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Stuck In An Impasse, Hoboken City Council Postpones Vote on Budget to Next Week

by Matthew Cunningham
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Hoboken City Council, at yesterday’s meeting, postponed a vote on the city’s $117-million annual budget until next week, gearing up lawmakers for a weeklong frenzy of budgetary negotiations and committee meetings. Lawmakers are racing to adopt a budget before an October 1 tax deadline.

Despite the lack of a formal budget, Hoboken has kept paying bills, meeting payroll, and sustaining city services for the last 14 weeks through temporary budgets, known as “emergency temporary appropriations.”

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At Wednesday’s meeting, lawmakers voted down amendments prepared by the Council’s Revenue and Finance Committee {3-6}. Concerns about the amendments centered around the city’s 9.8% tax increase.

Emily Jabbour, the co-chair of the Revenue and Finance Committee, said amendments on the budget effectively matched the original budget submitted to the Council in June. The amendments included around $100,000 in reduced expenses and around $100,000 in additional spending.

Tiffanie Fisher, the co-chair of the Revenue and Finance committee and who voted down the budget, said there have been minor savings on a few line items, but those savings were mostly coincidental. “We’ve seen some minor savings on healthcare, but that wasn’t a discretionary cut,” Fisher said. “That was because of Covid. We saw fewer people using our health insurance, so we had fewer claims. It has nothing to do with the efforts of the administration.”

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Fisher added that the Bhalla administration is pushing larger expenses into 2021. Pointing to unsettled union contracts, Fisher said, “Every year that we don’t settle that, we have an increased liability around those contracts, so that number grows and grows. [The city government] basically kicked that [cost] into next year.”

Councilmember Jennifer Giattino, the president of the Council, said some delayed expenses will have a major impact on taxpayers in 2021. “If you’re worried about taxes going up this year, next year will be a disaster,” Giattino said.

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In the budget introduced in June by Mayor Bhalla, the city’s tax levy was 9.8%. Because Hoboken’s share of county taxes decreased by 6%, property owners would pay 1.4% more in total tax. According to a city spokesperson, a Hoboken property owner with $522,000 in assessed property would pay an additional $115 in overall tax.

To reduce the city’s share of municipal tax and possibly reduce the overall rate, lawmakers said they’re considering tapping into the city’s surplus, although there are disputes about how much of the surplus should be used. Linda Landolfi, the city’s director of finance, recommended at yesterday’s meeting that the Council “don’t mess around with surplus too much.”

Lawmakers will be meeting through the end of the week to prepare new amendments. A special City Council meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday, September 23 at 6PM.


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