Why you should care about the freeholder race
Two Hoboken residents running to decide county taxes, services
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
May 18, 2014 | 4131 views | 16 16 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Freeholder
Anthony Romano
view slideshow (2 images)

The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders includes nine members who make decisions about the county budget, personnel, the roads, parks, and the county jail. In the June 3 Democratic primary race for the district covering Hoboken and Jersey City Heights, two Hoboken men – including the incumbent – and a Jersey City woman are running.

Anthony Romano, who has represented Hoboken on the board since 2010, faces an uphill battle for reelection, because Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop have endorsed his challenger, Hoboken-based activist Phil Cohen. The longtime county political machine, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), has also endorsed Cohen.

Hoboken residents pay taxes to three entities: The county, the city, and the schools. The freeholders oversee the county budget. Wealthier cities like Hoboken, Weehawken, and Secaucus are often hit with the highest rates, as determined by a state formula, because they have so many taxpaying properties. But the county budget, decided each June, also has a big impact.

“The years of hitting Hoboken and Jersey City residents with 15 percent tax hikes must come to an end,” said Cohen in an interview on Thursday.

Cohen is framing his campaign around a plan to lower Hoboken and Jersey City’s county tax rates, including a top-to-bottom audit of each county department.

“I would insist on a top to bottom independent performance audit of all county operations, which would reveal a roadmap for how we can reduce county costs while maintaining county services,” he said. “And I’d hire a budget auditor as my top aide.”

But Romano, who is running on what he calls a successful record of bringing significant county services to Hoboken, says Cohen’s plan is a campaign-season convenience, and that lowering the taxes is next to impossible.”

“He’s going to be in the same dilemma I’m in; what’s he going to do, ask for layoffs? It’s not going to happen. Obviously if we could have lowered taxes, we would have by now,” said Romano. “The city’s [recent] tax revaluation combined with the state formula is the reason that the taxes are high. Hoboken and Jersey City are very successful right now. He’s not going to lower taxes, it’s a state formula.”

Romano said he plans to vote against this year’s county budget because he feels that the board did not do enough to cut costs. But last year, when he was the chairman and oversaw the budget process, Romano said that he had slashed the budgets of every county department by five to 10 percent.

Cohen is an attorney with the New York law firm Greenberg Traurig.

Romano retired from the Hoboken Police Department in 2011 with the rank of captain. He also owns and operates Louise and Jerry’s bar on Washington Street.

A spokesman for the third candidate, Rohena Santiago, of Jersey City, did not respond to a request for comment on this story. A letter sent to the address listed on her election filings was returned to the Reporter’s office.

Other issues

Cohen, who also served on Hoboken’s Zoning Board of adjustment and worked on Dawn Zimmer’s reelection campaign last November, said he’d like to bring new technology to the county, mentioning the county’s website, www.hudsoncountynj.org, specifically.

“The county’s website is not very user-friendly,” he said. “There are ways to use technology to get residents the services they need, and we can start by upgrading the website. By doing that, we can be more cost-effective and benefit Hoboken residents and all Hudson County residents.”

The county website was redesigned before the Super Bowl last February, but some functions fail to work on occasion.

Romano said he would continue to focus on bringing shared services to Hoboken residents, especially infrastructural improvements, in hopes of justifying the city’s high tax rates.

“We’ve been able to do so much for Hoboken during my time on the board,” he said. “We’ve repaved all of the county streets except Observer Highway, which we’ve secured the money for; the city just hasn’t taken it yet. We secured $3 million for the southwest park, $124,000 for the library, $500,000 for Hoboken Cove, and we covered most of the cost of 1600 Park.”

Powerful endorsements

The Hudson County Democratic Organization, which in the past has supported Romano, raised some eyebrows recently when it threw its support behind Cohen. Sources say Zimmer played a significant role in the decision, despite Romano and Zimmer having worked together in the past.

“Obviously this time around they left the pick up to the mayor, with whom I have no governmental differences, so it was a big surprise,” said Romano. “But he’s a big supporter and contributor to the mayor.”

Cohen contributed at least $1,500 to Zimmer’s reelection fund last October. Cohen declined to comment on his endorsements other than to say he was honored to have Zimmer and Fulop’s support.

Zimmer did not respond to Romano’s statement by press time. In her endorsement of Cohen, she said, “As a committed reformer on the local level for more than 20 years, Phil will advocate strongly for change at the county level to reduce spending and ensure services are provided as cost-effectively as possible. He will be a strong voice for us on the Freeholder Board.”

