Budget bickering continues

Council arguments begin; residents can voice opinion at meeting Wednesday

The public will get to sound off on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at City Hall on the controversial, six month transition year budget.
Since the Sept. 1 council meeting when the budget was introduced, directors have filed into the council chambers to defend their own departmental budgets to the City Council in a series of workshops. The main issue at hand, and the cause of a large political battle in the city, is whether an anticipated $10 million surplus is too high for the city of Hoboken to keep stored away for what Mayor Dawn Zimmer refers to as the possibility of “a rainy day.”
The political battles have, for the most part, been about tax cuts.

Talk of the surplus

Councilwoman Beth Mason has been critical of the proposed surplus. The city, which operates with an approximately $11.8 million unrestricted cash surplus, plans to use $1.8 million in tax relief. Some council members want more.


“It’s a prudent, responsible budget that provides some [tax] relief.” – Councilman Peter Cunningham

However, the council majority, including Councilman Michael Lenz, have said that with a higher surplus, the city will be able to borrow at a better rate.
At a special council meeting Wednesday night, Mason asked Steven Wielkotz, city auditor, if the surplus is recommended to be between five and 10 percent of the budget, which is correct, according to the administrators. Mason has previously called for more of the budget surplus to be returned to the taxpayers, and echoed that stance on Wednesday night.

Cuts in spending

Lenz, an ally of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, said the city is trying to lower taxes, but there needs to be compromises.
“At one meeting, we could sit here and say we shouldn’t lay off any police officers and we should completely fund public safety,” Lenz said. “And at the next, say we should have a 25 percent tax cut.”
One campaign promise from Zimmer was a 25 percent tax cut in the first year, which was not met. Members of the council minority who frequently oppose the mayor have previously brought up the fact that this 25 percent tax cut has not occurred.
“The reality is that in order to cut this budget any further, we’re going to have to reduce our spending,” Lenz said. “To say we want a 20 percent to 25 percent tax cut translates directly into salary cuts or layoffs or reductions in force. It can’t happen any other way.”

County issues

Tim Occhipinti, a candidate for Lenz’s 4th Ward seat in November, spoke about county taxes and how they will affect Hoboken.
“I want the public to know their overall tax bill will not decrease,” Occhipinti said. “The county bill increased by $6 million. Why is [the county] increasing taxes this year in the City of Hoboken? Perhaps it’s political, perhaps it’s because, Mr. Lenz, you are a political employee. I don’t like the fact that no one is fighting for us down here.”
Lenz, who works for the county, has been attacked by Occhipinti for his county work in the past. Lenz addressed Occhipinti’s comments later in the meeting.
“We can spend all day waving our fists at the county of Hudson and say we’re taxed too much, and we’d be right,” Lenz said. “We are taxed too much. If we said to the county freeholders we are taxed too much, do they have the legal right to change the formula?”
Wielkotz said no.
Other council members thought the budget plan was a good one.
“I commend Councilman Lenz and the administration for their work on the budget,” Cunningham said. “It’s a prudent, responsible budget that provides some [tax] relief. While we have challenges for 2011, we’re financially set to address those challenges next year.”
Resident Lane Bajardi said the five percent decrease is political, and will allow for greater tax relief when more council seats are up for election in May.
The transitional year budget only allows the city to cut taxes by five percent, according to Wielkotz.
The public hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29, but the council voted to advertise the budget hearing for Oct. 6, the next council meeting.

Closed session

The last item on the agenda for the Wednesday special council meeting was a closed session in regards to ‘pending litigation.’
The closed session was about the lawsuit with S. Hekemian Group, a development company suing the city for breach of contract for the terminated sale of the Observer Highway garage. Both parties claim the other side breached the contract, and will fight it out for a $2.55 million deposit, which is currently in escrow.
One source said the issue will be brought up at the next council meeting.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.

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