CORRECTION APPENDED - 10/14/08
The City Council met Wednesday and voted to bring in state budget specialist Judy Tripodi as their city-paid, state-required fiscal monitor.
The council had three people to choose from, including two from a Philadelphia financial firm. But Tripodi's cost was significantly lower.
Tripodi, who used to work for the state as a budget specialist, quoted a yearly salary of $130,000, while the two other candidates quoted $500,000.
"The state is telling us something," said Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano at the meeting.
Peter Cunningham, the 5th Ward Councilman, said he thinks Tripodi is the right person for the job because she can take a tough stand in City Hall.
"I think she's upset a lot of people in this administration, and frankly, I think that's a good thing," he said.
The vote was 7-1-1, with 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason voting against the measure because she said she didn't have enough time or information to make such an important decision. Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer abstained for the same reason.
The state had mailed a information about the candidates to the council the previous Friday. Mason said she got hers the day of the council meeting.*
Mason also complained that she was celebrating the Jewish New Year, which began at sundown on Monday and lasted into Wednesday.
The state began supervising the city's financial decisions after the city was unable to agree on a budget until the very last day of the last fiscal year - June 30, 2008. The council members and the mayor have pointed fingers at each other for the delay, although a timeline sheds light on the various twists and turns the process took (see timeline below).
Also at the meeting, the council held a moment of silence for Paula Otero, who died in the fire at 1202 Hudson St. on Wednesday morning.
Cycling and recycling
Also at the meeting, the council unanimously passed two laws: one demands that businesses arrange their own recycling pick-ups on the weekends rather than the city paying for it, and the other calls for bike lanes on Madison and Grand streets.
"Let's all get on our bikes and leave our cars at home," said Councilwoman-At-Large Terry LaBruno, who worked with 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer on the ordinance. Zimmer said Hoboken has the opportunity "to become the new Amsterdam of the United States."
The recycling ordinance, sponsored by 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, will save $384,000 per year, according to the city Department of Environmental Services.
With bars having to put out numerous glass and plastic bottles on weekends, the costs can be high.
The council also supported a grant to conduct an energy audit in all city-owned buildings, although some residents said they should be doing more, including looking at the efficiency of their transportation and fuel costs.
Redevelopment plans for Observer Hwy
The council approved a developer's preliminary concept plan for a new residential building that will take the place of the Municipal Garage on Observer Highway. The city sold the garage property to a developer to gain money for the city budget.
The city also must do a "needs analysis" to find out what their requirements are for finding a new site for the garage.
The design of the residential building is eight to 12 stories in different places, which is considered modest in comparison to a proposed New Jersey Transit development that includes a 75- to 80-story building.
The concept plan will now move to the city's Planning Board for further examination.
Also at the meeting, the council commissioned a study to examine the re-routing of Paterson Plank road, hopefully as part of the NJ Transit redevelopment site.
After some discussion (see sidebar), the council approved the lottery distribution of "five workforce housing" units at the MetroStop condo development, 800 Jackson St.
The affordable condos will go to city workers, police, firemen or teachers at a reduced rate.
The process will be overseen by William Snyder, the director of the Secaucus Housing Authority, and will be open to all city employees, teachers, police, firefighters, Housing Authority workers, and charter school employees.
Councilwoman Mason abstained from the vote, saying she didn't have enough information. Mason had first protested the units when she heard about them, saying they should not go just to city workers.
The City Council had voted to designate them as workforce housing at a public meeting three years ago.
Higher parking fines and more meters
While Mayor David Roberts' administration keeps pushing the idea of more parking meters and higher parking violation fines, in order to raise more money for the city budget, the council has been postponing the measures.
The council has been saying they would like to raise fees on businesses and visitors before they further tax the residents.
The council again tabled both measures Wednesday.
One of the measures would put parking meters all the way up Washington Street, and in other areas.
On Wednesday, the council also tabled a resolution for environmental cleanup at Hoboken Cove and 1600 Park Ave., where parks are planned. It was tabled because the administration couldn't guarantee that the money to fund the cleanup was available.
*CORRECTION - Mason did not receive the information about the state supervisor candidates until the day of the meeting, not in her packet the previous Friday. For questions or comments on this story, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did the city end up needing a state monitor for its finances?
Below is an updated timeline of how the city took a full 12 months to pass a budget - albeit a budget that had climbed by more than $10 million over the course of the fiscal year.
July 1, 2007 - The city's 2007-2008 fiscal year begins.
Nov. 21 - Mayor David Roberts presents the budget to the council. At $87 million, it is already up $8 million from the 2007 fiscal year, resulting in an anticipated 2.49 percent overall tax increase for residents (municipal, school and county taxes).
Nov. 28 & 29 - The Council's Finance Committee - made up of three members of the council - holds two public hearings. At those hearings, council members and residents can ask questions and make suggestions on the budget. Officials note that municipal taxes will rise 5.2 percent. (The city and county taxes actually bring down the overall increase). The council holds more budget meetings, sometimes a few meetings per week.
Jan. 16, 2008 - The council proposes $2.45 million dollars in cuts; they also consider enacting a spending freeze. Finance Committee Chairman Michael Russo stresses eliminating the tax increase. The council submits the budget back to the administration, who questions the feasibility of the proposed cuts.
