The show must go on.
After the two-hour portion of the April 6 City Council meeting in which residents discussed the recent controversy surrounding Councilman Michael Russo (see other cover story), the council convened until nearly 2 a.m. to address other city business.
The council held a public hearing on the proposed $101 million budget, revisited a controversial rent control ordinance, refused to pay PSE&G this month because of some unfinished business, and also entertained the idea of an estimated $200,000 expenditure to investigate two city spokesmen’s city e-mail accounts.
By the summer, residents may be able to skip the frustrating lines at the Parking Utility office.
The city has not yet taken a final vote on its proposed $101 million budget for this calendar year. Residents were invited to speak out on it Wednesday night.
The major issue of debate is how much of the city’s surplus should help fund it or be retained. Mayor Dawn Zimmer has encouraged the council to hold onto a 5 percent cash budget surplus in order to, among other reasons, increase the city’s bond rating. But Council President Beth Mason and Occhipinti have said that some of the money should go back to the taxpayers to lower tax bills now.
Only three residents, all allies of Zimmer, spoke on the budget.
“I urge you to agree with the mayor on a 5 percent minimum reserve,” said resident Scott Siegel. “If you do that, you’re budget hawks. If you don’t, you’re budget chickens.”
Councilman Michael Russo, an ally of Mason, has referred to himself as a “budget hawk” in the past.
Former Councilman Michael Lenz urged the council to maintain a surplus and not give in to “one-shot revenues.”
Local blogger and Zimmer supporter Roman Brice asked the council “to be responsible” with the budget.
The final vote on the budget has not yet been scheduled.
Rent control revisited
Ever since the council voted unanimously in favor of three changes to the city’s 1973 rent control ordinance in early March, tenant advocates have taken to the streets to gather signatures for a referendum protesting the changes.
The changes limit tenant reimbursement for rent overcharges to two years, and make it easier for landlords to provide alternative documents to increase the rent after someone vacates. Landlords are also required to distribute a pamphlet outlining tenant’s rights and obtain signatures confirming delivery whenever a change in rent or tenancy occurs.
Over the years, tenant advocates have seen any changes to the law as a weakening of its protections of tenants.
Tenant advocates submitted a petition to the city clerk’s office in late March which contained 1,442 signatures. They have called for the new changes to be suspended, and then either be repealed by the council or placed on the ballot as a referendum in May.
On Wednesday, the clerk’s office and the city attorney said that the petition was not sufficient because the tenant advocates needed to gather 2,188 signatures, a number equivalent to 15 percent of the voters in the previous General Assembly election.
Tenant advocates fought that claim at the meeting, but said that even if it were true, they would, by law, have 10 days to fix the deficiencies.
Tenant advocates Cheryl Fallick and Dan Tumpson cited state statutes that indicate the changes to rent control should have been suspended based on the filing of the petition. However, since the city is saying the filing was insufficient, the three changes are currently in effect. An ordinance which proposed making small wording changes to rent control on Wednesday’s agenda was tabled. If the ordinance is changed, the tenant advocates may have to go out and start gathering petitions from scratch.
Ron Simoncini, a spokesperson for landlords, said that since the law would be different from what is on the petition, the signatures will not apply.
The issue will be addressed at the next council meeting.
Seeking spokesmen’s e-mails – for $200K
Mason sponsored a resolution calling for the release of all e-mails from the city accounts of Communications Director Juan Melli and Zimmer’s confidential aide, Dan Bryan, that were sent and received since Jan. 1, 2010.
Mason said that she would like to conduct an investigation to see whether or not city money is being used to pay for political work. Melli earns $75,000 annually and Bryan earns $46,100 annually.
Part of the problem for Mason is that she believes the city website is used for political purposes without providing council members the opportunity to respond.
However, City Attorney Mark Tabakin estimated that the investigation would cost the city between $180,000 and $200,000 to hire attorneys to review all of the emails before they are released. Tabakin said the number of emails requested total approximately 35,000.
Russo, who had seconded the resolution before hearing Tabakin’s comments, said he was “not prepared to spend that kind of money” for the council’s investigation, and agreed to pull it from the agenda.
“You have the power to investigate for legislative purposes,” Tabakin said. “You need to figure out who’s doing the investigation, how you’re going to fund it.”
Zimmer disagreed with the resolution when asked about it on Thursday.
“It was a politically motivated fishing expedition at [the] taxpayer’s expense,” Zimmer said. “I think it is ironic that they were proposing to spend taxpayer dollars for purely political purposes. I have never seen a more stark example of the pot calling the kettle black.”
The resolution may return at a different meeting with more specific parameters.
Less time in parking line
By the summer, residents may be able to skip the frustrating lines in the Parking Utility office by obtaining permits and conducting other parking business from their home computers.
The City Council approved a $109,790 contract with enfoTech to provide software services until March 16, 2012, which will implement a new online system for the Parking Utility.
Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs said the system will make it “dramatically easier” for residents, visitors, or business employees to conduct business with the Parking Utility.
Sacs estimates that the system will be up and running in July.
Other business addressed; public comments
– The City Council voted not to pay PSE&G because streetlights and lampposts have not been fixed throughout the city. Council members said they will not pay PSE&G until they receive confirmation from the city’s environmental services department that PSE&G fixed problems throughout Hoboken.
– The council honored Roger J. Muller Jr. and Erika Muller of Muller Insurance in a resolution on Wednesday. The corner of 10th and Washington streets was renamed John Muller Way, after the founder of Muller Insurance, who first opened up shop in Hoboken 105 years ago.
– Councilwoman Theresa Castellano noted in the new business portion of the meeting that she would look to implement some of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day zero tolerance policies for the entire year. “There are things we can do to prevent the revelry every weekend,” she said.
– Russo held a community meeting on Thursday night with residents to begin planning for the expected new park the 3rd Ward will receive following the approval of a $20 million bond ordinance for more parks citywide at the last meeting.
– Resident Hany Ahmed, who is planning to open a business in uptown Hoboken in an area zoned industrial, asked the city for some changes in the parking regulations. “You have an [industrial] section of town, yet you have residential-only parking,” he said. “That in it of itself is ironic and completely unfair.”
The next City Council meeting is April 20.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com