Hoboken City Council Approves $117 Million Budget, Sets City Tax Levy at 7.5%

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Hoboken City Council approved a $117-million budget Wednesday {8-1}, ending a months-long stalemate between lawmakers over the direction of city finances. Lawmakers set the city’s tax levy at 7.5% in time for an October 1 tax deadline.

city council budget vote 2020

Shortly after the Council approved the budget, Mayor Ravi Bhalla released a statement thanking lawmakers for collaboration and adopting a budget.

“Thank you to the County of Hudson and the Hoboken City Council for working collaboratively with my administration to overcome the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic to pass the 2020 budget,” Bhalla said. “I’m proud that this budget maintains city services and invests in our future, while delivering one of Hoboken’s lowest overall tax increases in the last decade, at only .75% or an average of $70 per household.”

Because Hoboken’s share of county taxes decreased by 6%, property owners would pay .75% more in total tax.

The Council reached this agreement after weeks of political dispute over the tax levy. Last week, lawmakers voted down a set of budget amendments in response to a proposed 9.8% tax levy.

Councilmember Ruben Ramos, who voted for the budget, said that he was pleased the budget used more of the surplus to reduce the overall tax increase to a near 0%. “It’s the least we can do for Hoboken residents,” Ramos said.

Although the Council was near unanimous in their vote, the budget had its share of criticism.

Councilmember Tiffanie Fisher, the co-chair of the Revenue and Finance subcommittee, said that the subcommittee had mixed views about how the administration handled the budget this year.

“The fact that we’re still hearing from different people that the rate increase is around 1% could not be more hypocritical,” Fisher said. “We were able to get 7.5%, and that is still a ginormous rate. If we didn’t have the benefit of the county’s decrease, Hoboken would be in a difficult time. If we didn’t have the benefit of that, there may have been more focus on real cost cutting in the administration.

Councilmember Vanessa Falco, who voted for the budget, said that the Bhalla administration has had the wrong priorities over the last year. Those priorities, she said, caused the budget shortfall.

“We knew going into this year, that because of fiscal mismanagement that this was going to be a tough budget year,” Falco said, “but what we didn’t know that Covid was going to happen. But because of Covid, we weren’t able to generate the expected revenue from parking that we normally would. We cannot sustain a municipal budget on parking revenue. Now we’re here, and yes it’s time to use the surplus. The surplus that dawn zimmer worked so hard to fill up.”

“What I implore this Council to do,” Falco added, “is to move into 2021 with a clear vision with what the priorities are for this council and for this city, and to not approve all this irresponsible spending.”

Councilmember Mike Russo, who was the only lawmaker to vote against the budget, said that the budget included frivolous spending and political pet projects. “This is not just this year,” Russo said. “This is a decade-long problem that we’ve been having in the City of Hoboken. For years, I’ve been talking about bonding — stopping that. For years, I’ve been talking about restructuring government and saving money. For years, I’ve been talking about health insurance in this city.”

Russo added that he wants to see a budget by January 1. “I want it,” he said. “Let’s start making significant changes to the way we do business in Hoboken.”

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Matthew Cunningham covers local stories on LGBTQ life, city council, local business, inequality, and science. Born in Arkansas, Matthew is a student at Stevens Institute of Technology and a proud gay Hoboken resident. When he isn't dashing to a zoning board meeting or interviewing lawmakers, he enjoys exploring restaurants on Washington Street, scootering on Frank Sinatra Drive, and getting a taste of the big city life.