There always seems to be a lot going on, but this week there seemed to be more than normal including (but not limited to):
- Municipal Budget
- Pay to Play concerns
- Affordable Housing
- More fairness for Hoboken’s LGBTQI community
- Reducing local energy costs
- Loading zones in residential areas
- Hoboken Shipwrecks and
- A large, HOT PINK duck
Read below for more on these (its long, but hopefully the highlighted titles will let you scroll to the topics you find most interesting)…
Amended Municipal Budget
The 2018 Amended Municipal Budget passed with a zero percent increase. The vote was 9-0 for the 3rd year in a row and 3rd time since 2010. I have chaired the Finance Subcommittee and have made it my mission to work collaboratively with the administration and the entire council to ensure that the municipal budget weighs and balances the burden on taxpayers while still addressing as many priorities within our city as possible. Some takeaway points:
- Total budgeted appropriations (expenditures) actually went up by $4.1M (3.8%) to $112.1M.
- Like we are seeing across the country, this was mainly driven by $2.9M in increased healthcare costs. Group health insurance alone costs $22.8M or 19% of our total municipal budget. Other large increases include salary and pension ($2.7M) and Debt Service ($600k).
- Taxes remained flat primarily due offsetting impact of a 2.5% expansion of tax base ($1.3M), increased use of surplus/parking surplus ($1.7M), a reduction in deferred Hurricane Sandy costs ($1.4M) and increased building permit revenues ($900k).
The entire City Council has provided input to the budget since prior to it being introduced by the Mayor, as such the budget now includes the following (and more) because of this input:
- City Engineer and Construction Manager added to better and more efficiently manage all of our public works, construction projects and technical requirements (including intersection safety) and done so with a better eye on what is best for Hoboken. These roles will pay for themselves with the reduction in third party engineering costs and IMHO are justified for the next decade given the demands within our community (in original).
- IT resources to improve, upgrade and automate the Recreation Program and Rent Control records for better access and transparency (in amendment).
- Traffic and transportation resources for warrant studies for intersection safety, consistent signage at all of our schools, and an analysis for the potential expansion/improvement of the HOP (in amendment).
- Historic Preservation Design Guidelines that Hoboken has been without and is necessary so we can ensure we are best protecting and preserving our Historic character and properties (in amendment).
- Expanded park landscaping and incorporation of dog facilities at two parks (in amendment)
- Restoration of the cobbles for safety and historical purposes on both Court Street and Castlepoint Terrace (in amendment).
- Expansion of constituent services. There is city-wide consensus on the need for improvements in this area. In recent history, it was addressed via the Mayor’s staff and Hoboken 311, but currently there are three additional heads in the budget including the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor and two people who will work in a new department of constituent services. There remains outstanding clarification on how this will be addressed across the new hires. (in original)
In my opinion, this is a tight budget with little room for cuts and has some positive, necessary changes that will make our city run more efficiently. That being said, there will be pressure next year given the reliance on some meaningful yet non-recurring savings/revenues that are in this year’s budget. We need to continue to focus on efficiencies and revenue expansion this year so we can keep the burden on taxpayers as low as possible while improving the quality of life of our residents.
Union Dry Dock and Pay-to-Play Concerns
On Wednesday the City Council had to table approving a resolution submitted by the Administration with a last minute change to include environmental firm Prestige Environmental to do work relating to UDD. Concerns were raised by City Council members about $1,800 in contributions made by Prestige in February and March, listed on the 1Q 2018 ELEC reports for Mayor Bhalla and Team Bhalla. These amounts are in excess of the City’s contribution limits of $300 from vendors being considered for contracts for professional services. This is a serious issue, covered in both state and local statutes. Our local laws carry a penalty if a breach is found of not being allowed to provide any services to our city for 4 years (a full election cycle).
The entire City Council was focused on how to move forward with minimal delay given the time sensitivity around UDD. The Administration are expediently investigating the potential breach while simultaneously identifying immediately available replacements so there is no delay - we may have a special meeting to approve the contract / new firm. In addition to Prestige, two additional firms (directly or through principals of the firms) with existing contracts were also identified that night – Boswell Engineering and Lite Depalma – as having made contributions to Mayor Bhalla in excess of the limits according to his ELEC reports. Although smaller at $600 each, these are being investigated as well.
