(State takes over, continued…)
Cunningham returns fire
Fifth ward councilman Peter Cunningham called state supervision of Hoboken’s finances “an unfortunate act” and asked “How did we get here?” He said mismanagement has been going on for 5 or 6 years and spending has been “out of control.” Cunningham said, “Under certain conditions I welcome state supervision and a monitor,” but he went on to put the board on notice that taxpayers are watching and expecting a lot from “The State.” Cunningham said given the state’s own financial track record that “we are concerned that perhaps you won’t be able to get it done” before adding he is hopeful that they will.
Zimmer defends city council
Fourth ward councilwoman Dawn Zimmer reminded the Local Finance Board that the Mayor “Overspent by $10 million and tried to hide it by not paying bills.” Zimmer said the council “tried in good faith to exercise checks and balances” while past councils had acted as a “rubber stamp” for Mayoral spending. She called for fiscal controls, saying the city has “an over-spending problem not an under-taxing problem.”
Mason’s roadmap to Roberts’ mismanagement
Second ward councilwoman Beth Mason was next to put her objections on the record. She pointed out over the past five years concerned residents have attempted to raise awareness among the community, the courts, regulators, and even the Local Finance Board about “the financial, operational, and legal failures regarding our city, and to offer solutions.” She also noted this is not just a financial problem, noting “significant issues have come to light as it relates to the SWAT investigation, the Hoboken Building Department, and the Hoboken Parking Utility,” as well as other critical operational and legal failures by the Roberts administration that have been “governmentally suppressed.”
Mason also repeated her call to engage in an open selection process to retain an independent financial/restructuring firm with expertise and a proven track record in resolving complex operational and financial matters. Mason said the city “has been trying half-baked solutions for far too long.”
Helen Hirsch Speaks Out
Taxpayer and city watchdog Helen Hirsch opened by saying, “I’m an old woman who learned the hard way what a nickel was worth,” adding “People are watching to see if you honor and support the rule of law.: She said, “Something is wrong” and connected the dots between high taxes and corruption, a comment that made both Mayor Roberts and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner wince. Ms. Hirsch said “If I had my way a highly skilled, totally independent person from outside the state” would be brought in to deal with Hoboken’s mess. She went on to say Roberts “Declared his disdain for the democratic process, and he must be harnessed!”
One-Dollar-A-Year city advisor Maurice DeGenarro also gave the board his two cents, noting the city needs to “live within its means.” He said spending has gotten out of hand with Roberts “loading up the payroll continuously.”
So what’s the verdict?
After listening to the comments, Jacobucci made her recommendations to the board. There were so many stipulations that it would have been easier to say “There will be a state takeover of Hoboken’s finances,” except Jacobucci made it a point to say this is not a takeover, but a broad supervision. The director said there is “No reason Hoboken should even be here today,” calling it “a sad state of affairs.”
Among the stipulations of the state supervision:
- LFB will have control of the preparation of the municipal budget. Mayor can draw one up and council can approve it, but nothing sticks without LFB approval.
- All contracts over $4500 are subject to approval by the director.
- All financial supervision of officers and directors will be done through the state. This includes the revenue department and tax collector.
- A fiscal control officer/monitor to be named later will be installed.
- The state will not negotiate collective bargaining agreements, but not will be ratified without state approval.
- All professional services and consulting contracts will go through the state, which can appoint and dismiss any and all financial manager.
- The state will also perform “performance audits.”
- The terms of employment for all city workers, including their regular work hours will be fixed by the state, which will also oversee the “liquidation of city liabilities.”
Weehawken’s Richard Turner speaks up
Despite his obvious conflict as the Mayor of a city that borders Hoboken and who is negotiating an inter-governmental services agreement with Hoboken, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was the first LFB member to speak up. He said Hoboken “can’t restructure in one year” and that first it must “clean up the mess, and second adopt a new budget,” which he added, “will be painful.” Turner said it is not the responsibility of the state to restructure Hoboken. He did not recuse himself during the unanimous LFB vote on the non-takeover takeover.
Next up: The State appoints a monitor, widely rumored to be Susan Jacobucci’s deputy Judy Tripodi. Then the rubber hits the road and The State either does what it can to cover Roberts tracks, or uncovers the fiscal and operational disaster he’s created for all the world to see.