With summer (finally) here, I wanted to quickly update you with what's going on around Hoboken and in City Hall. From a new dog park in the first ward and plans underway for Court Street to standing up for equality and good government, it's been a busy spring!
BUDGET IN THE BAG
In May, the City Council approved a $118.6 million budget that was exactly the amount requested by the mayor, but we were able to tighten up spending and reallocate funds to secure needed funding for:
A new city engineer and construction manager for all our infrastructure projects.
Technology upgrades to help modernize our recreation and rent control departments
Safety at intersections to study and install more stop signs
Historic preservation design guidelines - a long overdue first step in preserving our historic architecture.
And though I advocate for all of Hoboken, I am specifically elected to represent my home district, the First Ward -- and fighting for the first, I was able to secure funding for two important neighborhood projects, a new First Ward dog park and improvements to Court Street....
A DOG PARK ON HUDSON STREET @ GARAGE “B”
For too long dog owners in the dense southeast have not had an adequate place for our K9 companions to play, and as a result we’ve seen an uptick in dog waste along our streets.
In this years budget I've advocated for and City Council approved money to turn currently underutilized city property on Hudson between 1st and 2nd and turn it into a much needed dog run. Unlike other municipal dog runs, this one will be covered in permeable turf and not gravel so our dogs won’t come home covered in mud. This combined with the rollout of new garbage cans should help the administration combat rogue dog waste.
More detail will be made available as planning gets underway, in the meantime -- please submit your thoughts on the project by clicking here.
REHABBING COURT STREET
After we earmarked money in last year’s budget, the City will finally begin fixing the sidewalks abutting court street this summer. The disrepair of the sidewalks has long been a detriment to seniors, families with strollers, the disabled...and just about everyone that walks by. Additionally, in this year’s budget, I secured funding for a complete engineering study of Court Street - a long overdue action plan on how to best repair and preserve our city's most historic street. I will keep you up to date as planning gets underway.
THE TAX INCREASE NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
As I mentioned, the City Council approved the mayor's request of $118.6 million and you’ve always known me to be upfront and honest with you, so I’m going to say something you won’t hear from anyone else -- our taxes went up.
You won’t see any impact to your individual tax bill though and the reason is something you need to be aware of as we move forward -- the City added $1.6 million in new residential construction over the past year and for the first time in eight years, we dipped into our “rainy day fund” by $1.4 million. So the rise in taxes was covered by more residents using practically the same amount of city services while tapping into our emergency savings.
The biggest cost-driver was health insurance, which increased almost $3 million. In response, the Council passed a resolution urging the mayor to go to market and solicit competitive bids and see if our current broker remains the best deal for the City. Surprisingly, the last time we shopped around for a competitive insurance contract was over four years ago and if the mayor is interested in cutting costs, we should start here. Also of note, the mayor’s office substantially increased it’s operating line by 30 percent — the first major increase in almost eight years. Contrary to state hiring limits, the mayor onboarded a political supporter to act in the newly created and questionably needed roll of “deputy chief of staff”, even though he already had a “chief of staff”. Carving out city jobs for political patronage at the taxpayers expense is everything that’s wrong with local politics.
COUNCIL STOPS ILLEGAL PAY TO PLAY, ACTS AS WATCHDOG WITH MAYORS SECOND JOB
I endeavor to work with everyone, whether I agree with them politically or not, to ensure that policy always comes before politics. Though I prefer to keep my goals set on ideas and collaboration, sometimes the reality of Soprano-state politics confounds me and I simply refuse to stay quiet.
In April, I spoke out against Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s acceptance of a donation that wasn’t just over campaign finance limits, but also because he attempted to give that very same vendor a $50,000 City Contract -- which if approved, would have been a stunning breach of pay-to-play. The City’s legal department not only failed to catch the campaign finance violation, but the mayor himself didn’t disclose the information and acknowledged fault only after I spoke publicly about the conflict. The same department that failed to catch this violation are the same lawyers that are charged with acting as an oversight authority and ensuring the mayor’s second job at a politically connected zoning and land use law firm. Given the mayors unprecedented decision to hold this second job, I will be introducing an ordinance at tonight's meeting to create transparency and see what, if any, conflict Mayor Bhalla's very active legal career has with his position as our mayor.
OBSERVER HIGHWAY... FLOOD WALL?
Hoboken is planning to construct an eleven-foot tall industrial flood wall parallel to Observer Highway over the next two years. This levy will be funded by $230 million in federal grants with the goal of making our city more flood resilient. Though it is imperative that we remain committed to protecting Hoboken against future storm surges — the placement of the wall is ill conceived.
I am advocating to see this plan amended to simply set the wall back from the roadway and allow for a future pedestrian promenade and East-West waterfront connectivity. Placing the wall closer to Observer may also prevent Hoboken Terminal from being reimagined as a European-style market as the approved rail-yard redevelopment would literally be walled off. If we leave the plan as it is, all we’d get is, well...a wall. Please click
DOING SOMETHING ABOUT PREDATORY PARKING ENFORCEMENT
After helping countless neighbors who had been incorrectly written parking tickets with time left on their meter, the Council recently passed my ordinance to safeguard against this unsavory practice. The new law now requires the Parking Authority to wait two minutes from the time a meter expires before writing a ticket, thus ensuring that all data has been correctly relayed to and received by parking enforcement officers. It also is a signal to the administration that the City Council discourages what many like myself believe to be predatory parking enforcement. This is not by any means “free parking” rather a check on administrative authority to ensure all relevant information has been considered before writing a ticket.
STANDING UP FOR EQUALITY
When I first took my seat on City Council our Human Rights Campaign: Municipal Equality Index score was 51% -- second lowest in the state next to Patterson. After speaking out about this failing score and butting heads with the previous administration about it, I’m happy that we’re now at 92% and stand to score a perfect 100% this year.
In April the City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by myself and Councilwoman Jabbour requiring all single-user bathrooms to be gender neutral. Concurrently, I was proud to sponsor a resolution with Councilwoman Giattino for more city services geared towards LGBTQ senior citizens and the transgender community. I was also happy to see Mayor Bhalla do what the last administration failed to — show support to the transgender community and sign an executive order acknowledging that gender identity is not a choice.
I don’t play identity politics because there’s no gay, straight or trans way to fix a pothole. I may not agree with Mayor Bhalla politically and am deeply disappointed that he excluded me from speaking at the recent LGBTQ flag raising, but together we are products of Hoboken’s inclusive spirit and agree on equality....for everyone.
EXPANDING SIDEWALK CAFES
Dining alfresco is synonymous with summer in the city, but believe it or not the bureaucracy and dated zoning governing sidewalk cafes has prevented many from opening up. I am proud to have worked with Council President Ramos and the administration on a long overdue ordinance that now gives restaurants more flexibility in establishing outdoor service areas. Doing so helps small businesses succeed and gives us all more opportunities to enjoy our city’s streets this summer.
Have some fun in the sun!