As of Friday, no one City Hall had heard from the state as to the status of Hoboken's proposed $102.1 million municipal budget, which may cause a huge tax increase because of a $11.7 million revenue hole.
Meanwhile, Hoboken has earned the distinction of being the last out of New Jersey's approximately 566 municipalities to pass its budget.
The spending plan covers funds from last July 1 through the coming June 30. In a few weeks, Hoboken will have to start working on a new budget.
The current budget has been delayed by more than 11 months because of several factors: a wait for state aid; underfunded charges the City Council members said they were never told about until recently; increases in health care costs, and disagreements between the council and mayor.
Recently, a majority of the City Council voted down the mayor's attempt to get permission to increase spending beyond a state cap, forcing the state to take over the budget. The state may simply increase taxes to fill the gap.
While the city waits to see what the next move is, the City Council approved two measures on Wednesday that will help to ease the pain.
Measures to help taxpayers
On Wednesday night, the council reduced the interest rate for delinquent taxes to 0.00000001 percent, as it is not legal to have a zero percent interest rate. This way, if taxes rise in the last quarter of the year, people will have more time to pay up.
They also repealed a 6-percent penalty on residents' unpaid taxes totaling more than $10,000 at the end of the fiscal year.
Mayor David Roberts spoke at the meeting about the budget, saying he would like to look forward into the planning next year's budget.
He pledged to return any tax increase over 5 percent to the taxpayer during next fiscal year, which starts in just eight days.
He the city will need to cut expenses next year by looking at reducing the workforce and into new ways to provide health care to employees.
According to sources, the move would have the city couple with the Hoboken University Medical Center for healthcare coverage.
He said has been in contact with the state in the search for a new business administrator, hinting that it will be someone from outside Hoboken.
"Sometimes you need to have an objective view from outside," Roberts said.
The council also agreed to look for a forensic auditor to examine in depth the city's spending habits.
Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason has proposed using the operational auditing firm of Alvarez & Marsal. They have done work with the New Orleans school system (pre-Hurricane Katrina) and in the city of St. Louis.
Along with the operational audit firm, Mason brought Howard Safir, a former New York City police commissioner, to Wednesday's meeting. Safir's firm would take a closer look at the structure and function of the city's police and fire departments.
Safir recently helped Mayor Corey Booker streamline the Newark Police Department.
Several councilpersons have been calling for a forensic audit of the administration's spending, which would be a part of the operational audit.
At the meeting, Roberts lauded the past work of the firms and was interested in possibly seeking their assistance.
To bid or not to bid?
Mason also provided other names of firms that could be of use to the city, but her resolution to fast-track the approval of such a firm without a bid was met with opposition by some council members.
The council preferred to send out a bid request, looking toward next year for the firm's help with streamlining operations and spending.
The council chose not to pay the bills at the meeting because there were duplicate bills included in the claims sent out by the city.
In addition, some of the bills were already paid without the consent of the council, council members claimed.
Since city Business Administrator Richard England resigned two weeks ago, the city had no business administrator present to answer questions at the meeting. (England is remaining in his role as purchasing agent.) Without a business administrator, the council had to speak to Steven Kleinman, the attorney for the city, concerning bills, with some assistance by city CFO George DeStefano.
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A change in the plans for a proposed building on the municipal garage site was criticized by local residents.
Originally, plans for the site did not include any allowance for bars, although restaurants were allowed to serve alcohol.
Recently, the developer and city officials had added in a provision for bars, as well as an increase in the size of allowed retail or restaurant space.
Originally, retail and restaurant space was limited to 2,000 square feet, which was then upped to 15,000.
Resident Lane Bajardi, a member of the Observer Highway Planning Committee, questioned the inclusion of bars, as well as the expansion of space.
Bajardi said that he was worried a "discothèque" would show up, against the community's wishes.
The planners agreed to take bars out of the plan and limit restaurant space to 4,000 square feet, but allow for 15,000 sq. ft. for other retail. - TJC