The budget as passed would impose a $114 increase on the average home assessed at $133,000 in the last quarter of the budgeting year.
This is part of a compromise that was worked out in heated discussions since budget adjustments made in late February, and hinged on the passing of a bond to fill the budget gap.
Although Mayor Joseph Doria proposed to solve the $25 million gap through a complicated bonding process, Councilmen Gary La Pelusa and Anthony Chiappone blocked the passage of the bond, saying the city had not done enough to cut spending. Because the bond required four out of the five council votes, the bond and therefore the budget could not be passed.
Despite protests from angry residents and the threat of state intrusion to force a massive tax increase, the two councilmen remained unmoved until the Doria administration agreed to stipulations that guaranteed the city would cut spending for next year's budget.
As a result, the council passed a resolution that detailed 12 conditions the city would meet in order to win the necessary votes for passage of the bond and move the budget process ahead.
These conditions covered a variety of areas, from promising that proceeds from the sale of land for the former Military Ocean Terminal be used dollar for dollar to pay off the city's bonds, to requiring some employees to pay part of their own health benefits.
Another condition would require next year's bond to be introduced at $17 million on July 1, and that cuts to the budget be conducted early in the year to make up the difference needed to balance the budget. The city must also introduce next year's budget no later than Aug. 21.
"We expect the budget gap to be $30 million next year," Chiappone said. "So that means we have to get things cut early so that each cut will have the maximum effect. If there are layoffs, these should also be done early in the year. It has not yet been determined how many people will be laid off as a result, but layoffs will take place."
Among the stipulations is a requirement that all non-union employees, including elected officials, begin to contribute $50 a month toward the payment of their healthcare plans. The stipulations also imposed a hiring freeze on the police and fire departments until the city evaluates a needs study currently underway.
La Pelusa said the idea was to guarantee fiscal prudence and to make certain that, before the city resorted to increased debt through bonding, it cut its spending. Although city residents face an increase in taxes this year, La Pelusa pointed out that taxpayers would be paying the cost of theses bonds next year and into the future.
"What we did is make sure that the city went back to its original five-year plan," Chiappone said. "In 2005, the city proposed passing bonds of $20 million each year. By approving $23 million for this year and $17 million next year, we're back on track."
City seeks developers for section of Broadway
Hoping to draw the attention of developers to a somewhat rundown section of Broadway and the area around the 22nd Street Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station, Michael O'Connor, executive director of the Bayonne Economic Development Corporation, has asked the City Council to allow his office to seek proposals of interest for redeveloping all or portions of the 21st Street Redevelopment area.
The City Council is expected to get a full report at its June 20 meeting, prior to giving its consent. The city designated an area bounded by East 19th to 21st streets and Broadway and Avenue E in need of redevelopment in 2005, but did not push to create a plan.
When an area is designated for redevelopment, a city can pass new zoning regulations, get cleanup funds, and seek out developers for parcels that need it.
O'Connor said the city designated the area, but did not pursue development of an actual plan, saying officials needed to get an expression of interest before moving ahead.
"This is very early in the process," he said. "We want to get some ideas from developers what might work for the area."
The Town Center Redevelopment area focuses primarily on the block along the north side of 19th Street and the south side of 21st Street, with a handful of properties outside of this block - encompassing a total of 41 properties or about 6.7 acres.
When originally making the argument for the redevelopment designation, John Fussa, the city planner, said that an initial study showed the area had significant underused property, numerous deteriorating buildings, and some land with contamination, allowing the area to meet the state's requirements for establishing a redevelopment zone.
Of the 41 properties, 20 are non-conforming for a variety reasons. Two properties - one containing a banquet hall and the other a former oil company now used as a trucking terminal - have uses not allowed in that area under current zoning.
Twenty-one of the 41 properties are vacant or are parking lots, uses that Fussa said do not live up to the potential of the otherwise valuable downtown property - especially because this block is very near the 22nd Street Light Rail station.
While Fussa said the Housing Authority's senior-citizen building is out of step with current development styles, citing the large open space around the building, he noted that the building and property were well maintained.
"Although the senior-citizen building is in the area, we don't intend to do anything with it," O'Connor said. "By seeking requests of interest, we are not committed to anything. We are just looking to see who might want to develop all or part of the property."
Chiappone said that the city needs to contact all the residents and property owners in the area to tell them what is being done. O'Connor agreed.