As the pandemic continues, financial repercussions continue to be felt across the Mile Square and throughout the country. Over the past year, the virus and ensuing restrictions have cost the city $6.4 million in revenue pulled from a variety of sectors, from the hospitality industry to local government. On April 7th, despite the significant losses sustained, Mayor Bhalla introduced a new $118.2 million municipal budget for Hoboken. On August 19th, the Hoboken Council unanimously approved a $124,878,217.96 budget with a 2.8% tax decrease.
According to an official press release sent to the public back in April, Bhalla’s administration plans to use the funds procured through the American Rescue Plan to supplement the budget and implement system improvements throughout the city. COVID-19 continues to be a concern, so $7 million from this plan will be utilized to address upcoming costs and continued financial strain caused by the pandemic. Another portion of the stimulus funding will be put towards expanding mobility options, coronavirus testing infrastructure, and vaccine distribution. Likewise, rental relief is to become available.
The budget also focuses on several general capital improvement projects unrelated to the pandemic. These adjustments will include:
- – Park improvement projects
- – Open space acquisitions
- – Upgrading environmental services equipment
- – Repaving approximately 75 blocks of road
- – Introducing safety measures, curb extensions, crosswalks, and bike lanes
- – Construction on the Northwest Resiliency Park
- – Upgrading technology to prevent water main leaks
- – Repairs on the B, D, G, and Midtown Municipal Garages
The adopted budget also includes $6.4 million from the American Rescue Plan.
The Council approved a preliminary budget in April with a flat tax rate. In June, the Council voted down two budget amendments that would have come with 4.5 and 3.1 percent tax decreases, respectively, before approving a $1.7 million amendment allow for a 2.8 percent decrease last month, Hudson County View reported.
With the City’s budget approved, the Council shares thoughts on the new plan.
“I am very proud that we have once again been able to deliver a balanced budget and provide much-needed financial relief to residents, despite the extraordinary circumstances presented by the pandemic,” Mayor Bhalla said in a statement.
“A lot of great work was done by the professional Finance Department Staff at City Hall, especially Business Administrator Jason Freeman and Finance Director Linda Landolfi,” said Councilwoman Jabbour, Chair of the Finance Subcommittee.
“For my entire tenure serving on the Hoboken City Council, I have pushed for a reduction in taxes, and I am proud to have worked with the Administration and my Council colleagues to deliver that,” said Councilman Russo.
“Thank you to Mayor Bhalla, the City Council, and the Mayor’s administration for working together to provide creative solutions and deliver a welcome tax break to Hoboken residents in a tough year. This budget is a win-win-win as it provides residents relief and funding for capital improvement projects without compromising any City services,” Councilman Cohen stated.
Back in April, City Council Representatives seemed generally pleased with the proposed budget, repeatedly citing the lack of a municipal tax increase as a triumph. During budget discussions last year, there was a concern that costs cut for 2020 would be rolled immediately into 2021.
Phil Cohen, 5th Ward Councilperson, serves on the Revenue and Finance Committee. Cohen noted that the unexpected and unprecedented nature of the crisis led to a 2020 budget introduction (including a “modest tax increase”) that was not approved and finalized until the end of the third quarter. Today, the Councilman is pleased that the Bhalla administration’s budget will feature a slight reduction in this year’s tax rate while also accounting for the continued influence of Covid-19. He said, “I applaud Mayor Bhalla, Business Director Freeman, and Mayor Bhalla’s administration for producing a balanced budget and cutting spending where appropriate in order to ensure that taxpayers have real relief at a time they most need it.”
Chair of the Finance Subcommittee, Councilperson-at-Large Emily Jabbour told Hoboken Girl via email, “I’m very proud to work with the Mayor as we review the budget that was initially presented by Business Administrator Jason Freeman at yesterday’s Council meeting, which has a zero percent tax increase. After the difficulty of the last year and [the] negative impacts of Covid-19, I think this proposal brings the right balance of community investments while maintaining responsible spending levels to bring relief to our residents. I look forward to working with my colleagues to finalize a budget that is most fair to the taxpayers.”
Similarly, 3rd Ward Councilperson Michael Russo wrote, “I’m proud of the work we’ve done collectively on the Council Finance Subcommittee with the finance department and administration to provide absolutely no tax increase for our residents despite the major challenges caused by Covid-19. Our stimulus funds have helped, but we have also tightened our belts to reign in spending despite rising fixed costs. I’m proud to support this balanced budget proposal submitted by the mayor and his administration.”
Councilperson-at-Large James Doyle also contributed via email, saying, “I am pleased and relieved that, notwithstanding the continuing significant impacts of the pandemic, we have a budget with no tax increase. Many revenue streams are down, and the city has stepped up to provide unprecedented services to residents that all come with a cost. The naysayers who critique the proposed budget by saying that without various forms of financial aid there would be [a] gloom and doom scenario ignore the reality of the ravages caused by the pandemic and that the financial aid is doing precisely what it is designed to do — ameliorate the pandemic’s impact.”
Tiffanie Fisher, 2nd Ward Councilperson, stated via email, “After Mayor Bhalla delivered the highest tax rate increase in a decade, having $7 million in tax relief from the American Recoveries Act revenues is welcome. But we need to better understand what the mayor is calling “rightsizing” costs with increases in the 5% range as it looks more like he is using these emergency funds to continue his spending spree as opposed to delivering real savings to Hoboken taxpayers.”
All Council members were reached out to, but these were the only comments from those who responded. Additional Councilmember comments on the budget will be provided as they are received. The next regular City Council Meeting is set to take place on Wednesday, September 1.