At a special meeting Wednesday night, the Jersey City council approved the $509.8 million 2010 budget – two months before the June 30 end of the fiscal year – by a 5-3 vote.
The amount to be raised by taxes is $185 million, slightly less than the $190 million that the council expected, which should allow for a slight decrease in taxes for this year’s second quarter. However, first quarter taxes were already raised 24 percent by the council in January, so despite any short-term savings, taxes overall will remain higher than last year.
The budget passed by a 5-3 vote.
Overall, the budget is $34 million higher than the final 2009 budget, which was also passed 10 months into that fiscal year.
The increases are the result of major expenses, such as paying $43 million this year in municipal debt service, up $5 million from the previous fiscal year. Payouts to retirees who accumulated unused sick and vacation days almost doubled from last year’s $4.5 million to $8.4 million.
Due to a loss of state aid from Trenton this year, the city has already laid off municipal employees and forced others to take furloughs. This year’s budget shortfall was conservatively estimated at $42 million.
Some of the dissenters from the public, who first came out in January as a group known as Jersey City Tax Revolt, were present for the special meeting to comment on the budget before final approval.
Public wants changes
Esther Wintner, the fiery leader of the group, was a little more subdued than in past council meetings. She gave suggestions to the council about what measures should be taken for future budgets.
That advice included voting down monthly temporary budget appropriations to pay employees, in order to put pressure on Mayor Jerramiah Healy to introduce a balanced budget earlier in the fiscal year. Introducing the budget earlier would allow more time to make cuts rather than raise taxes.
“You’re killing us; people will lose their homes,” Wintner said.
Other residents questioned spending for various departments and payouts for retirees. Many municipal employees opted to retire this year before Gov. Christopher Christie’s payout caps have gone into effect for unused sick and vacation time.
At least two residents, Kevin Maguire and Susan Storey, asked the city to be more transparent and to put a line-by-line budget on the city’s website that shows spending not only for each department, but for each position.
City Clerk Robert Byrne said he would work on soon putting online an early draft of this year’s budget that shows a detailed spending breakdown.
For and against
Councilwoman Viola Richardson was absent from the meeting. Council members Nidia Lopez, David Donnelly and Steven Fulop voted against the budget.
Fulop has voted in the past against temporary appropriations. Since the beginning of the year, he has made a number of cost-cutting suggestions, such as stripping temporary employees (and some part-time officials) of healthcare benefits and ending perks like city cars for directors and City Council members.
Fulop also said city officials need to put an end to wasteful spending policies that result in late budgets that bring about tax increases.
“Businesses do not manage themselves that way and the city should not manage itself that way,” Fulop said.
Voting for the budget were council members Michael Sottolano, Peter Brennan, Bill Gaughan, Willie Flood and Mariano Vega, who all mentioned during their respective votes that it was not easy to vote for this budget during these “difficult times.”
After the meeting ended, Gaughan, who along with Sottolano and Brennan served on the budget committee, said they are already discussing how to tackle the next fiscal year’s budget.
Regarding the question of holding budget workshops for the public so they can participate in the budget process, Gaughan was hesitant to entertain that idea, saying some government workings should remain “private.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.