Services funded by federal money for Hudson County operations could be adversely affected by cutbacks due to automatic spending cuts imposed as a result of sequestration.
Figuring neither political side in Congress would allow automatic cuts to go into effect, federal legislators imposed a time limit last year to come up with cuts to the national debt. But as the time limit expires, Republicans and Democrats are unable to come to an agreement and more than $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over ten years split between defense and domestic programs are ready to start.
The biggest impact in Hudson County will involve housing aid when $85 billion in immediate cuts take place in all areas.
The county faced with cuts to contracts already awarded will either have to dig deeper into tax payers pockets or take funds from the following year to cover some of the costs accrued this year, said Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who said the county needs to be prepared to cut back on its own in order to curb the overall impact.
“Some people will go homeless.” – Bill O’Dea
Since federal funding is infused in many other Hudson County programs, O’Dea said the county needs to get early warning on impacts and asked county officials to reach out to federal legislators to learn what areas will be impacted and when.
“If we spend at same level over those months, we may have to make up money later,” he said. “Or we’ll face the idea of massive layoffs or even may have to drain money from next year’s money. This could be worse than what happened with the Community Development Block Grant cut backs. Section 8 would see a significant impact.”
This could result in needy people’s names could be dumped off of lists as housing authorities throughout the county are faced with shortfalls.
“Some people will go homeless,” O’Dea said. “Then they will come to us, and it’s those county programs that are going to be cut. Unless the county executive intends to fund the difference in lost revenue, we must look at this seriously and make contingency plans now. Perhaps a hiring freeze or some layoffs.”
O’Dea asked that heads of each department assign someone to report back on how each area is being address before the cuts take effect.
He also said the county should be contacting federal legislators and others to learn what will happen before it happens.
Smoking ban imposed in county parks
The Hudson County freeholders passed an ordinance that bans all cigarette smoking in county parks and would impose fines on people smoking near areas where children play.
Members of the Hudson County Integrated Municipal Advisory Council appeared at the freeholder caucus meeting in January, requesting that the county move to make county parks smoke free zones, but did not go as far as asking that fines be imposed. The state Department of Health offers free signs and encourages governments to take measures to discourage smoking in public parks, and anti-smoking advocates claim the signs tend to discourage smoking in those areas even when the ban is not enforced.
The county has taken additional steps to assure that children in sports areas and playgrounds are protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
In a related matter, the freeholders agreed to review its lease agreement with Casino in the Park catering all in regards to payment of costs for sheriff’s officers assigns to deal with traffic situations as a result of events there. Casino is a private facility that leases property inside Lincoln Park in Jersey City which various groups lease out for events.
“I can understand providing officers for non for profit organizations or at least I would be more favorable towards providing it for them, but I see no reason why taxpayers should bear the cost on an event held for a for-profit group.”
Political events are frequently held at the Casino, and O’Dea said any such group should be asked to bear the cost for officers assigned to deal with the overflow traffic.
Freeholder Al Cifelli, however, said the cost would have to be imposed as part of the lease with the Casino, not with the individual groups.
Undersheriff Andrew Conte said the sheriff’s department has to make certain that the area is safe during these events, and that it is up to the freeholders to set the policy, not the sheriff’s department.
“We do it to make sure the roadway is safe and people who walk in the dark are not injured,” he said. “If an event has 500 people then there can be as many as 300 cars.”
Some events have as many as a thousand people, and many cars park alongside the roadway, which is technically illegal.
During some larger events, cars are parked along the road and around the fountain area, narrowing the space traffic can use and also increasing the dangers to pedestrians that are using the park, O’Dea said.
“We need to make it safe, they will park there anyway, on grass, on side of road,” Conte said. “It we weren’t there it would be total chaos and there would probably be a fatality.”
Freeholder Chairman Anthony Romano said the Freeholder public safety committee would review it.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.