The Hoboken City Council unanimously passed an amendment Wednesday night that may be the first step toward lowering Hoboken residents’ rates with the National Flood Insurance Program.
Since Hurricane Sandy last year, Mayor Dawn Zimmer has said that one of her highest priorities is finding ways to lower the rates of Hoboken residents, who currently pay about $6 million into the program annually, but saw little relief via the plan in Sandy’s wake.
The amendment itself mandates that any new construction in Hoboken or major renovations to existing structures would have to adhere to strict safety and flood resiliency standards set forth by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. It does not apply to normal work on existing structures.
The true significance of the amendment is that it may serve as the first step toward lower flood insurance rates for all Hoboken residents. City zoning officer Ann Holtzman said that passage of an ordinance like the one presented Wednesday is a prerequisite for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to lower the citywide rates. If the city can achieve a high enough score on a test evaluating what is called the Community Rating System, then citywide rates will automatically be reduced.
“It was an incredibly long journey.” – Diane Carreras, the president of the municipal workers’ union
New municipal contract agreed upon
The council’s bickering factions scuffled over the process by which an agreement on the city’s contract with its municipal workers had been reached.
The new contract agreement, said city spokesman Juan Melli in a statement, will provide for a 2 percent annual salary increase from 2009 through 2014.
Multiple supporters of Zimmer scoffed when Occhipinti made a public apology to union workers on behalf of the city.
The contract agreement with the Hoboken Municipal Workers Association, which took almost six years to settle, required a council vote after it was agreed upon by Zimmer and the union’s president, Diane Carreras, on Monday. Carreras spoke at the outset of the meeting, asking the council to approve it, but intervened again later when Occhipinti claimed that there had been no communication between the administration and the union.
“That’s not true,” said Carreras, who said after the meeting that finally agreeing on a contract felt “fantastic.”
Councilman-at-Large David Mello, who noted that as a public school teacher in New York City he too is currently involved in a contract battle, blasted Occhipinti’s statements.
And council Vice President Jen Giattino criticized what she claimed was obstructionism on the council, saying that it was refreshing “to see that when people work together, things can actually get done around here.”
Mello and Giattino are both supporters of Zimmer, while Occhipinti, one of two candidates challenging her in the November general election, is one of her harshest critics.
The council unanimously approved the contract by a vote of 7-0. Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo was not in attendance.
“We are very pleased to reach a fair agreement with our hardworking employees,” said Zimmer. “This agreement demonstrates what can happen when the union leadership and the city listen to each other and work in good faith to address each other’s concerns.”
With the contract agreement, five of the city’s six municipal unions have settled contracts. Negotiations with the Hoboken Municipal Supervisors Association, the city said, are ongoing.
“It was an incredibly long journey,” Carreras said. “But we eventually came to terms on everything we were worried about. Retroactive pay, our raises, longevity.”
Vision 20/20 back in the spotlight
After having been absent from several recent meetings, Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia and a group of Hoboken Housing Authority residents returned to the chambers on Monday to press council members to attend public meetings being held to discuss Vision 20/20, a plan to demolish and rebuild large sections of public housing in western Hoboken.
The plan has caused significant controversy in recent months, resulting in nasty accusations by both those for it (allied with Garcia) and against it (allied with Zimmer).
Garcia said on Wednesday that he was now in his fifth month of asking Council President Peter Cunningham to schedule a date for Garcia to give his presentation to the council. Cunningham, a Zimmer ally, said he wasn’t sure that there will be a date.
Garcia’s next public hearing on the plan will take place on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Rue School, located at 301 Garden St.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org