New Hoboken Budget: $123.8 Million!
Hoboken Budget Recap
A funny thing happened at the adoption of Hoboken’s budget by a vote of 6-2-1. The Mayoral candidates on the City Council took three different votes!
There was no surprise in Peter Cammarano’s “Yes” vote or Beth Mason’s “No”, but Dawn Zimmer’s abstention got a lot of tongues wagging. I wasn’t at the meeting when the vote was taken, but after watching the video version which was originally on Cablevision Channel 78 (and getting after-the-fact press releases from the candidates), I figured this deserved another look. The annual budget vote is the most important one a council member takes each year. Considering they were voting on a whopping $123.8 million dollar spending plan after a year-and-a-half long budget battle, you might expect everyone to take a stand and vote yay or nay. Apparently not.
READ HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN – AFTER THE JUMP…
(Hoboken Budget Recap, continued…)
How it all went down
After a public hearing, the council weighed in with comments. Mason spoke up first, explaining why she would be voting no. She began by saying she felt vindicated after voting against last year’s under funded budget because Judy Tripodi found so many more problems with the Roberts spending plans going back several years:
“I’ve been saying for years that Hoboken’s budgets have been under-funded. It took the extraordinary powers of a State Fiscal Monitor that had the power to be the Mayor’s boss to finally get the real numbers.
Though Ms. Tripodi has finally brought us the true result of the fiscal mismanagement of this administration, she has unfortunately done little with that information to make the situation better. It is not enough to say things are bad. We must do something to fix it. The budget up for a vote tonight does too little, too late to give relief to the taxpayers.
This process has taken longer than I believe it should have and I cannot accept where we are now considering the timeframe. Now that we have REAL numbers we should move forward together to get this back on track, but I cannot accept this budget.”– Beth Mason
Peter Cunningham weighs in
Fifth Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham supported Mason’s position and said he would also vote no. Cunningham also thanked his fellow members of he council (including Mike Russo and Theresa Castellano) for voting last June against the original under funded Dave Roberts budget that led to the state fiscal monitor. Cunningham says there was a “Distinct difference in leadership” in that vote.
Though Cunningham said what Judy Tripodi did “to fix the fiscal house” was “better than what we had before” but he was “disappointed” that state operational and fiscal audits remain unfinished and not presented to the council. Cunningham said Tripodi has “blown through a number of deadlines” and there will be very little to show in cuts when next year’s budget process is underway, adding there has been no accountability for all the problems over the course of the Fiscal Monitor’s presence at City Hall.
Dawn Zimmer abstains
There are two reasons to abstain. One is when you have a conflict and can’t vote, and the other is when you can’t make up your mind between a yes vote and a no vote. Dawn Zimmer abstained on a budget she described as, “The most honest that we’ve had in many years, not filled with gimmicks.” Zimmer said the city needs to go back to it’s unions and look for sacrifices, noting some are giving up negotiated raises to save jobs.
Like Cunningham, Zimmer said she was frustrated with the lack of audit reports, using that as her reason to abstain because she did not get all the information she expected. Zimmer called it “Miss Tripodi’s budget” and decided not to vote on it. I’m told this led to gasps of surprise from the audience as supporters and detractors alike wondered aloud how a vote to abstain would be seen as anything other than the inability to make a choice by someone seeking to become the next Mayor of Hoboken.
Cammarano feels the heat, but votes yes
Cammarano began his budget comments by saying “My council colleagues and the people who attend these meetings, who watch them and follow what we do up here know how I feel about last year know how I feel about last year. I’m not going to go over it again.” That announcement was interrupted by spontaneous and sustained applause by people in the audience who were tired of Cammarano’s revisionist history line about how “If only we had passed the budget there would have only been a 7% tax increase.” Though everyone including Tripodi herself has debunked that line by now, it is still the foundation of Cammarano’s campaign.
Cammarano said he would be voting in favor of the budget amendments for the same reason he voted yes a year earlier, “because the city has a legal obligation to pass a budget” and secondly because he thought Tripodi “presented a true budget” that was “not underfunded” and would get Hoboken closer to being “deficit free”. Cammarano called the plan “honest, responsible and balanced”, and voted for it.
Days after the vote, the spin continues
All three Mayoral candidates continued to press their points after the meeting. Cammarano got some ink from PolitickerNJ.com, which is a site read by state political powerbrokers who Cammarano hopes will fund his campaign:
Cammarano called Mason’s “no” vote on a budget prepared with the oversight of a state monitor a curiosity considering Mason voted in favor of the state monitor a year ago, but he reserved incredulity for Zimmer. “Abstention makes no sense,” said the councilman. “Abstaining on a budget vote is not leadership.”
Meanwhile, Zimmer and Mason put out press releases expanding on their points:
So, how would you vote if you were on the council?
Yes, No, or no vote at all? My inbox has been full of opinions, and now is your better-late-than-never chance to post your thoughts in the comments section.
