Following months of anticipation, the Bhalla Administration has outlined its tentative Hoboken budget for Fiscal Year 2020*. Factors weighing heavily in the budget decision process include a pre-existing budget shortfall, a reduction in surplus regeneration, and the unprecedented loss of revenue due to COVID-19—the combination of which represents an estimated $19.8 million impact.
(*EDITOR’S NOTE: link to budget added at 6 p.m., as it was released after the initial publication of this article.)
In an effort to bridge those gaps, the Administration’s budget proposes an overall 1.4% tax increase to property owners.
“Like the rest of the country, Hoboken’s economy and finances have not been immune from the coronavirus pandemic. In the face of unprecedented budget challenges compounded by COVID-19 and continuing uncertainty about the virus and the economy, we are putting forward a responsible, balanced budget that provides the services our community expects and continues to invest in our future,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
Prior to the COVID crisis, the City of Hoboken was facing an estimated $7.4 million budget shortfall, compounded by a $6.4 million reduction in its surplus. In April, over two-dozen Hoboken municipal employees were either laid off or were offered early retirements in an effort to mitigate those shortfalls. As the pandemic has taken hold, the resulting economic fallout is estimated to add another $5.9 million in both added costs and lost revenue.
“Through a combination of difficult cuts and new revenue sources, we have chipped away at a nearly $20 million budget shortfall and are introducing a budget that would result in an overall property tax increase of just over 1 percent,” said Bhalla.
Combined with new revenues, those cost-cutting measures have reportedly bridged the budget gap by approximately $10.9 million, according to the Administration. Their budget proposes using $3.3 million of the city’s non-regenerating budget surplus, leaving a $5.5 million gap, which would be closed by a 9.8% increase in the municipal purposes tax.
Municipal taxes make up roughly 1/3 of the overall tax bill for Hoboken property owners. With Hoboken’s share of County taxes decreasing by 6% this year, the Administration’s proposed budget would in turn translate to an increase of 1.4%. For the average property in Hoboken—assessed at $522,000—that corresponds to an annual increase of $115, or $9.50 per month.
The proposed budget will see the continuation of a number of infrastructure and quality of life initiatives. Hoboken plans to move forward with repaving over 40 blocks of streets, while restriping crosswalks and increasing bike facilities citywide. Construction will also continue on the 5-acre Northwest Resiliency Park. The replacement of over 7,000 feet of antiquated water mains will continue to move forward, in an effort to reduce water main breaks. Improvements to the Maxwell Park dog runs will go ahead, as will upgrades to the Elysian Park playground safety surface, the spray area at Stevens Park, and the South Waterfront Walkway—the latter seeing new pavers, 41 new trees, 200 native plants, and new LED lighting. Many of these projects are backed in part by grants and other funding initiatives.
The City also singles out its commitment to work with NJ TRANSIT on crowding issues with the 126 Clinton St and Willow Ave routes, through articulated buses and additional bus stops. Furthermore, the City vows to continue supporting local businesses by creating 12 streateries, 21 parklets, and over 150 expanded sidewalk cafes.
“I look forward to working collaboratively with the City Council in the weeks ahead as they consider and ultimately adopt a budget,” said Mayor Bhalla.
Meanwhile, the City will need to take steps to implement COVID-19 safety protocols on a number of facilities, which in turn will see temporary setbacks for other improvements around town.
Hoboken Director of Operations Jason Freeman told hMAG, “The proposed budget is a reflection of shared priorities. We focused on items that we knew were important to residents and members of the council, and tried to make decisions that made the most sense for all involved.” He added, “We’re hopeful the Council will help us move forward together.”
On the issue of further layoffs, Freeman said, “The proposed budget reflects current staffing levels. That’s what we hope to maintain. We’ve already hired back one of the 11 employees laid off and we look to hire others back throughout the year.”
Hoboken’s next scheduled City Council Meeting is Wednesday, July 8 at 7:00 p.m.