Mayor Fulop rather boldly announced that “we are winning the fight against crime here in Jersey City” when he presented his 2016 State of the City Address on Wednesday, March 16.
Unfortunately, the number of murders in Jersey City has increased in each year of his administration to 25 in 2015 and culminated in the killing of a shopkeeper on a Saturday afternoon the week before Christmas.
In his address, the mayor described hiring 55 police officers in 2015 and 150 police officers overall since taking office. Unfortunately, with attrition the police force only had a net increase of 30 officers and his administration is failing to bring the department up from 800 officers to 950 officers that the public safety director previously reported that the Police Department Table of Organization calls for. If the city is falling short of recruiting and retaining officers, more effort and resources must be directed into this area.
The relationship between the police and community also is not improving and the administration has only avoided public inquiries into forming a Civilian Complaint Review Board as the City of Newark as established.
The administration has touted that there has not been a property tax increase in three years. True, but in addition to the very strong regional economy, the city took $4.5m in 2015 and $5.5m in 2016 in overpayments made to the JC MUA. Instead of allowing the overpayment to be returned to ratepayer, it was used to cover the city budget and hide tax increases. And had the administration had been more successful in hiring police officers, there would have been a tax increase.
It is important to recognize that the city has not rolled back any of the previous administration’s tax increases that the mayor had relentlessly criticized when he served on the city council. Instead, the administration has continue to oversee an expansion of public spending, from $455,575,400 in 2012 to $553,128,653 in 2016, an increase of 21 percent (5.36 percent per year), well in excess of inflation. This will only make the pain of the looming property tax revaluation worse. While the city spends money in an attempt to stall it, the wealthiest part of the city continues to be subsidized by the poorest part of the city. The administration could instead be exploring ways to mitigate its impact through reducing the assessed value of properties owned by long-term owner occupants as Philadelphia does this through a homestead exemption program.
In his address, the mayor touted the newly-formed Office of Innovation, while worthy in name, it is focusing on revitalizing neighborhood shopping districts, not innovation or new ideas, devices, or methods, nor introducing or delivering service via a more robust city website, nor utilizing open data which the mayor also mentioned. The mayor touted the city’s Open Data Portal, which unfortunately provides very little open data (raw data from government processes) and instead mostly contains existing documents and agendas that were moved from elsewhere on the city website.