Spring is in the air, and it’s a busy time here in Hoboken so I wanted to update you on several important issues being discussed by the City Council.
PARKING METER INCREASE
Last year, I was proud to vote against the mayor’s citywide parking meter hike, raising prices up to 260% as a way of plugging budget shortfalls. I said at the time that raising these fees without first modernizing our existing transportation infrastructure, creating more garage spaces, or utilizing technology (like demand based pricing and real-time availability) is a back-door tax which hurts our residents and businesses. Despite my concerns, the rate increase narrowly passed the City Council 5-4.
When the pricing took effect last month, the community rallied against this ill conceived plan and we brought about positive change, together. Thanks to massive opposition from thousands of Hoboken residents and business owners who spoke out against the rate hikes, the mayor acknowledged he made a mistake and called to scale back. Hoboken should be encouraging people to visit, shop and dine in our city and enjoy all it has to offer as opposed to creating even more obstacles for businesses to succeed. I look forward to working with the mayor to develop and implement holistic solutions to modernizing Hoboken's parking and transportation infrastructure. To read more on the repeal, click here.
PREVENTING A TAX INCREASE
On the same day Mayor Bhalla called to repeal the meter increases, he introduced his 2019 budget which not only proposes a sizable tax increase but also that we use the above meter revenue to cover rampant overspending. This budget proposes to raise taxes by nearly $2 million while allocating an additional $1.2 million in anticipated meter revenue to plug other holes in the budget. Simply put, the mayor is relying on money that didn’t yet exist through questionable parking policy to pay for expenses already made — a buy first, worry later mindset. Without the anticipated revenues from the meters, our budget is now nearly $3 million deficient and Hoboken taxpayers are being threatened with a significant tax increase.
Residents should not be forced to pay for this mayor’s spending spree and do not deserve a budget that relies on backdoor taxes and gimmicks to compensate for overspending.
I am calling on Mayor Bhalla to work with the City Council to develop a fair budget with responsible spending cuts, starting with the bloated staff salaries coming from his office, luxury vehicles and contracts to politically connected law firms. These expenses are threatening Hoboken’s middle class families and it is time for the Mayor to work with the City Council to ensure that we hold the line on taxes and maintain our AA+ credit rating.
MORE ‘MOM AND POP’ SHOPS
Mom and pop shops play a vital role in our community and it is important we find ways to help more small businesses succeed in Hoboken. Over the past three years I have consistently advocated for small business and fought to reduce the red tape surrounding opening and operating a business in Hoboken. As the Council representative on the Planning Board, I proudly advocated for productive land-use policy focused on bringing mom and pops into our neighborhoods.
As a result, Hoboken’s Master Plan now includes expanded neighborhood business districts which, once adopted by the Council, will encourage makers, creators, innovators and mom and pops to open in Hoboken with less bureaucracy. Further, this allows businesses to invest in our city, making our neighborhoods more vibrant, creating jobs and tax revenue and helping Hoboken thrive.
Per the above reference map, the Small Business Expansion District Plan will include:
Expanding neighborhood retail the entire length of First Street, which will create a corridor between the waterfront and Southwest Park.
Expanding neighborhood retail along 14th Street from the Waterfront to Willow Avenue
Expanding the Central Business District from Fourth Street to Seventh Street along Washington Street.
Expanding neighborhood retail on Washington from Seventh Street to 14th Street, with the exception of the residential blocks on the eastern side.
Create a neighborhood retail district on Jackson Street between 3rd and 7th Streets to serve the growing west side of Hoboken
The Small Business Expansion District Plan will be up for a vote by the City Council later this month.
PAYING FOR PUB CRAWLS
Last month, I proposed a common sense plan to protect Hoboken taxpayers by creating a system to better manage bar crawls. Most of our bars and restaurants are responsible neighbors that provide economic support to our city and make Hoboken a more vibrant place, but for far too long residents have been burdened by having to pay for these private events.
Though Lepre-Con was much smaller than recent events, it still cost the city over $100,000 to clean up and provide additional police officers and sanitation workers for the day. Taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for that, and my ordinance outlines a system where these costs are covered and taxpayers will be safeguarded. Protecting our quality of life, especially in my downtown neighborhood, is top priority and I’m confident that this plan will give the administration new tools to recoup tax dollars and better manage pub crawls. Watch my full interview with News 12 here.
NORTHWEST PARK MOVING FORWARD
The City’s Northwest Resiliency Park is moving forward, and I was proud to support this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring a 5-acre park to uptown Hoboken. That said, in light of the budget issues discussed above we must proceed cautiously as the City is now on the hook for over $83 million in loans to pay for this park's land acquisition and construction. To give some perspective, this park is the largest project ever financed in the history of Hoboken and the total cost is 70% of our yearly operating budget. This all adds to the city’s already significant debt load and threatens higher taxes in the very near-future if we do not do more to attract new, responsible, revenue to Hoboken.
I am hopeful that through City Council oversight we will see this project move forward, avoiding the problems of cost overruns and delays that have plagued other major initiatives like the Washington Street redesign and Southwest Park.
To learn more about the park and it’s many amazing features, click here.
COURT RULES AGAINST HILTON ‘GIVEBACKS’
Late last year, after significant back and forth with the mayor, the City Council approved an agreement for the long awaited Hilton Hotel project on River Street, behind the US Post Office. The deal included $4.85 million in community givebacks to local organizations, but just last week a court ruled that these payments were not legally permissible, saying they “would create unacceptable possibilities for abuse and fraud and cannot be permitted for reasons of public policy.”
The City Council relies heavily on the legal advice of the City’s law department and outside attorneys when making decisions on development matters like this. The administration has signaled that the ruling will be appealed and I’m hopeful that this situation will not threaten the hotel project which will bring much needed union jobs, tax revenue and vibrancy to downtown Hoboken. To read more about the judge's ruling, click here
eSCOOTERS ROLLING INTO HOBOKEN
Last night the City Council approved a six-month trial program with Lime -- an eScooter rideshare company operating in over 100 cities worldwide. I am proud to have been a leading voice for eScooters in Hoboken and last summer, when I hosted Lime on Pier 13 at a free pop-up event, the universal question I heard from residents was, "when will they come to Hoboken?”
The trial-run for the service will extend from May until October and riding areas will be limited to marked bike lanes, with strict enforcement from the HPD. eScooters and other emerging transportation technologies have the potential to revolutionize how we all get around Hoboken and I personally look forward to hopping onto a scooter soon on my morning commute to NYC. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to try out this exciting new mode of transportation and let me know your thoughts.