The city of Hoboken plans to stop booting cars of residents with expired parking permits in anticipation of a new summons and warning system expected to be launched in early July, the city’s parking chief said at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
The measure follows complaints from residents and recent articles in the Hoboken Reporter and the Star-Ledger about problems people have faced when their car was booted in town.
The new proposed system would require residents with expired permits to pay a fine and obtain a permit renewal within 72 hours, but leave their cars unencumbered.
The city has received negative publicity after it stepped up enforcement of parking rules in recent years. Residents, visitors, and business people have said the parking signs are unclear, and it’s excessive to boot a car for a first offense. Meanwhile, the city has raked in millions of dollars each year from parking fines, while not addressing the signage or booting problems until now.
At the meeting, John Morgan, the director of the Department of Transportation and Parking, said that the Hoboken Parking Utility had “basically stopped” booting residents, although the city will still boot visitors who are parked in the wrong place.
In an interview on Thursday, Mayor Dawn Zimmer clarified that the timeline for rolling out the new system had not been finalized.
The city administration is currently developing a Parking Master Plan. Zimmer said she expects a final decision on the comprehensive use of booting to be included in the plan.
At a public workshop on June 11, attendees discussed possible changes to Hoboken’s parking management. Ideas included a streamlined website or smartphone app for purchasing permits, smart meters that vary pricing throughout the day, and an on-demand parking service for residents.
Zimmer did not indicate Thursday whether a full suspension of booting would be part of the final plan.
“The concern is that you could end up with no parking whatsoever available for residents if you don’t have any way to do any enforcement,” she explained. The plan is being developed in consultation with Arup, an engineering and design firm with offices worldwide.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several council members reiterated concerns over the use of parking boots. After Morgan stated that 82 percent of boots deployed in Hoboken have been removed within 15 minutes of placement, Councilman Ravi Bhalla recalled reports of defective boots that would not release.
The Reporter recently profiled one woman who was stuck for four hours trying to remove the boot. She said she’d never do business in this town again after that. A CEO of a company in Queens said he was stranded in Hoboken overnight in cold temperatures because the boot on his car would not release.
Hoboken’s parking boots are meant to be self-releasing. Motorists must call a hotline and pay a $150 fee by credit card in order to receive the code that will unlock the device. They must then return the boot to a garage.
“I think we’re opening ourselves up a possible class-action lawsuit” over booting, said Councilman Tim Occhipinti at the meeting.
A 1985 state law specifically allows cities to boot vehicles with outstanding permits, but does not address lesser offenses.
A survey was posted on the Hoboken city government website to garner feedback on the parking system from residents, and is expected to be concluded by June 25, according to Morgan. It can be found at http://www.hobokennj.org/parkingplan/.
$107.7M to run city, slight tax increase
The City Council adopted a final budget for the 2014 calendar year on Wednesday. The city’s new budget for this calendar year amounts to $107.7 million. Last year, the city spent $106.5 million. Hoboken is maintaining a cash surplus of $9.8 million.
The budget relies on $51.8 million in property taxes from residents, up from $50.8 million last year.
As a result, the municipal portion of the tax rate will rise to $4.70 for every $1,000 of assessed value. (Homeowners also pay taxes to the schools and county; those budgets are struck in spring.) According to Juan Melli, the spokesman for Mayor Zimmer, the average assessed value of a property in Hoboken is $522,100. So the average owner will pay $2,453.87 to the city this year, as well as an additional amount to the county and schools.
The budget covers spending from this past Jan. 1, 2014 through this coming December 31.
Much of the growth in spending came from trying to resolve outstanding legal issues, according to Business Administrator Quentin Wiest. The city recently lost a $1 million wrongful termination suit, but is appealing. However, they must budget several hundred thousand dollars for payments to retirees as a result of a legal settlement. The case concerned an illegal early retirement incentive scheme passed by the City Council in 2008.
Payments must also be made to firefighters for vacation time, and the reserve for tax appeals was increased by around $1 million in anticipation of closing out four years of appeals prior to revaluation, officials said.
Besides the property tax levy, Hoboken’s budget will be paid for through state and federal grants, parking tickets, permit fees, rents on city property, and other revenue streams.
Council members Michael Russo, Theresa Castellano, and Tim Occhipinti spoke in opposition to the increase in taxes.
Occhipinti said that the residents are getting hit with too many costs at once – county and city tax increases, parking boots, and an Open Space Tax amount that caused some controversy. “It’s like you’re walking into the ring and you’re getting a left, left, and a hook,” he said.
Councilman Russo questioned why the increase in spending could not be financed by drawing down the cash surplus.
In an interview on Thursday, Mayor Zimmer defended the new budget.
“We do need to keep things stable, and at the same time, we’re dealing with increased health care costs, we’re dealing with contracts, we’re dealing with step increases, longevity,” she said. “All of those costs are increasing dramatically, so it’s not feasible to say we’re not going to have a tax increase.”
In comparison to the city’s tax rate increase, Zimmer noted that the Hudson County tax rate paid by Hoboken residents is expected to increase by 14 percent in the proposed 2014 county budget, which has yet to reach a final vote. This is the second year in a row that Hoboken residents will pay more in property taxes to Hudson County than they do to the city of Hoboken.
Zoning board decision questioned
There was some discussion at the council meeting about the Zoning Board’s decision on Tuesday to reject a mixed-use project in northwestern Hoboken that would have included a bowling alley, rock climbing wall, and 10 stories of housing.
Hany Ahmed, one of the developers of the rejected project at 1300 Jefferson St., complained about the lack of clarity in the zoning board’s vision for what kind of development Hoboken needs.
Mayor Zimmer’s administration has taken a cautious approach to development. Zimmer does not appoint the Zoning Board members, but right now, most of them are allied with her. They were appointed by the City Council, which currently has a majority of Zimmer allies.
“I think that having recreational amenities like bowling and a wall climbing gym would be great for Hoboken. However, I had some concerns about the level of density that was proposed,” wrote Zimmer in an email. She made clear that she considers the zoning board to be independent and did not discuss the application with any Zoning Board members prior to its ruling.
According to Councilman David Mello, who attended the zoning meeting, in rejecting the variance for the Jefferson Street property, the board cited the need for updates to the zoning code, which falls under the purview of City Council.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the city council appointed a new affirmative action officer, Nita Raval. According to a letter written to the council by Mayor Zimmer, Raval will replace the former affirmative action officer Kimberly Wilson, who is on indefinite leave due to a family matter.
Raval is a managing partner at the Hoboken law firm Florio & Kenny, and her services were retained through a contract for general litigation in an amount not to exceed $35,000. Raval was the first Indian-American woman to serve as a commissioner, vice chair, and chair of the New Jersey State Division of Civil Rights.
Russo questioned why the affirmative action officer had to be a lawyer, and why that lawyer should be hired from “a politically connected law firm.” Zimmer ally Bernard Kenny, a former state senator, is a partner at Florio & Kenny.
Mayor Zimmer appointed Caleb McKenzie as a second alternate for the Hoboken Planning Board.
The council honored Edward J. “Roy” Huelbig with a proclamation from Mayor Zimmer in recognition of his 90th birthday. Huelbig, a World War II veteran, led the council and audience in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”