Previous Updates below
Budget shrinks by $2 Million
The City Council met for a special meeting to introduce Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi’s budget amendments last night. Normally it would be the Mayor’s job to offer the amendments, but David Roberts lost that job after the state moved in to clean up his budget mess. The good news (if there is any) is that the budget has been cut by $2 million after members of the council negotiated with Tripodi to cut the size of a reserve account.
At $123.8 million the budget has exploded since Roberts took office in 2001, when he inherited a $52 million spending plan. Last night’s meeting was procedural in nature, so it was brief. The big budget meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday, March 18th. The public will have the chance to comment on the amendments, followed by a final vote on the plan. Watch for lots of posturing and pontificating at that meeting, but no matter the final vote Tripodi has the power to implement her spending plan.
Check out the Fiscal Monitor’s eye-opening comments below.
Judge Judy’s budget verdict is in
State fiscal monitor Judy Tripodi is making it clear that it took several years of fiscal mismanagement to get Hoboken in the budget mess it’s in today. In a three page memo obtained by Hoboken411, Tripodi lays out her Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Amendments, and puts to rest the myth that a failed vote to adopt an under funded budget last June would have saved Hoboken from a massive tax increase.
Tripodi spends months scrubbing the books
The budget process began in August with the introduction of Mayor David Roberts’ first draft of an FY2009 spending plan. It has taken this long for Tripodi to wade through the muck to find what she believes are the real numbers and introduce her own amendments. Tripodi writes:
“The budgets of the past were significantly under funded and the real cost of City operations was not transparent. Over many years, the tax levy remained artificially low while deficits grew exponentially, but were covered by budget gimmickry.”
If you are thinking that sounds more like what Beth Mason has been saying for the last six years than what you expected to hear from Tripodi, you’re not alone. Mason spent many thousands of dollars suing the administration trying to get public records to prove exactly what Tripodi is saying. Operations were not transparent, and we are now paying dearly for it.
Tripodi on the Mayor’s past “Budget Trickery”
Tripodi also says the $125.8 million budget she is offering puts a stop to the Roberts trickery of the past:
“While this is an exceedingly painful budget, the numbers are real. There are no one-shot revenues, no gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors, every number contained in this amendment has been analyzed numerous times, verified and supported with documentation.”
Tripodi goes on to make it clear that Peter Cammarano’s claim that “If only the council had adopted a budget in June, there never would have been a substantial tax increase” is patently false. The memo from the fiscal monitor frankly states that several years of budget trickery manifested itself into this year’s debacle, and that Hoboken would have had to pay the piper for it eventually either way:
“The failure of Council to adopt the FY 2009 budget exasperated an already failed process… If the city was not placed under State Supervision and the Director did not allow (Roberts’) over expenditures to be raised over 7 years and, if certain actions were not taken immediately (by Tripodi) such as instituting a hiring freeze, spending freeze, laying off of provisional employees, eliminating services and programs, and taking other steps necessary to reduce costs, the tax levy for FY 2009 would have been much greater.”
And just how poorly did Dave Roberts put together the FY 2008 budget? You already know about the last minute $11 million in over expenditures. Tripodi talks about revenue issues as well:
“All miscellaneous revenues anticipated (by Tripodi) are based on 8 months’ realization plus realistic projections of amounts to be received through June 30, 2009. In the prior year’s budget (by Roberts), miscellaneous revenues anticipated were overstated, resulting a shortfall in this revenue category of over $3.1 million.”
The state fiscal monitor also points out how the line item for Roberts’ Over Expenditure of Appropriations reflects an astounding 1/7th of the actual total for the year ending 2008:
“The total for over expenditures and erroneous budget charges of $11,335,748 includes:
- $7 million in health benefits
- $1.9 million in police salaries and wages
- $677 thousand in sanitation and other expense
- $221 thousand in street lighting
- $254 thousand in Social Security
- $112 thousand in electricity
- and smaller amounts in a host of other line items
But will Hoboken’s taxes ever go down?
According to Tripodi, they should. She notes the taxpayers must “carry a heavy burden of paying for the sins of the past,” but her budget also is a start “in setting the City on sound financial footing.” In addition to his faulty logic about the June budget vote, Cammarano is also promising to lower taxes. Tripodi’s memo makes it clear that taxes are probably falling after this crisis no matter what. It’s just a question of by how much:
“For FY 2010, many of the one time costs will be eliminated. There will be a full year of savings from retirements and layoffs. Hopefully, labor contracts, more favorable to the City, will be negotiated, resulting in savings in many areas. If the city continues on the course of fiscal austerity, this egregious burden on the taxpayers will be reduced.”
So, the bottom line from Tripodi seems to be those council members who refused to adopt an under funded budget in June (Castellano, Cunningham, Mason, Russo and Zimmer) made the decision that allowed the true extent of the budget mess to be revealed and addressed. She makes clear that years and years of trickery led to the 47% tax increase, not a single vote of the council as Cammarano continues to claim.
On Wednesday night the council will hold a special meeting to accept Tripodi’s budget amendments so a public hearing may follow before an adoption on March 18th. Click here for the full Fiscal Monitor Memo, and here for the FY 2009 budget amendment spreadsheets.
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