The effects of the new City Council alignment have already begun to reverberate up the walls of City Hall to the desk of Mayor Dawn Zimmer. The mayor’s critics are now in charge of the nine-member legislative body.
After Councilwoman Beth Mason and Councilman Michael Russo – both critics of Zimmer – were elected and sworn in as council president and vice president at this past Wednesday’s council meeting, Russo made his first major move as vice president. He introduced an amended temporary budget appropriation which he said will push the administration to present 2011 budget to the City Council.
Hoboken has a long history of presenting late budgets, and Russo doesn’t want to wait. Hoboken budgets have topped $90 million in the past.
“The council wants the  budget by the first week in February.” – Councilman Michael Russo
“The council wants the  budget by the first week in February,” Russo said on Thursday. “We’re looking at getting a temporary budget [at the next meeting], and at that point, the administration can always go come back to the City Council.”
Councilman Peter Cunningham, a Zimmer ally, applauded Russo’s efforts, but said he was being “short sighted.” Councilman Ravinder Bhalla, another Zimmer ally, called it a “good faith effort to increase accountability” and had no problem with the numbers, but said he was concerned that the amendments weren’t presented to the administration or the council until minutes before the vote was called.
Russo said he tried to work with the administration, but was unable to receive a copy of the draft budget.
Hard to pay expenses now?
The issue was tabled entirely until the next meeting, which may make paying some city expenses difficult. On Friday, Zimmer received a letter from the state indicating that the city could not pay its employees without approval from the council. A special meeting has been scheduled for Monday at 8 p.m. at City Hall to address budget appropriations.
“I think this was irresponsible, and I hope this is not an indication of what their actions are going to be in the future,” Zimmer said on Thursday.
The city will not pay any bills until a temporary budget is passed.
Zimmer said the goal is still to have the budget introduced on Feb. 10.
“We have a number of issues that are in the works that tie into the budget,” Zimmer said. “Our hope is to try and introduce the budget by Feb. 10. That is the statutory date by which budgets are supposed to be introduced.”
Rec fee discussion – again
The public came out to voice their opinions on the $25 recreation fees the council imposed in 2010. The administration has said that charging for kids’ participation in Recreation Department sports is fiscally responsible, while critics have said the programs should be free.
Councilman Tim Occhipinti made it a point of his November council campaign to have the fees repealed. After the City Council voted to repeal the fee by a 5-4 margin at the Dec. 15 council meeting, Zimmer vetoed the repeal and kept the fee in place. The charge is $25 per child, per sport. Many other cities have this fee, but it was never in place in Hoboken.
Wednesday, Councilman Nino Giacchi said, “You’re already taxing the people that are being taxed. We don’t need another tax.”
In order to overturn the veto, Occhipinti needed a supermajority, or six out of the nine council members, to vote against the mayor’s veto in a resolution. Occhipinti got four colleagues to join him, not enough to repeal the fee.
Occhipinti has said he would continue to work with Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini to reach common ground on the fee. Pellegrini has voiced his support for the fee in the past.
Council representatives and members of the public also spoke out on the city’s response to the blizzard on the evening of Dec. 26.
While most council members agreed that it was a very large winter storm, some were less forgiving of the administration for the snow on the streets.
Zimmer, as well as some directors of the city, was out of town during the storm because of the proximity to the holiday weekend, which irked Russo, who asked for a roll call of the directors at the meeting to see who was at work in the city during the storm.
Giacchi said he would like to see a prepared plan in place for the city of Hoboken to deal with such storms.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.
Coming soon: Rent control
Hoboken City Council President Beth Mason said after the Wednesday council meeting that she would like the council to have the issue of rent control on the agenda the next time the council convenes on Jan. 19.
The issue has been controversial since the city’s first rent control law was proposed in 1972 and passed in 1973. Rent control limits the amount that landlords can raise the rent on most units built in Hoboken before 1987. There are several exceptions to the rule. But any major changes proposed over the last four decades have met with loud criticism.
Interested parties in the rent control debate flooded the public portion of the meeting on Jan. 5, all seeming impatient for the issue to be addressed, agreeing that some type of reform is necessary.
Ron Simoncini, a frequent speaker on rent control and spokesperson for a group of landlords called the Mile Square Taxpayers Association, preached caution about the changes, and told the council to consider the impact of their actions.
“You’ve been suffering for years with the [ordinance] you have now,” Simoncini said.
Mason said the reform would not be a “full change” of the ordinance, but would address the problems identified by the residents and subcommittee members.
Tenants also took to the microphone to ask Mason if the information could be seen by the interested parties before it is voted on. Mason said she would share information about proposed changes to the rent control ordinance after her subcommittee members, council members Bhalla and Russo, have reviewed the details.
While both sides of this hot button issue acted cordially on Jan. 5, at the next council meeting, they could be at odds as the issue. – Ray Smith