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

Comments
(16)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
PAX07030
|
May 21, 2014
Did County Freeholder Romano help get his son a County job ?

PAX07030
|
May 19, 2014
Phil Cohen has all the qualities and qualifications to be a very good Freeholder.
assilem
|
May 19, 2014
Mr. Romano has the knowledge, experience and proven successful service as Freeholder. Phil might be able to pick up the public sector operational experience at some point down the road, but I am going to stick with a proven rock solid performer.
PAX07030
|
May 20, 2014
After years of doing little more than showing up for photo ops while Hoboken gets hit with wave after wave of County tax increases I don't call that successful.



If you mean has he been personally successful because of his elected position I would have to agree.
assilem
|
June 03, 2014
Hopefully Mr. Cohen will follow through on his intent of asking the tough budget questions as a non elected citizen watchdog.
recallbethmason
|
May 19, 2014
I do not know mr. romano but many people simply aren't going to vote for him because of the Russo family stigma...he is tainted by their unethical behaviour over the years, it is that simple.
PAX07030
|
May 19, 2014
Stick is defined in large part by who he associates.

assilem
|
May 18, 2014
Wait, a "budget auditor" as aid? Does anyone know what a strongly competent budget auditor makes? they certainly would not be an aid they could likely serve as Freeholder themselves or like Mr. Lee form Queens eventually a very large budget Treasurer.

This sounds to much like Dan Bryan hired as an "aid" with no real experience but the Mayor defends him a serving as a defacto "chief of staff" when he has never had a managers or a directors role.

Folks, step away from the smoke and mirrors and elect an honest and competent candidate that has distinguishably served our town and county, Freeholder Anthony Romano. The democratic machine if you are watching the elections is way of course this time and not only that they are playing illegal and dirty campaign tactics which they had agreed not too.
VoteHoboken
|
May 19, 2014
Stick Romano is a nice guy but he has not done a good job for Hoboken in all the years he has been Freeholder. It is time for a change.

Kevin McDonald
|
May 18, 2014
I'm pretty sure that the third paragprah of the article is incorrect. While it is true that the tax rate is a function of the number of taxpaying entities - these two variables do not share the relationship that you claim. Instead, the more taxpaying entities a city has, in theory, the higher their tax base should be and they should therefore have a lower tax rate, which, as you mentioned, is based on the state's formula. Basically, the state looks at the taxing district's operating budget, examines the taxing district's aggregate tax assessment base (the total value of all assessed, non-exempt properties), and then asks, what percentage of the aggregate tax base would be required to pay for the budget. This means that Freeholder Romano is correct, the only way that you can save taxpayer money is by decreasing services. So perhaps instead of harping on the county website, which will require MORE services to address, Mr. Cohen should tell us which county services he plans on cutting? Without identifying specific programs where money can be saved, Mr. Cohen appears to be making empty promises. - does he even know what services our county offers? Could he identify some of those for us?

Moreover, from my perspective, Hoboken's taxes are actually lower than they should be because Hoboken is an abbot district and actually receives a lot of state money for its schools. I believe that it's abdsurd that the abbot districts have not been reevaluated. So, I'm all for letting this new clown try to lower taxes for our residents, but maybe it's time that we stop stealing money from a state program that is clearly no longer applicable to Hoboken.
VoteHoboken
|
May 18, 2014
It is time for a change.

Even perennial candidate and vocal anti-Zimmer pundit Perry Belfiore who until last week was a candidate for Freeholder said he thought that Hoboken needed a change of our Freeholder Board representation.

assilem
|
May 18, 2014
Perry Belfiore has excellent public sector knowledge, experience and stunning insight. It is unfortunate that he is not able to run at this time. Freeholder Romano continues to provide excellent representation.
VoteHoboken
|
May 19, 2014
Apparently Perry Belfiore did not think Anthony Romano was an capable of providing the representation the 33rd District deserved or he would have not gone to all the time effort and expense to run against him.

assilem
|
May 19, 2014
Vote, you should review your presumptions.
assilem
|
May 20, 2014
Vote, you should check your presumptions.
PAX07030
|
May 20, 2014
If Perry Belfiore thought Romano was doing a good enough job as Freeholder then he never would have even bothered to spend the time and money to put himself on the ballot.

That is the plain unvarnished fact.

A presumption would be the item Al Sullivan floated a few weeks ago that Belfiore was in the race as a spoiler to keep Romano for any chance of being reelected.