2010 Hoboken Budget Debacle Begins
You like staring at numbers that will certainly change?
Well, here’s your chance. The Hoboken FY 2010 (first version) Budget. All in one easy to read document. Note that the numbers were achieved by “stabbing in the dark” according to Nick Trasente.
Enjoy! (click to read)
While some folks in Hoboken may tout last night’s budget introduction as a “stunning achievement,” or something ridiculous along those lines – be aware that you shouldn’t count your eggs before they hatch. It was only an introduction, and the overall presentation had more holes than Tiger Woods’ career. Let’s review some bullet points shall we?
Budget Introduction Recap
For nearly two hours Nick Trasente, Hoboken’s State-appointed Finance Director, led the council members and the public through his Powerpoint presentation of the 2010 City Budget. He informed the public that he would only be taking questions from the council, not members of the public.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer and State Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi were both no-shows. This is surprising that Zimmer didn’t bother to introduce her first budget as Mayor, even Dave Roberts attended council meetings for budget introductions. Some may argue that this isn’t Zimmer’s budget, it is Judy Tripodi’s, however, Nick Trasente mentioned several times last night that Mayor Zimmer “met with everyone” regarding this budget.
Largest components of this budget:
- Salary & Wages: $44,186,158
- Debt Service: $8,659,817
- Pension: $6,886,454
- Health Benefits/Other Insurance: $15,985,031
- Salary Settlements & Adjustments: $4,500,000
Notes, Observations and Future Considerations
- Trasente said that this budget DOES NOT include the impending INCREASES in Salary & Wages, Health Benefits, and Pensions.
- The budget only allocates for a $500,000 decrease in State Aid which doesn’t seem realistic since Corzine plans to withdraw $20.7 Million dollars in already committed Municipal funds and he expects department heads to identify $400 million in spending cuts.
- There’s no provision to cover major expenses such as the projected cost of Sinatra Field/pier repair which could be anywhere from $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 or more.
- There’s no provision for a financial calamity such as the potential collapse of HUMC which could cost the taxpayers a minimum of $65,000,000 in debt (bond plus interest).
- And to everyone’s dismay, NO BUDGET CUTS! The 25% tax cut promised by Dawn Zimmer is nowhere to be found in this budget. And the promises in Zimmer’s campaign literature: “She is identifying cost-efficiencies in order to make meaningful budget cuts.” (October 2009 mailer) and this gem: “Only Dawn Zimmer has a detailed plan to cut municipal taxes by 25% in the first year alone. “ (June 2009 mailer) never made an appearance last night. How does that make you feel?
- Not only are there no budget cuts, but Trasente said there would be “seven or eight” additional positions filled in the new budget, including a health officer, building inspector and nurse.
- Lastly, much of last year’s tax increase was caused by Tripodi’s insistence that the an $8.6 million “Reserve for Uncollected Taxes” be raised. That was overkill, but the money was taken out of taxpayers’ pockets and won’t be put back despite the fact the reserve in the new budget is only $380,000! A surplus of over $3 million from last year is also built into the new budget (the city didn’t even send thank you cards!)
Council Questions & Answers (sort of)
Following the presentation, council members were given time to ask Trasente questions. Councilman Ravi Bhalla said he didn’t like what he was seeing and that there isn’t a substantial reduction in any department from 2009 to 2010. (What are the Vegas odds for him breaking from the crew for his own Mayoral run in 2013?)
Council President Peter Cunningham said it’s incumbent upon the Directors to focus on efficiencies in their departments. (Nice way to pass the buck!)
Then Cunningham turned it over to newly appointed 4th Ward Councilman Mike Lenz as Chair of the Finance Committee to add “color to the discussion.” (That’s code for “run the show.”)
Unimpressive Rambling Councilman
“Is it a good budget?” Lenz softly asks. “I don’t know,” he responds to himself.
“Is it a bad budget?” Lenz continues. “I don’t know.” (again, brilliant.)
“But it is a budget,” Lenz finally surmises. (Eureka! We have a genius at the mic!)
At this point, Lenz rambles and lectures for another 5-7 minutes… then, “Where are we?” Lenz asks. (Good question because the room was falling asleep!)
“We have a budget…” Lenz continues to a room of sighs and groans.
After the Lengthy Lenz Lecture (411 just coined a new one: “LLL” or “Triple L’s”), Councilman Michael Russo adds that he doesn’t believe Dawn Zimmer had any input into the budget and wants her to send the council her proposals and plans (another reference to Zimmer’s campaign promises). Lenz responds to that by saying “She [the Mayor] has an important role to play BUT this is the council’s budget, not the Mayor’s or the Fiscal Monitor’s budget.”
So in one fell swoop, by design of course, Lenz was given the power to relieve Zimmer from the budget process, essentially taking over the role he was appointed to do: as Shadow Mayor of Hoboken.
Another Roberts-Style “Ballooning Budget?”
About an hour into his presentation, Trasente contradicts what Councilman Peter Cunningham said earlier in the day, claiming that the city would have to bond to pay about $3M worth of tax appeals. But now Nick claims that the city can only bond for tax refunds (only about $400k out of $3M), and only before they are issued. The city cannot bond for the tax credits or the refunds once they are sent out. So the city pretty much has to swallow close to a $3M revenue shortfall due to tax appeals.
Don’t you recall Roberts introducing a similar sized budget? Well, that budget eventually ballooned to $110M+ once all shortfalls were incorporated. If the trickery continues, you may very well be looking at a new record! But we’ll just have to wait and see about that…
More to come next month…
The Introduced Budget was voted on and approved by the council, but several council members refrained from asking questions, deciding to save them for the Budget Meeting which is scheduled for January 6th.