Monday night there was a community meeting on affordable housing hosted by Councilwoman Falco, Chair of our affordable housing subcommittee (which I also sit on). There were a number of speakers from agencies who provide support for residents who are being displaced and/or work on expansion of affordable development. We have a crisis across our country with affordable housing and within Hoboken, given our attractive location and high land prices, this is even more pronounced. We have a unique community – our own personal Sesame Street. And with this we have a great opportunity to potentially show how we can have a community that is inviting to people of all economic backgrounds. I welcome any thoughts you may have on this topic and if you would like to be more actively involved in this discussion going forward. More to come…
Making Hoboken Even More Welcoming
Mayor Bhalla issued an executive order and the City Council approved 9-0 an ordinance to remove gender bias from city-wide, single occupancy restrooms. This may not resonate personally with everyone in our town, but this simple step of replacing “Men’s Restroom” with just “Restroom” will ELIMINATE A BIAS effecting some of our community members. Councilman DeFusco further introduced a resolution seeking to expand services to this community, services that aren’t necessarily readily available and should be.
Lower Cost Renewable Sources of Energy for Everyone
The City Council approved moving forward to implement an energy aggregation plan which would focus on increasing renewable energy sources at no additional cost to Hoboken residents, and actually with the hope of reducing costs. We approved a vendor to solicit proposals and if approved (mid/late summer) would be an opt-out plan that will affect all residents who want to participate. It would not change your relationship with PSE&G. You would just see a new line on your bill for the new supplier. And hopefully you will get cleaner energy at a reduced cost. More to come…
Loading Zone Pilot Program
As we know parking is a nightmare, especially on the residential streets, and even temporary parking to unload groceries, etc. is a pain. The City Council approved a 180 day pilot presented by the Parking and Transportation Subcommittee to see if creating curbside loading zones in 17 locations could reduce demand and frequency of double parking, facilitate safe and orderly curbside loading, and improve street safety. The zones would only be in effect from 8am – 6pm M-Sa. Most of the locations are in the central residential areas - Clinton 6th – 10th, Garden 7th & 10th, Park 6th – 10th, Willow 6th & 8th – 10th. Be on the look-out and share your thoughts with your councilperson (and/or me).
The Weehawken cove has become a graveyard for boats moored at no cost and / or abandoned. Since Hurricane Sandy famously sent a sailboat onto the Hudson River Walkway around Weehawken Cove, during each major storm the number of boats that become shipwrecked or sink has increased. The recent storm last week saw another sailboat stuck on the rocks hovering over the walkway, and a pontoon boat smashed into pieces (with the pieces being found in another location and cleaned up during the spring fling!). I asked our Director of Parking and Transportation Ryan Sharpe and Battalion Chief Crimmins Fire Department to provide a status update on removal of the boats. They reported at the council meeting last night that they are working with the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and the NJ and NY State Police, to agree jurisdiction and a plan for removal. It is complicated to say the least given the multitude of agency involvement. The two recent shipwrecks are supposed to be removed this Sunday under an emergency effort. The others will take longer. I spoke with CBS News on Wednesday who was out there covering the scene .
Pier 13, a missing stop sign and a Pink Duck
What has become a great attraction for Hoboken, Pier 13 officially opened on May 1st. With this comes increased pedestrian traffic in the area. This stop sign installed by the County last year at the crosswalk on Sinatra adjacent to Pier 13 went missing and I have been assured this week by County Freeholder Romano and the County Engineer that it will be replaced ASAP. And the GIANT PINK DUCK? So far I have seen mixed reviews – it is bigger than last year’s duck, and its original location on the end of the pier made it more pronounced. The duck has been moved to the water (unfortunately floated away at first and last sighting last night it was face down…). Please let me know if you are thumbs up or thumbs down on this year’s version. Last year, if you remember, it was smaller, yellow and came with a giant floating beach ball.
As always, please feel free to email me or call me at 201/208-1674 if you have any questions of comments or want to discuss this or anything else. I hope everyone is enjoying what feels like a final break from winter! Have a great weekend!
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward
Engage. Inform. Advocate.
“More Voices are Better”
PS – A shoutout to 2nd Ward Hudson Coffee who is having their grand opening today! Still an hour or so left! Located on Hudson, between 11th and 12th. Stop by for 50% off all items with 100% of proceeds being donated to the Hoboken Police Benevolent Association for purposes of purchasing safety equipment for Hoboken High School. I particular recommend the smooth, cold brew iced coffee (I take mine with a dash of vanilla flavored syrup)!
PSS – Sunday May 6th – while hopefully all of you will be attending the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival from 11-6 (returned to downtown), I will be riding my bike 40 miles in my third TD Five Boro Bike Ride to raise money for World Wide Orphans. Everyone is generous in their own ways but if you are looking for new ways, WWO is an amazing organization which helps orphans thrive in spite of their circumstances. If interested, you can learn more about why this is important to me and can donate online here. 100% of all donations are matched. Thank you for considering!