(ABOVE: City of Hoboken photo)
In the wake of a multi-million dollar budgetary shortfall, over two-dozen layoffs, and the ripple effects of COVID-19 waiting to crash down on Hoboken’s finances, members of the City Council have proposed three separate ordinances in an effort to cut municipal costs.
The first ordinance looks to temporarily reduce the salaries of all City Council members, the Mayor and City Directors by 10% for the remainder of the year.
“Hoboken was facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit long before the global health crisis and yet we’re still lacking the necessary financial planning to responsibly move forward,” said Council Vice President Vanessa Falco and Councilman Mike DeFusco—who will co-sponsor the ordinance. “With such an astronomical municipal shortfall, City leadership should be leading by example and willingly forgo a portion of our own salaries. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen the mayor heartlessly and carelessly move forward with 26 layoffs in the middle of a pandemic before even sharing a budget proposal with the City Council. Hoboken residents and municipal employees deserve better and it is only responsible that we begin making cuts at the top and work our way down.”
Another ordinance will take aim at the Office of Constituent Affairs, which was reinstituted by the Bhalla Administration, “to help residents with quality of life issues, with a special attention paid to the needs of Hoboken’s seniors, low-income tenants, and residents with disabilities.” The Office was eliminated in 2009 at the recommendation of an auditor, but reopened in October 2018.
A third ordinance will also eliminate the City’s Engineer, instead using vendors that have been approved to do work in Hoboken.
“Four months after learning about the anticipated multi-million dollar deficit in this year’s municipal budget, the City Council has still not been presented with any formal plans to address this issue,” said Councilman Ruben Ramos and Councilman Michael Russo, who have co-sponsored the Constituent Affairs and City Engineer ordinances. “When Hoboken found itself in a similar crisis 10 years ago, a governor-appointed state auditor fully eliminated the Office of Constituent Affairs to advance the city’s fiscal health. Given the current state of our finances, it is only sensible we again follow this same advice. We are all elected to public office to serve our residents and remain committed to being constituent focused and address the everyday needs and concerns of our neighbors.”
With joint/group statements being the order of the day, Councilperson Emily Jabbour, Councilman Jim Doyle and Councilman Phil Cohen have professed their support for maintaining the office of Constituent Affairs.
“We fully support the incredible work performed by lifelong Hoboken residents Caroline Caulfield and Migdalia Pagan Milano, and we thank them for everything they have done for thousands of residents since the Office of Constituent Affairs was launched in October 2018,” said the Council members. “Mike DeFusco, Ruben Ramos, Mike Russo, and Vanessa Falco are leading the seemingly politically motivated charge to eliminate the Office of Constituent Affairs, an office that has helped hundreds of residents in need as a result of COVID-19 who are out of work and looking for assistance, as well as coordinating volunteers to process and deliver food to our seniors, and much more. This is a clearly targeted move taking aim at one of Mayor Bhalla’s first initiatives as Mayor, and we would hope that our Council colleagues will overwhelmingly oppose this senseless ordinance that will only hurt our residents in this time when they need help the most help from their City.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Ravi Bhalla said, “I want to express my gratitude to the Office of Constituent Services for serving as a critical, frontline resource to residents during our COVID-19 response. Caroline Caulfield and Migdalia Pagan-Milano have shifted their duties in serving residents on routine issues, to being the first points of contact for so many seeking assistance.”
Regarding the proposal to eliminate the City’s Engineer, Jabbour, Doyle and Cohen say, “It’s clear that as a result of hiring Kimberli Craft, her work as an in-house engineer has saved the City of Hoboken from having to hire outside engineers and contractors at a higher cost for work she is now able to do in-house. Councilmembers routinely seek to bring “in-house” various functions that often have been performed by outside consultants because it saves taxpayers money. Ironically, this proposal would actually squander $200,000 a year in savings of critical taxpayer dollars that this office has saved, which is inconsistent and defies all logic.”
Hoboken laid off 26 employees last month.
“At a time when people should be focusing on staying healthy, Hoboken Municipal employees are now faced with the reality that they will no longer have their jobs or the security of knowing that after the COVID-19 crisis dies down, they have job security in which to return. Other employees who were not laid off were forced to retire, some after dedicating 34 plus years of service,” said Lynette Medeiros, Vice President of Hoboken Municipal Employees Association. “Those employees have served Hoboken during some of the darkest times and never wavered in dedication. Employees had come to work when the City was literally burning to the ground, during hurricanes, snowstorms, and even pandemics. They were rewarded with not even a sentiment or a thank you.”
Hoboken’s next City Council meeting will be held virtually at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.