HUDSON COUNTY– Following the introduction of a new county budget that will see taxes rise around 10% in Hoboken, Weehawken and Secaucus – the municipalities which were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy but have seen the most development in recent years – the mayors of those towns gathered at Hoboken city hall Wednesday afternoon to urge the county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders to take a second look at the budget.
“We need you to work harder and tighten your belts,” said Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “You need to roll up your sleeves, change your perspective, and look under every rock to find some ways to make some cuts to this budget.”
Weehawken, Hoboken, Secaucus, and East Newark will see an increase in their share of the county tax burden while the remaining municipalities in Hudson County will see a slight decline. Because of a state formula, increases in taxes generally fall hardest on communities that have seen a significant increase in development.
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli said that the formula works against cities and towns that manage their budgets well on a yearly basis.
“It almost seems like the municipalities that govern well are penalized,” he said, noting that Secaucus’ municipal tax levy has stayed level over the past two years, while county taxes have gone up 30% in the last three years.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said that he and his fellow mayors understood that the state formula was the main cause in the tax increases and that changing the formula would take many years, but that they believed there were many unnecessary expenditures in the county budget.
“It’s time to take a comprehensive look at this and see what we can do to lower costs,” he said. “It’s us this year but it could be any municipality any year. You can’t play Russian Roulette with budgets.”
Zimmer suggested that the county would “have to make the tough choices,” that many municipalities have been facing since Hurricane Sandy hit late last year. She suggested department mergers and evaluations of benefits packages and salaries.
Chairman of the Board of Chosen Freeholders Anthony Romano, who represents Hoboken and parts of Jersey City, said that he would set up at least four special meetings with various county departments to see where possible spending cuts could be made. He also lamented the state’s formula, which he said he understood works unfairly against certain municipalities.
“The formula is unfair and its antiquated,” he said.
Romano also said that he planned to set up several public hearings on the matter before the board votes on the budget’s adoption on June 11. Zimmer and Turner requested that one such hearing be held in Hoboken, while Gonnelli requested another be held in Secaucus. – Dean DeChiaro