While the council was initially shocked that the budget had climbed from the $87 million that was proposed earlier this year, Roberts said that the most recent additions were due to special programs for which the city just received $9 million in grants. Thus, some of the new expenditures are paid for already.
There were also $2 million in recent cuts, he said.
The budget is now waiting for approval from the state. It covers spending from last July 1 thought this June 30.
Roberts said, "The amount of money that is inserted has increased largely because of grants that are passing through."Issuing guarantees
Roberts was pinned down by 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham on two important issues.
Cunningham asked Roberts to commit to improving the city's bond rating, and to authorizing an efficiency study for the city.
"The answer is yes," Roberts said in response. "I will commit on both of those issues here without any reservation whatsoever."
A bond rating allows outside agencies to gauge the city's fiscal stability.
"I will pursue a bond rating," Roberts said. "The purpose of doing that is so that Hoboken appears to the world that our finances and the condition of our city is strong."
Many people have been asking the administration to conduct an efficiency audit in the past, and Roberts agreed this time.
"There is no question that I would embrace an opportunity to bring ... people from the [state's Department of Community Affairs] into Hoboken - or other agencies."
Roberts commented on the reduction of audits in the budget as proof that the city's finances are in order.
"The day we started, there were 113 audit recommendations [on the budget]," Roberts said. "Last year, there were four."
This year, the city outsourced its accounting services to Donohue, Gironda & Doria, a registered municipal accounting firm.
A few council members questioned the city's problems in trying to sell the municipal garage to include the revenues in the past few budgets. Various missteps meant that the revenue still has not been realized.
In the meantime, the city is borrowing against the future sale of the garage.
"We are borrowing $4.4 million; we tried to borrow $7 million," 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said. "We tried to go to the bank and they said 'No.' We maxed out on our credit card, is basically what I heard today."
"I respectfully disagree with you about our city financing its way, or borrowing its way, into some critical zone," Roberts said. "My preference is not to have to borrow at all, or finance anything, to satisfy a particular budget year."
Cunningham responded, "My concern is that we are financing the deficit."
"I would be similar to a family with a sizable financial foundation refinancing on a home equity to clear up some additional credit card debt," Roberts said. "Was that my first choice? No."
Roberts added, "When you're in business, you do the best you can to bring in as much revenue as you can. The bad news about the municipal spending plan is the fact that there is some of this financing within it. The good news is that we haven't increased property taxes."
Roberts: OK, I change my mind
"I believe you inherited a $52 million dollar budget," said Council President Theresa Castellano, referring to the last budget passed during the term of her cousin, former Mayor Anthony Russo. "You said it was an obscene figure to run a city the size of Hoboken. It's now $96 million."
"I've changed my mind on that," Roberts acknowledged. "I certainly [during my time on the council] gave mayors a difficult enough time."
Beth Mason, 2nd Ward Councilwoman, questioned Roberts about reinvesting money back into affordable housing. Roberts said that it was a hard question to answer on the spot, but promised an answer to her soon. Mason said that she submitted her questions to Roberts in November and had not received an answer since.
She also asked about the city's examination of redundant services.
"There are two very specific areas of city government that we're looking at," Roberts said.
But he added that he didn't want to be specific about which areas.
"I would much prefer not to completely alarm the work force," he noted.
Other members of the council discussed their questions for Roberts in private rather than at the meeting.
However, the meeting got off to an antagonistic start when Roberts addressed the council.
"I promise that I will be brief and be out of this room as soon as possible," Roberts said. "Having me sit through your meeting, I think, would almost go against the intention of why I am here."
"We actually summoned you here," Castellano said. "We don't want you to be brief. We don't want you out of the room as quickly as possible."
"The mayor in our form of government is not in a position to be summoned before the municipal City Council," Roberts said. "Because I enjoy working with the municipal council, I have accepted an invitation to come before you."
Roberts continued, "Below-average minds gossip, average minds share in current events, and above-average minds talk about ideas. Let's have this room be filled with ideas."
Added Roberts, "Hoboken, N.J. is going to be taking its place among America's best cities with populations of 100,000 or less."
Roberts said in an interview last week, "It was a good informational session."
Pay increases snubbed
The council voted down an ordinance setting up a new pay scale for municipal employees.
"There's no rhyme or reason to the percentage increases," Councilman At-Large Peter Cammarano said. "It looks utterly random."
There were also other questions about personnel raised at the meeting.
"I have called for the immediate termination of all employees who do not live in the city of Hoboken who do not live here ... because that is the law," 3rd Ward Councilman Russo said. "We cannot arbitrarily ignore it."
He also called for the removal of the positions of fire chief and police chief.
"We eliminate two positions and we save half of a million dollars in salaries and benefits," Russo said.
He said that the director of public safety could capably assume the command of both forces.
But recently hired Public Safety Director Bill Bergin said that it would be more appropriate if the chief positions remained in order to have a uniformed officer in charge of the forces, as well using it as a goal for police and firemen working their way up the ladder.
Not everyone was swayed.
"There are positions that should be eliminated," said 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi.
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