In last Wednesday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman’s article observed: “If you jump off an 80-story building for 79 stories you actually think you are flying. It’s the sudden stop at the end that always gets you.” Mr. Friedman was referring to the worldwide credit crisis, but he could just as easily have been describing Hoboken’s budget woes. We have been flying through the air for years, living in a fantasy-land where we could spend more and more while claiming that we were “holding the line” on taxes. In the real world, if your government spends more, it has to tax more – there’s no magic wand that allows us to do one without the other. Our 80-story flight has ended and we just hit the pavement, as we face years of misleading budgets that swept real costs under the rug.
Judy Tripodi, our new State fiscal monitor has provided us with a serious dose of reality. A year ago, Mayor Roberts presented the City Council with a “spending plan” that pretended that our problems could be solved with only a small tax increase, but Ms. Tripodi’s tax levy highlights a different reality. In a memo to the Council she states, “The City cannot continue to under fund its cost of operations, rely on one-shot revenue anticipation, and artificially maintain an insufficient tax levy.” Therefore, through some combination of tax increases, spending cuts, and responsible recurring revenue streams, we need to come up with the money to pay for last year’s deficit and this year’s expenses. Unfortunately, that is our reality.
Taxpayers and city workers are innocent victims and not the perpetrators in this fiasco, and we need keep this in mind as we move forward. Ms. Tripodi provided assurances that she is trying to figure out a plan to assist those residents who cannot possibly bear this tax burden all at once. We will do everything we can to work with her on this.
The unfortunate reality however is that both substantial tax increases and significant cost reductions must be implemented. Ms. Tripodi has proposed a tax levy based on the assumption that we can cut $4 million in expenditures over the last six months of the fiscal year. Hopefully we can do better, and reduce the tax burden further.
Everyone is going to have to compromise, including our public safety departments. There’s going to be efficiency evaluations of all departments, and new contracts are being negotiated this year. Ms. Tripodi told us that she will be at the negotiating table, bringing the message that Hoboken has reached its breaking point and changes must be made.
The steps that our circumstances are forcing upon us are politically difficult. But it is everyone’s responsibility to put politics aside and work together with Ms. Tripodi. Difficult choices will have to be made to balance the cost of running our City with an acceptable level of taxation. Working together, we are confident that a fiscally sound Hoboken can emerge that will preserve the character of the City that we all love.
4th Ward Councilperson
5th Ward Councilman