Despite protests from scores of Jersey City residents at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the council voted to exceed state-imposed budget spending limits and increase taxes this year.
The council passed the ordinance to exceed limits by a vote of 5-3. Councilman Mariano Vega Jr. was absent from the meeting. Councilman Steven Fulop, Councilwoman Viola Richardson, and Councilwomen Nidia Lopez were the “nay” votes.
Despite $14 million in aid given to Jersey City by the state, the city’s $507 million budget is expected to result in a major tax increase this year.
The increased tax levy, and city employee furloughs expected to save $2 million, are attempts to close a budget deficit conservatively estimated to be over $40 million.
The budget runs from last July 1 through this coming June 30, 2010. Local budgets are often late as cities wait for state aid numbers.
Property owners pay one “overall tax” that is comprised of the city tax (the one affected by the city budget), the county tax, and the school tax.
Councilman Fulop said Wednesday that he understood the people’s “distrust” in the governing body and would continue to vote “no” as he has done in the past, saying it wasn’t fair to burden the taxpayers for the city government’s lack of fiscal responsibility.
When the budget was introduced Jan. 13, Fulop estimated the increased tax levy would cost taxpayers an additional $800 for a $100,000 property in the first quarter alone.
‘What have you done for this city?’
The residents demonstrated their approval of Fulop, Richardson, and Lopez’s votes with a large roar of applause and whistling, although Councilwoman Richardson asked them not to shout their approval.
Each vote to pass the ordinance was met by swarms of boos and jeers from the townspeople.
When the ordinance was opened for public comment, residents voiced their concerns and waved signs stating “Crooks, bring our tax money back from the Cayman Islands” and “Stop Taxes Now!”
City resident Yvonne Balcer questioned the governing body on why they try to provide affordable housing, but disregard the thought of affordable taxes.
“We can not live from hand to mouth anymore,” she said. Her plea resulted in cheering and a standing ovation from the audience.
During the open public hearing, more than 40 people signed up to voice their concerns. One by one, residents filed to the microphone, each telling the council a similar version of the same tale.
Some residents offered their alternatives to higher taxes, such as asking part-time city workers to give up benefits, cell phones, and city cars. They questioned why so many tax abatements were given to bail out developers. May pleaded with the council to find another way to tame the budget.
Esther Wintner called the council a bunch of “Corruptacrats.” When she asked the City Council, “What have you done for this city?” the crowd answered for them, blaring, “Nothing!”
City Clerk Robert Byrne finally got her to relinquish the podium as Ms. Wintner went over the allotted time of five minutes. She led the crowd in a chant of “No More Taxes!” while Council President Peter Brennan struggled to bring the room back to order.
As the city prepares the budget, it has attempted to make cuts. In a prepared statement, Mayor Jerramiah Healy stated that the city has dropped the number of fire companies from 26 to 22 and has asked department directors to make “sizeable cuts in their budgets.”
The mayor admitted that this is not going to fix the budget, but said, “Unfortunately, despite these drastic measures, there will still be a tax increase due to increased costs and decline in revenue.”
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