City officials narrowly gave precursory approval to a measure that will force parade organizers to pay 20-percent of police and clean-up costs the municipality incurs during a procession.
In a 5-4 vote on Tuesday evening the city council approved the parade fee ordinance for first reading, but not before a competing ordinance was voted down because it sought to shift 10-percent of the cost to parade organizers.
For the first year, the organizers will foot 20-percent of the parade’s costs, with subsequent annual 10-percent increases until groups are take on 40-percent of the costs, according to the ordinance that received preliminary approval.
“10-percent is very near 100-percent,” argued Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He opposed the reduced 10-percent fee, stating it’s not “meaningful” and will likely not please the state which has been mandating the city adopt an ordinance to share parade costs with organizers for three years.
“State of New Jersey will say it was not meaningful,” said Morris of the 10-percent. He supported the 20-percent proposal saying the state is looking for excuses to reduce the city’s aid amount. This year Trenton provided $25 million to the city to plug its budget.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said whether the ordinance will please the state or not is mere speculation. He said the state wants to see the city pass an ordinance and take the first step, which a 10-percent fee would do.
“10-percent is not being fiscally responsible,” said added Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, who initially proposed the 20-percent, likely with blessings from mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration. Torres wanted to the parades to cover 40-percent of the cost, but then the mayor reduced it to 30-percent, which was further reduced by Davila.
“I think the 20-percent phase-in is not a bad rate,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She said the city cannot jeopardize its state aid by passing what some council members described as a fee that is “not meaningful.”
The state has been asking the city to pass an ordinance for three years, but the city has hitherto avoided seriously taking up the measure. “It’s rhetoric, we’re making up to make it seem more explosive than it is,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, dismissing council members’ concerns the state may not find the reduced 10-percent meaningful.
The 10-percent phase-in was backed by Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, Sayegh, Tavarez, and Alex Mendez, councilman at-large.
Akhtaruzzaman said parades do a great deal of good by attracting outsiders who end up patronizing local businesses “Don’t forget parades bring business to the community,” he said. Sayegh said some restaurants prepare for parade days expecting a large influx of customers.
Four votes were not enough to push the competing ordinance to a second reading.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman; James Staton, 1st Ward councilman; Morris, Davila, and Cotton voted against the 10-percent. Instead Davila, McKoy, Morris, Cotton, and Staton opted to approve the second resolution which set the fee at 20-percent.
Davila reasoned she was doing the right thing for taxpayers. “A lot of taxpayers support this,” said Tavarez of parades. He said taxpayers line up to watch the processions which serves as a form of enjoyment for them. Parade organizers are also taxpayers, said Sayegh.
“We don’t have a budget for this,” said Mariela Seciela, president of the board of trustees for the Peruvian parade, as she spoke before council members voted for the ordinance. She urged the council to consider the parade’s calendar year and the little time it has to raise more than $18,000 to pay the city.
The city wants to put in place the parade fees before the new fiscal year starts on July 1st, 2015.
Joel Ramirez, spokesman for the Dominican parade, was also present during the deliberations. The Dominicans and the Peruvian parades are the two most spectacular parades the city has to offer, but they also ring up $219,720 in police and public works costs, according to city estimates.
The 10-percent ordinance was placed on the agenda by Tavarez on Friday which garnered a strong reaction from McKoy. He asked whether the ordinance was advertised, which it was not, said city officials.
Ordinances should go through the workshop first before appearing on the regular agenda, said McKoy. Law director Dominick Stampone said the council’s president has the authority to add items on the agenda 24 hours prior to a meeting.
“They will be scrambling in the 11th hour trying to make up for this money and hopefully they will be able to do it, if not, there won’t be any parades,” said Sayegh.