Last night's special City Council meeting was an embarrassment to Hoboken, an insult to the council, and for those in attendance, a colossal waste of time. Mayor Roberts had promised an up-to-date accounting, and the room was packed, even if it was literally the eleventh hour and the eleventh month of the budget year.
The meeting started with a bang. Taxes are about to increase 50 percent in the fourth quarter. The state is threatening to begin seizing control of our budget this Monday. The Mayor was still arguing for paying this year's bills with next year's money. And fox news has the report on the SWAT scandal, but the Mayor won't give it to the council.
And then, for close to four hours, nothing happened. City director after City director came to the microphone and began talking - not about how badly they had mishandled their budgets this year - but about how they were really truly going to do a better job next year. It was Déjà vu all over again.
The low point of the meeting was when the city's financial advisor refused to provide the promised accounting, even though a number of people at the meeting seemed, if asked privately, to know the awful truth: a shortfall of more than $11 million - enough to raise 4th quarter taxes 50 percent. Michael Russo and Dick England actually confirmed it publically, though England, while admitting to the 50 percent tax increase, tried to lowball the figure.
The Mayor repeatedly blamed the $11 million plus budget shortfall on the council's refusal to borrow $3.7 million to fund operating expenses. No, I'm not making that up. The Mayor took us for fools, and so far, he hasn't been proven wrong.
This Sunday, at 7 pm, we have a chance to do it again. The state may help -- a little -- but don't expect too much. They never have come into a town and made the tough choices and I doubt they ever will. I expect we, the people of Hoboken, are going to have to do the heavy lifting here. We must tell our elected leaders that we want an end to the financial game playing. We must say we expect more for our $100 million annual budget than what we are getting.
There are lots of ways to send the message that enough is enough: Call your Mayor or your council member on the phone. Stop them on the street. Write a letter. Come to Sunday's meeting. And there are lots of issues: Honest finances of course; but also saving block 11 for a promised Southwest Park; demanding accountability from our hospital and keeping it solvent; and ensuring that the Police/SWAT scandal leads to improvement and reform, not excuses and cover-up.
The important thing is, if we don't like where we are, that we try doing something different. One small but important thing I'll be doing in Tuesday's Democratic primary is voting for my Independent Row D committee people. And I'll be at Sunday's meeting. Perhaps I'll see you there?