Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s state of the city address Tuesday night focused on a complete modernization of the city’s aging water and electrical infrastructure, initiatives she said will be a mainstay of her goal of creating a storm-proof Hoboken. Hurricane Sandy exposed the weaknesses in both systems, Zimmer said, and though Hoboken is proud of its history, there’s no room for Civil War-era sewer pipes in the city’s future.
The plans include a renegotiation of the city’s contract with United Water that could ultimately result in a $50 million system upgrade, and a 10-megawatt microgrid that would power the city’s critical buildings in the event of a power outage, as well as pharmacies, supermarkets, and low-income housing.
Zimmer said the city’s recently-upgraded credit rating, which she attributed to her administration’s fiscal discipline, will play a crucial role in financing those projects.
“Now that we’ve built this financial foundation, we have to keep moving ahead to make sure that our city is stronger than ever for the future,” she told the audience at Stevens Institute of Technology. “We cannot rest on our laurels, but instead we must focus ourselves on creating a healthy Hoboken infrastructure that can withstand the increasing challenges of the future.”
“We cannot rest on our laurels, but instead we must focus ourselves on creating a healthy Hoboken…” – Dawn Zimmer
The $107.6 million budget, a nearly $3 million increase from last year, includes a slight tax increase. The amount that comes from taxes, or the tax levy, is $51.7 million, a $950,000 increase from 2013. The increase in the tax rate will be less than 2 percent, Zimmer said. (See cover story.)
The increase is mostly due to increased salaries in each of the city’s municipal contracts, all of which were renegotiated in the last year, and rising healthcare costs, Zimmer said. But she also mentioned her administration’s increased legal spending, which her political opponents have criticized. She referred to a recent $100,000 payout to fight a lawsuit over pier development, arguing that “we must invest in legal representation so we can protect our community and fight for our waterfront.”
She did not mention a recent $1 million wrongful termination lawsuit that the city lost, and has appealed.
The mayor also discussed Hoboken’s participation in the Rebuild by Design competition, a federally-administered contest that will provide up to $4 billion in funding for urban storm resiliency projects around the Tri-State area.
Zimmer said that once winter ends and the city’s hundreds of potholes can be filled, her administration will move forward with a series of transportation projects to repave and redesign Washington Street, Observer Highway, and a particularly dangerous area of Willow Avenue. She also discussed several ongoing open space projects, including the planning phase of the city’s new Southwest Park and the attempts to acquire two tracts of land on the city’s northwest side for additional parks.
Finally, she said, the city is beginning to see the practical and financial benefits of anti-crime and clean street initiatives the administration took on in her first term. Crime is low, Zimmer said, thanks to the efforts of outgoing Chief of Police Anthony Falco Sr.
“Crime is at an all-time low, but we’re always working to do more,” she said. “We completed renovations at Police Headquarters and brought on extra Class II officers to boost our police presence on weekends in a fiscally responsible way.”
And special trash bins, which hold five times the normal capacity and send a text message to city workers when they’re full, are being installed around town.
On a personal note, she opened the speech by getting personal. She said she’s trying to get more exercise and eat healthier, and wants the city to be healthy too.
Though Zimmer’s speech was well-publicized and open to the public, the crowd in attendance was largely made up of politicians, city workers, and politically-involved Hoboken residents. Only two of the city’s nine City Council members were in attendance, Council President Jennifer Giattino and Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle.
There is no law requiring the council to appear, and the speech itself is optional, though a higher number of council members, including several of Zimmer’s opponents, attended the mayor’s inaugural address in January.
Also in attendance was Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Hoboken’s 2013 Senior Citizen of the Year, Vincent Wassman, said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and Kristen Romanowski, the president of Stevens’ student union, introduced the mayor.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com