The Hudson County Board of Freeholders voted on May 25 to approve their $540 million 2016 budget. Jersey City will see the largest increase in how much they have to contribute this year, followed by Hoboken, Weehawken, and Union City.
The county budget is made up of two parts: revenues, the income taken in through grants, state and federal aid, and taxes; and expenditures, the costs for salaries, programs, and items. County taxes usually are one of three elements in the quarterly tax bill that homeowners pay.
Residents pay quarterly taxes that are determined by the budgets of the city, the schools, and the county.
This year, non-tax revenues declined, while the county implemented a number of programs that resulted in cost increases, County Executive Tom DeGise said.
The budget was originally more than $16 million more than last year when introduced in April. Freeholders managed to trim the increase to $13 million. The increase was due largely to reduced state aid and salary increases.
County tax is configured differently than municipal and school tax rates. The county divides its total budget among the 12 municipalities based on total tax ratable base in each town. If a municipality’s total ratables rise, it must pay for a larger percentage of the county budget. This is passed on to individual taxpayers.
“We should not be pitting one project against another.” – Freeholder Bill O’Dea.
“I voted against it because the state equalized valuation formula puts an unfair burden on Jersey City, who has to absorb $10.3 million of a $13 million increase though we only have 38 percent of the county population,” Freeholder Bill O’Dea said.
DeGise said when introducing the budget earlier this year that Hoboken’s rising ratables (taxpaying properties) and increasing rental units contributed to the increase in its portion of the county taxes.
What was unusual this year was the increase in Union City.
“Union City had a lot of new development this year,” Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano said.
DeGise said ratable increases around the county were also a significant factor in the budget increase.
While the increased rate of growth and revenues could have reduced the countywide tax rate by 9 cents this year, increased costs will actually cause the tax rate to rise by 4.2 percent, from $2.23 per thousand dollars of assessed value to $2.37. But this is somewhat deceptive, since the county bills each town.
Also somewhat deceptive is the average assessment on residential homes, since several towns have not done a revaluation in many years, and their tax values do not actually reflect the rising values of homes. In Jersey City, the average residential assessment is still $93,500.
Freeholders look to steer money to Hoboken road repair
“I voted against the budget,” said Romano. “But I want to make it clear that the county does its best to provide services to Hoboken. This is despite the misleading statements by members of the Hoboken City Council who say we do not.”
Romano, who also represents Jersey City Heights, said that while he voted against the budget, he believes Hoboken is getting services from the county.
“I do my best to make sure my constituents get their fair share of services,” he said.
He and other freeholders discussed money for road repair at the meeting. On Oct. 8, 2010, a section of Sinatra Drive between 13th and 14th Streets collapsed, prompting a costly emergency repair. The wooden piling on which the road had been built had been infected with a parasite called a ship worm, which slowly caused the wood to deteriorate. Romano said inadequate work done on Sinatra Drive near 14th Street in the late 1990s led the collapse of one section of roadway, and put at least two other sections of the road at risk. County officials learned in early 2011 that additional sections of the road were at risk of collapse, but work has yet to be started to repair it.
“We arranged to have this done back in 2011,” said O’Dea. “Now it looks as if this won’t start until 2018. That’s unacceptable.”
Part of the reason is that grant money needed to pay for the repair may not be available because at least three projects in Hoboken are competing for the same dollars.
The problem with the funding came to light when the County Department for Roads and Public Property asked for an extension of time to amend and re-allocate $1 million of a 2103 Local Bridge Grant agreement that was supposed to include the rehabilitation of Columbus Bridge over the Conrail Track and Path Station at Journal Square as well as the reconstruction of Sinatra Drive North at the 14th and 15th Street extensions.
The delay, according to county officials, came because the county was unable to obtain a responsive bid for the work on Columbus Bridge. The design for the Hoboken road repairs is only just being completed.
The county engineer is recommending that the Columbus project be delayed in order to focus on Hoboken and that the deadline for what was once considered an emergency in Hoboken be extended from May to September.
Both projects are considered vital. The Columbus Bridge project in Jersey City is needed partly because of the large amount of new development in the area, and the need to help upgrade the local transportation facilities.
“We should not be pitting one project against another,” said O’Dea, who represents that portion of Jersey City.
But he questioned why the county has waited so long to deal with the Hoboken problem. While the county successfully repaired the area of collapse, a 2012 report suggested that additional sections of Sinatra Drive were at risk.
“Some of those roads were constructed over the original wood bridges when they should have been replaced,” said Romano.
A report given to the freeholders in early 2012 suggested the next block north from the site of the original collapse might also be at risk since Sinatra Drive between 14th and 15th streets was constructed on the same kind of wooden piling as the area that had collapsed.
O’Dea said the work in Hoboken would not likely start until early 2018.
Some road disputes with Hoboken resolved
Hoboken and Hudson County have come to an agreement to have Hoboken reimburse the county for security and other costs incurred by the county on county roads when the city has done roadwork near county roadways. This comes after a conflict between Hoboken and Hudson County over costs incurred for work done on Observer Highway.
Security costs on future projects will be paid for by Hoboken.
Meanwhile the freeholders have agreed to allow Hoboken to install signage along Observer Highway, such as “Welcome to Hoboken,” and decorative directional signs to popular Hoboken attractions. Hoboken will pay for the signs and their installation, but needs county approval to install them along a county road.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.