By the slim margin of 5 to 4 at their June 19 meeting, the Hudson County Freeholders approved the county budget, which rose by $11.8 million from last year.
This budget reflects a 4.8 percent hike in taxes, with Hoboken, Jersey City, North Bergen and Bayonne expected to see the heaviest increases.
This year, the county needs to raise $257 million (up by almost $12 million from last year), with Jersey City taxpayers – who already pay the largest portion of the county taxes – seeing an increase of $2.1 million for a total of $85.3 million.
The largest increase will be felt by Hoboken, whose taxpayers will be asked to pay $2.6 million more than last year, rising to $37 million. North Bergen will see an increase of $2.4 million, and Bayonne, $1.9 million.
East Newark is the only town of the 12 Hudson County municipalities that will see a decrease, raising $141,000 less than last year.
Freeholders Al Cifelli, Doreen DiDomenico, Thomas Leggio, and Eliu Rivera cast votes in favor of the budget, although even some of them claimed they were not happy with the increase.
“We need to do something now to deal with increases we know will be coming next year.” – Bill O’Dea
Freeholders Bill O’Dea, Anthony Romano, Jose Munos and Tilo Rivas voted against it.
Although this budget was an increase of about 4.8 percent from last year’s budget, O’Dea predicts next year’s budget will be worse because the number of tax appeals is three times higher than this year.
O’Dea said the county has to move aggressively in a number of areas.
“We need to do something now to deal with increases we know will be coming next year,” he said.
While he doesn’t normally approve of one-shot revenue deals to fill budget gaps, he said the county has failed to move the sale of the Kopper’s Koke property in Kearny.
He said the county cannot afford to work on a time table set by New Jersey Transit, which is expected to purchase a significant portion of the project.
“We might be able to get as much as a $10 million down payment,” he said.
Hudson County took possession of the 20-acre contaminated site in Kearny in the late 1980s as a possible location for a county incinerator. Lack of easy access to the site and cleanup concerns has kept the property from being marketed easily. New Jersey Transit is seeking to purchase a portion of the property as a site for possible office and retail development.
Weight station would help raise revenues
O’Dea and the dissident freeholders said the county needs to lobby the state to change the law that would allow sheriff’s officers to operate weights and measures facilities.
The county lost millions of dollars in annual revenue back in 1995 when then County Executive Robert Janiszewski eliminated the county police, dividing the duties of that department between the county sheriff and corrections department. State law, however, says that a county weight station must be operated by county police.
The county doesn’t merely lose potential fines and fees associated with truck traffic passing through, but also the county’s inability to make sure that trucks are carrying proper weight allows trucks to travel with excess loads, often doing damage to local highways and roads.
O’Dea estimated the county loses about $2 to $3 million in fees a year.
Although he sees next year as a worse year for the county with a flood of tax appeals coming in, he said the following year should be better. He also said the state is planning its own economic stimulus package that could help renew the local economy a few years from now. Also, federal funding and bonding are allowing the county to get significant work down on infrastructure and other projects.
In introducing the budget earlier this year, County Executive Tom DeGise said the county has taken steps to minimize the impact of increasing operational costs. As of July 1, all non-union employees will begin paying for a portion of their health benefit premiums, and the county will begin negotiations to get similar concessions from union workers.
The county has also begun to reduce the work force through attrition, and hopes to save as much as $5 million over the next two years.
O’Dea, however, said the county still relies too much on high-priced contracts with outside vendors for professional services, which need to be trimmed or eliminated. In one instance medical services at the correctional center added $1.2 million to this year’s budget.
DeGise also proposed furloughs for county workers, but these were withdrawn when it became clear overtime costs would cut into possible savings and sometimes put staff on assignments for which they might have limited experience.