Two days prior to the April 24 meeting that some city officials hope will resolve a budget impasse, Councilman Anthony Chiappone said he will not vote for a $23 million bond unless some action is taken by the mayor’s office to begin cutting back spending.
The City Council needs to pass a $23 million bond in order to fulfill its part of a complicated deal with the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority to balance a $135 million 2007 municipal budget.
Last month, the City Council agreed to lower the bond from $25 million to $23 million as part of a two-year plan to institute spending cuts.
While the City Council can pass the budget with a simple majority of three of five votes, the bond requires a supermajority, or four of five votes. Councilmembers Chiappone and Gary La Pelusa refused to vote in favor of the bond until the city agreed to begin austerity measures, cutting $2 million from the bond needed this year, and as much as $8 million to $10 million from the 2008 fiscal year budget next year.
The agreement would result in layoffs of employees starting on July 1, 2007, as well as significant cuts in spending throughout the city.
Because the city has already expended most of 2007 fiscal year budget, layoffs would have almost no effect this year, so Chiappone and La Pelusa agreed to delay them until July 1, when they would have the most impact in next year’s budget.
Since notice for union members, such as for the police and fire departments, requires as much as 60 days to implement, the city was supposed to begin the sorting process in April so that the layoffs could be made starting with the new budget year.
Chiappone said this has not be done, and will not vote for this year’s agreement until the mayor’s office shows some sign of living up to its part of the bargain.
A “free for all” meeting
A public hearing on the $23 million bond at the April 18 meeting turned into a free for all of raised voices and taunting, as hecklers for and against Chiappone and La Pelusa shouted over the objections of City County President Vincent Lo Re.
Perhaps the sharpest exchange was between Chiappone and former Councilwoman Maria Karczewski.
Karczewski read a scalding statement against Chiappone and La Pelusa, claiming the two hold-out councilmen were holding the city budget hostage.
When Chiappone called Karczewski’s statements “comical,” the former councilwoman leaped to her feet and yelled that she would not be ridiculed.
Chiappone, however, criticized Karczewski’s record as a council person.
“Had you done the right thing by the people when you had the chance, you would still be sitting up here,” he said.
Karczewski was edged out of office in last May’s municipal election in a large field of at-large council candidates.
Several council members, including Lo Re and John Halecky, tried to bring the meeting to order, later referring to the conflict as “embarrassing.”
Chiappone, however, said the attacks became personal rather than issue-oriented.
Mike Ransom, one of the residents who spoke at the pubic hearing on the bond, encouraged the council to vote the matter up or down to see where each council person stands.
La Pelusa, however, said there was no need for a vote because he and Chiappone made no secret of their opposition to the measure.
If the council cannot come to an agreement by June 30, the State of New Jersey will step in to resolve the matter, and will most likely force the city to raise taxes to make up for the budget gap. This could mean an increase of as much as $1,400 per home assessed at $130,000, which would have to be paid in one lump sum in the current tax payment.
Wait for the study?
The April 18 meeting also brought out an army of irritated firefighters, who raised protest to Chiappone’s suggestion that Bayonne look into supplementing its paid fire department with volunteers.
Representatives from rank and file and superior fire unions railed against Chiappone, saying that a combination department will not work in a city the size of Bayonne, although Chiappone argued that such departments do operate successfully in several cities across the state, including Perth Amboy and Bloomfield.
Union officials echoed some of the issues raised by Fire Director Patrick Boyle, saying that volunteers would not be able to meet the stringent response times needed in an emergency.
Brian McMonagle, the treasurer of the New Jersey Fireman’s Benevolent Association, argued that Bayonne is conducting a needs assessment for the police and fire departments and that the council should wait until it is complete.
City Finance Director Terrace Malloy said the study would likely be complete in June.
Firefighters walked out of the council chambers in protest when Chiappone tried to argue his side of the case. The fire department is currently short 20 firefighters from its optimum operating number under the Table of Organization. Other firefighters are expected to announce their retirement. Earlier this year, Chiappone and La Pelusa voted against using Urban Enterprise Zone funds to pay 75 percent of the salaries for 12 additional firefighters.
La Pelusa said he wanted to wait for the results of the city. Although the council overrode their objections and voted to set aside the money for hiring those 12 firefighters, none were hired, said Malloy, because of the impending threat of layoffs.
“Since they would be the first to be laid off,” Malloy said, “I saw no reason to hire them.”