City Treasurer Doug Gulch said noted that the new tax rate is still 2 percent lower than it was in the year 2000.
"The tax rate goes up a few pennies here, a few pennies there," he said. "You have to look at it across the years."
Although the budget did not cause much controversy, political tensions flared between two observers after the meeting, causing a fight to break out in the gymnasium of the pavilion. (See sidebar below) The meeting had been held at the 39th Street Pavilion as part of the mayor's attempt to make the meetings more accessible to the public by moving them to different areas of the city.
At the meeting, Stack said, "It is with great pleasure that we hold this public hearing on the city's municipal budget for the fiscal year of 2005."
Stack stated that constructing this budget, like those of prior years, was not an easy task due to a decrease in state aid and to increases in expenses like salaries, insurance, fire protection, and solid waste costs.
According to Gutch, the budget was up about $1.5 million in spending from last year. He said this was due in part to an increase granted to the North Hudson Regional Fire Department.
"The budget was first introduced in February, and was brought in last night for final adoption," said Gutch.
City officials said the budget is still approximately $1.8 million below the state mandated spending cap of 2.5 percent, which is the allowable increase in spending.
While the new budget will ask for more in taxes, more taxpayers are contributing to the amount. So this will keep the tax rate down. Last year the increased value of new construction amounted to $32.3 million, or 2.3 percent growth.
"The tax levy went up slightly, which people have already absorbed from last year to this year," said Gutch. "Taxes had also gone up slightly, but they are still less now then they were in 2000."
The city prides itself on maintaining very low administrative and executive costs, such as in the departments of Public Affairs, and Revenue and Finance, which has amounted to only 6 percent of the entire budget.
"There are many variables that affect a municipal budget, and they have to do with the state and federal budgets as well, in the amount of aid a city receives for homeland security and public works," said Gutch. "Those are the two main areas that affect a municipal budget."
In the years prior to the current administration, the financial operations were at a multi-million dollar deficit. There is now a multi-million dollar surplus, Gutch said.
The budget covers spending from last July through this coming June.
After the budget was discussed Tuesday, a question-and-answer period was granted.
Susan Golditz, a consultant from Golditz and Associates, was also on hand to field questions about the budget. Frank Scarafile, a member of an activist group that opposes Stack, asked if the city was building up a surplus, how much is budgeted for unemployment, and other matters.
He said that the administration was claiming that taxes are stable but not preparing enough for the city's fiscal stability in the future.
A few other people stepped forward with questions and concerns over the budget, which were answered by Gutch, Golditz and the mayor. Afterwards the budget was moved for final adoption to close the meeting.
sidebar Fists fly after meeting
Immediately following the end of the bimonthly Board of Commissioners meeting, Mayor Brian Stack called for a brief recess before beginning liquor license hearings.
However, as members of the public were starting to leave, a fistfight broke out in the middle of the gymnasium between Filippo Iacovelli, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, and Luis Ruiz, a resident and founding member of Younity, a political activist group that is usually against Brian Stack.
Apparently there had been an exchange of words before the meeting ended, and afterwards the altercation escalated into a fistfight between the two.
Ruiz claimed that Iacovelli instigated the scuffle after stepping on his foot as he was passing by, them making a rude comment to him. Iacovelli was unable to be reached for comment by press time. City officials said Iacovelli could not comment on the matter because it is still being investigated.
Police said that it was undetermined what the fight was actually about.
After the two men began to scuffle, others jumped in to break them up, including Mayor Stack, who was trying to calm down Iacovelli. Spectators Julio Fernandez and Hector Martinez also got involved.
"The only thing I was trying to do was break up the fight, and I fell over a mat and got spasms on my back," said Fernandez.
Police Chief Charles Everett and Union City policemen who were on duty responded. Ruiz and Fernandez were placed in handcuffs, while Iacovelli was not, but was escorted by police away from the two men. Chief Everett explained that the men were handcuffed for their safety while the situation was being controlled, but that no one was placed under arrest.
"They were unhandcuffed once the situation was calmed down; no one was brought [to the station] in handcuffs," said Everett.
According Chief Everett, Ruiz, Iacovelli, Fernandez, and Martinez were brought to headquarters by police, where they filed simple assault charges and counter-complaints.
Ruiz and Fernandez claimed they both sustained injuries in the fight. After leaving the precinct, Ruiz went to Meadowlands Hospital.
"I have lived in Union City for over 20 years, I have never been handcuffed and I have never been taken to the police station," said Ruiz. "To go through this was an outrage. I am just a concerned citizen attending the commissioners' meetings."
Mayor Stack stated, "It's very unfortunate. I move these meetings all over the city to try and make them accessible to the public. I feel there is a group of people that come to be disruptive, and I just want to make it clear that [this incident] had nothing to do with the running of these meetings or the commissioners and myself. I feel this is an isolated incident and I don't believe it will happen again." - Jessica Rosero