HOBOKEN -- At Wednesday night's City Council meeting, the council introduced a budget that covers spending from this past July 1 through next June 30, 2010. The city will pay $98.7 million, of which an estimated $55 million (the tax levy) comes from the taxpayers. The bulk of the rest tends to come from state aid (although the governor says aid to municipalities will drop this year), municipal court fines, and minor items like construction permits the city gives out.
The budget is down from last year's amount of $123.5 million, which was raised to cover years of underbudgeting, according to past statements from the state's appointed fiscal monitor, Judy Tripodi. Tripodi was installed to oversee Hoboken's finances two years ago after the council declined to vote for Mayor David Roberts' budget.
At Wednesday night's meeting, council members were glad to have a budget to work with, as budgets in Hoboken and other nearby cities have sometimes been as late as 10 or 11 months. Budgets are supposed to be ready in August or September.
But also at the meeting, new 4th Ward Councilman Michael Lenz, a former city CFO, complained that Tripodi was not at the meeting to answer questions. Tripodi has a policy of not coming to council meetings.
Lenz got applause from the audience for his comments.
How did city spending go from approximately $52 million 10 years ago to the point it’s at now?
Many say the problem actually started in the early 1990s, when the Port Authority was proposing to infuse millions of dollars of cash into Hoboken in order to build giant towers on the south waterfront piers. After residents protested this perceived overdevelopment, the massive development deals died in two public referendum votes, but the city leadership already had included the money as revenue in its budgets. This left budget deficits that only served to increase throughout the years.
As city spending ballooned, each city budget contained larger and larger holes that were always temporarily filled with sales of city land to developers and other revenue sources that wouldn’t return the following year.
Two years ago, the city budget increased to $102 million, and the City Council refused to pass it, saying they were not getting the proper financial information from the administration of Mayor David Roberts.
The state finally appointed a monitor to come in and correct the situation. This is her second fiscal year working in Hoboken.
For more details on the budget and the meeting, see this weekend's Hoboken Reporter newspaper, or watch this spot for updates.