March 5 - Business Administrator Richard England returns the budget to the council with the tax levy reduced by $1 million, in preparation of sending it to the state. England reports a slight reduction in taxes in the fourth quarter. The council is frustrated by the slowness of the process and says they will pay for employees' salaries and wages, but not operations and expenditures for that period.
March 19 - England reports that the state has sent the budget back to the city because it was on the wrong size paper. The council enacts a full-fledged spending freeze, excluding salaries and wages, and requests that Roberts appear before them at the next meeting to answer questions.
April 4 - Roberts attends the meeting to defend his budget, which has now increased to $93.7 million. He says that the increase is because of grants. The council votes to not pay any bills, but Russo reconsiders his vote.
May 8 - England reports that the budget is still in state hands awaiting approval. The council almost shuts down the city by voting not to pay salaries and wages, but then, Mason reconsiders. The council points out that City Hall has hired two new employees, which they consider that to be in violation of the spending freeze. A total hiring freeze follows.
May 22 - England admits at a council meeting that the budget was under-funded and that four months of healthcare payments were actually held over from the previous year. The council says they had no idea that this year's budget was paying for some of last year's health care spending. In addition, the city has gotten word that employees' health care coverage may be cut off because of unpaid bills.
Roberts rushes back from the shore when he hears that a tense meeting is going on. He appears mid-meeting to defend himself. He says he did not know that the budget was underfunded. England says he "might have" told Roberts.
No one can give exact budget figures at the meeting, although the budget is considered upwards of $96 million. That amount is above the state-mandated cap on spending and tax levy. Financial specialist Fred Tompkins admits he knew of the budget problems, but leaves the meeting before Roberts arrives. He has not been seen at a meeting since. The council asks for a special meeting in which they can get the actual numbers.
May 28 - A special council meeting ends without final numbers. The council learns the next day that the budget totals more than $100 million, and that the budget shortage is $11.7 million.
June 1 - Five members of the council vote down the administration's request to ask the state for waivers to exceed limits on spending and taxation. This means the council cannot pass the budget as it is, and the state may automatically take over the process. Fourth quarter taxes are poised to have a 50 percent increase.
June 4 - The council again votes down waiver requests, forcing the state to enter into the situation. England resigns as business administrator, but retains his position as city purchasing agent.
June 12 - Five council members go to the state to appeal for an extension, but are turned away due to lack of evidence that they have a plan to pass a budget at all. In the following week, a state representative blames the council for not passing the budget and encourages them to do so.
June 30 - The council meets to pass a 2008 state-approved budget that defers more than $10 million to future years. That amount will have to be made up in future taxes, although it is not known yet whether taxpayers will have to foot the bill over one year or three. This is the very last day of the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
July 27 - Roberts releases a new $92.1 million spending plan for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, although it does not include the deferred costs. The council calls it "pie-in-the-sky."
Aug. 16 - The city yields to court-filed state intervention, inviting in the Department of Community Affairs' Division of Local Government Services.
Aug. 30 - Roberts promises that layoff notices will be released in October, with demotions to follow; the city submits a plan to the state.
Sept. 10 - The State Local Finance Board votes to send in a fiscal monitor and restrict spending. They blame politics between the mayor and council for the city's budget problems.
Oct. 1 - The council appoints Judy Tripodi, formerly of the Division of Local Government Services, as the fiscal monitor for Hoboken.
"I think she's upset a lot of people in this administration, and frankly, I think that's a good thing."
- Peter Cunningham
During Wednesday's meeting, which lasted from 7 p.m. almost until midnight, many people in the audience made their opinions known.
Frequent speaker Maurice "Mo" DeGennaro praised the information that was provided about five units of workforce housing.
"I was going to get up and talk against this, but now I'm in favor because [William Snyder, hired coordinator] gave me an executive summary on how they're going to handle the distribution of the affordable housing five units," he said. "However, Mr. [Fred] Bado should have given this to us. Then there wouldn't be any questions ... If you read this, it's very informative and it's very fair."
Lane Bajardi said that there should be more information from the agenda on the city's website, particularly about redevelopment plans.
Jonathan Gordon said the city's claims (the things they are paying for) also should be put up on the website, as they used to be.
Since the new budget year began, even the council members themselves have not actually been seeing the claims, as they used to. Councilwoman Beth Mason requested Wednesday that the council start seeing the claims again.
Tony Soares criticized the council for not placing more demands on developers and architects who build in Hoboken.
"The PILOT payments [set up for developers] ... Those formulas have variables, whether you want to put the PILOT payments into schools, open space," Soares said. "I know the mayor wants to put it all in his budget. But there's all kinds of ways to structure [the demands]." He was referring to a discussion in which a developer had said he couldn't put power lines under the building. Soares' point was that the city can demand givebacks and changes from the developers.
J. D. Capuano praised the council's actions regarding energy efficiency studies.
"This is an opportunity for Hoboken to take a leadership role in terms of one of the largest issues facing us today, which is global warming," he said.
Jim Vance, a proponent of bike lanes and critic of city spending, said that forcing businesses to pay for weekend recycling was only a start. "I'm glad to see we're moving in this direction," he said, adding that many cities leave businesses to deal with all of the recycling. "This is nibbling around the edges. We're spending money like drunken sailors."
Helen Hirsch questioned the design of the new building on Observer Highway, saying it looks like the others in town. "Pick another development in town and change the address ... Not a bit more interesting [or] attractive," she said. - TJC