As promised, Councilman Steve Fulop introduced two resolutions at the May 25 City Council meeting that called for the consolidation of two city agencies with their Hudson County counterparts.
Both resolutions, however, went quickly down in flames after residents and City Council members criticized the plan as shortsighted.
Two weeks ago Fulop announced that he would introduce one resolution to fold the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs into the Hudson County Cultural Affairs Department, and merge the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation with the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation.
“I think we can save upwards of $5 million, total, in streamlining,” Fulop said at the time. “This is just one component but a no-brainer as residents are being taxed twice. This isn’t just a one-time savings. This is a real recurring savings if done properly.”
“This resolution is insane.” – Ray Velazquez
The city’s Division of Cultural Affairs organizes cultural events and programs, while the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation primarily oversees the local Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program. The UEZ program uses sales tax earned in the business district to fund capital improvements there.
No support from council…
Despite the possible financial savings, no one expressed public support for the plans at the meeting.
“I think if this is a call to manage waste, then I think we should take a look at it and reduce some of the waste, not eliminate an entire program,” said Councilwoman Viola Richardson.
Calling Fulop’s resolution to merge the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation (JCEDC) with the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation “insane,” Councilman Ray Velazquez said, “I wonder why it was put together. Was it put together because somebody actually believed it would benefit the City of Jersey City to close this down? Or was it put together to make a point about [JCEDC Chief Executive Officer] Steven Lipski?”
Fulop has argued that Lipski, an ally of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, was hired to the JCEDC’s top post despite lacking a business background. The councilman also sees Lipski’s salary as a JCEDC budget line item ripe for cutting. The city’s 2011 budget, which has been introduced but has yet to be passed, calls for a $351,000 cut in JCEDC funding and the elimination of four staff positions. Under this budget, however, Lipski would receive a compensation package worth $128,000, including salary and benefits.
Velazquez and Councilwoman Kalimah Ahmad both questioned whether Fulop’s political ambitions were the true motives behind the introduction of these resolutions.
“What I find most upsetting is the fact that [Fulop] did not choose to talk to the county executive, the business administrator, or anybody in the county to understand what the implications of such a move would be,” said Ward D Councilman William Gaughan, who also works as the chief of staff to Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. “I’ve seen some lousy resolutions, but these two have to be the worst.”
Councilwoman Nidia Lopez did not offer any comments on the resolutions. She had supported Fulop’s resolution to combine the JCEDC with the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation, but did not support Fulop’s other proposal.
Two weeks ago Lopez was pulled into the war of words between Fulop and Healy after she was included in a press release Fulop issued regarding the two resolutions.
“I told him, ‘I do not want to be a part of trying to consolidate cultural affairs. I differ with you on that,’ ” she told the Reporter two weeks ago. “My ward [Ward C] is the most diverse; we have the most number of ethnic groups in the city. So, I cannot sponsor something that might mean that artists from these communities get overlooked or excluded from cultural programming.”
…No support from residents
Residents, including several who identified themselves as Fulop supporters, were kinder, but sounded the same refrain.
“Have you participated in JC Fridays, or the annual Artists Studio Tour, that features over 600 artist participants? Have you enjoyed Summerfest at Liberty State Park? Have you participated in a marathon, or a bike tour in Jersey City? If you answered yes to enjoying any one of these [events], I would respond, ‘This is the work of Maryanne Kelleher and her staff at the Division of Cultural Affairs,’ ” noted resident Laura Skolar.
She pointed out to the council that most city residents don’t have the resources to “escape the summer heat” by vacationing on the Jersey Shore or going to the Hamptons. Local events sponsored by the city, Skolar said, serve as vacations and important recreational outlets for most people in Jersey City.
Another resident said consolidating agencies isn’t necessarily the answer, even though he agrees the city is run inefficiently.
“I do not agree with government that is further removed from the citizens. But I also completely disagree with how our city is being run. It is inefficient. It is stock full of unqualified employees [and nepotism]. Neither the mayor nor the City Council are right in their approach. There are no short-term solutions,” said resident Jeff Kaplowitz, adding that the city should form a commission of local business leaders, academicians, residents, and others to investigate “what our government does, what it’s supposed to do, what it’s failing to do, and make recommendations how we can make it government more efficient.”
In response to the criticism, Fulop said, “I understand that people don’t like things being cut and they are very protective. But when you look at next year, there are going to be some very hard decisions [that will have to be made]…There’s only a finite amount of dollars in this city. It’s reality.”
He added that of all the UEZ programs in the state, Jersey City’s is the most expensive to administer, even though it is not the largest. He said the city outspends Newark’s UEZ by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.