The City Council unanimously voted to introduce a $104.7 million municipal budget for 2013 on first reading on Wednesday night. A special meeting is scheduled for April 10 at City Hall at 7 p.m. for a public hearing.
The first of three special budget workshops, offered to give residents more information and answer any questions, was scheduled for Saturday, March 9. Subsequent workshops will be held Wednesday, March 13 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, March 21 from 5:30 to 9 p.m., both at City Hall in the City Council chambers.
The budget is up $2.4 million from last year’s initial budget of $102.3 million. Last year, taxes were expected to remain roughly the same, with a minimal tax rate decrease of .002 percent. This year, the budget proposal reflects a two percent municipal tax rate drop, according to city officials.
For a property with an average assessed value of $143,500, the proposed budget would result in a $53 annual decrease in municipal taxes, said City Spokesman Juan Melli.
The assessed value does not reflect what a property is actually worth, only the amount the city taxes. A city-wide property revaluation now underway and scheduled to complete in 2014 would potentially raise the taxable valuation of all properties to current market value, but that is not relevant to the 2013 municipal budget.
The proposed 2013 municipal tax levy – which is the total amount of taxes to be collected from local property owners to fund the budget – is approximately $51 million, a nearly $7 million reduction since Mayor Dawn Zimmer took office in 2009, said a City Hall press release last week.
If the council decides to amend the budget, this number would change accordingly.
“I don’t like to throw the race card around, but these are mostly minority owners and we’re not being treated right.” – Jose Colon
“There are a lot of disturbing things I saw in the budget tonight,” said Councilman Michael Russo.
Zimmer said Thursday she was pleased the council voted unanimously to introduce the budget, but was very disappointed that two other resolutions failed, one related to Pier C Park rehabilitation and the other to repave multiple roads in town. Boswell Engineering was to be awarded both contracts.
Taxi cab confessions
In addition to the budget’s introduction, local taxi cab drivers spilled into the public meeting to protest a two year old city ordinance that only recently has been enforced. The meeting completely cleared out after the drivers stated their opinions and the council called for a future committee meeting to discuss their concerns.
The two year old ordinance mandates that taxi vehicles cannot have over 125,000 miles on them, or be over four years old.
Though the ordinance is old, taxi drivers were sent a memo on Feb. 27 reiterating the measure. The ordinance forces them to buy a new car every four years, which can cost up to $25,000, they said.
Drivers have only recently been told by a city employee at “the window” to replace their car. Multiple drivers expressed their discontent with the city employee in the traffic and roads department who handles their business in City Hall. The council asked that they not keep using the employee’s name, so speakers later referred only to “the window.”
Yesenia Camilo led the cabbies in voicing concerns for the group.
“My father worked in Hoboken for 28 years, does that mean anything to you?” she said. “There is a family behind each of these drivers and this is no longer a business, we are barely breaking even.”
Camilo also brought along the current ordinance for New York City, which calls for a change of cars every seven years, not four. Council President Peter Cunningham requested a copy of the New York City ordinance.
Driver Jose Colon thought the regulation had to be a mistake made on the part of Hoboken.
“I don’t like to throw the race card around, but these are mostly minority owners and we’re not being treated right.” Colon said his was a family business that his father started in 1977.
Evelyn Hernandez said, “There are owners who just bought a used vehicle four weeks ago and then came up to the window and they were told to replace them. Right now we have until March 31 to come up with the money to replace our cars.”
Some drivers said they felt this was done purposely to put them out of business in order to put their licenses up for re-auction.
Currently, fifty percent of the taxi fleet are in compliance with the ordinance and fifty percent are not, according to Cunningham.
When Councilwoman Beth Mason attempted to question the drivers, Cunningham proposed they stick to the current agenda items instead, and schedule sub-committee meetings at a later date.
Despite a relatively breezy vote on resolutions Wednesday, some comical debate did ensue.
In a typical City Council meeting, resolutions can be pulled that warrant discussion, and the remaining resolutions are voted on as part of the consent agenda. A blanket yes or no vote is often given on the remaining number of resolutions by each member of the council.
However, during the consent agenda, council members Mason, Theresa Castellano, Russo and Tim Occhipinti all had split answers on the remaining resolutions, offering a “yes” to one, “no” to the next and so on. This made it confusing for the city clerk, corporation counsel and the city business administrator to tally what passed and what failed.
“My understanding of the consent agenda, is that we are voting yes or no as a whole as opposed to cherry-picking,” said councilman Ravi Bhalla.
Mason said that she has always voted this way.
“I think we can all count to eight,” said Russo.
Zimmer disappointed resolutions failed
Two resolutions that did fail however, were to award Boswell Engineering the contracts to rehab Pier C and repave parts of Twelfth Street, Monroe Street, Fourth Street and Madison Street.
The council members who voted against the contracts were Russo, Mason, Occhipinti and Castellano, who have repeatedly said they do not want the company to continue work in a “hold-over status,” which Boswell Engineering has been in for years.
Zimmer said Thursday, “I am very disappointed they did not vote on the road programs and Pier C. As the weather gets nicer, we were set to lay out the project for the repaving next week. We receive local aid on the roads project and the city pays the engineering. The waterfront, the parks and paving the streets are very important to residents and now we have to open up an RFP process to find another engineer, which will delay all of that work by a month.”
“We want to move forward with the projects,” Occhipinti said Thursday, “but we want the city to adopt a City Engineer. And we want transparency. A new RFP should be put out for one engineer. Boswell Engineering has been in holdover status for years. The projects near completion were approved but new projects that are just starting could be taken over by a new engineer.”
Zimmer added that the Pier C rehab is still being evaluated as to when the park can be opened, even if on a partial basis.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.