The city’s governing body in a 5-3 vote approved the placement of the recreation tax — which will raise an additional $3 million from property owners to fund recreation — for voters’ consideration on the November 3rd, 2015 election on Tuesday evening.
“All I’m asking for is put it on the ballot and let the public decide,” mayor Jose “Joey” Torres told council members.
Torres, who took a seat at the dais to make his case before the council as it considered whether to allow the tax to make it to the ballot box, argued the benefits of the additional recreation funding. The $3 million which will be collected from taxpayers by assessing an additional five or six cents per $100 of assessed value will be used to acquire and maintain recreation spaces as well as hire staff for recreation.
The mayor said new programs for seniors and children will be funded through the recreation trust fund. He said youth sports will also be funded using the recreation tax. Not everyone bought into the mayor’s argument. As he was making a case for more recreation funds other made a case against a new tax hike on already overtaxed city residents.
“This is not the way,” said Sharrief Bugg, 3rd Ward resident. He disagreed with funding recreation through more taxes on property owners. He said city homeowners are being left “hung to dry.”
“I’m firmly against this type of tax,” said Lynda Gallashaw, city activist. She said she is “disgusted” with the city because it seems to only find answers in the pockets of the homeowners. She suggested funding recreation by obtaining grants and finding more creative funding sources.
“I don’t have another dollar,” said Gallashaw, a homeowner.
“We’re all going to feel it,” said Aslon Goow, former three-term 2nd Ward councilman, whose family home tax has skyrocketed in the past few years. He said he did not see Torres advocating vigorously for recreation during his three decade in city government.
Goow criticized Torres for being a big spender. Torres mocked Goow distorting his face and inaudibly uttering: “I beat you. I beat you.”
“The people spoke, I beat you, Aslon,” said Torres on the microphone. After allowing four city residents to speak on the matter the council moved to consider the measure.
“This one is very hard to swallow,” remarked Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. “Even if you raise one cent people yell at you.”
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said the city does not have figures as to how much a property owner will pay if the recreation tax is imposed because of the new assessments and the uncertainty around a future tax rate that will be needed to raise the same amount of money as now to fund the municipal budget.
Morris said a property owner could see $1,100 to $2,000 in hike after the new tax rate is put in place based on the new property assessments for homeowners whose property assessments did not drop by 30-percent or more.
“We don’t know what our tax bills are going to be,” said Morris. He and other council members said they are for recreation.
Five and six cents may not seem much, but that’s enough to force some homeowners to foreclosure, said council members. “I know folks who lost their homes for a $100,” said Morris.
Morris, Alex Mendez, and Andre Sayegh voted against placing the new tax on the ballot.
“How much more can the taxpayers take?” asked Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He cited examples of homeowners who are struggling under rapacious taxation.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, said the recreation tax is “reasonable.”
McKoy, Akhtaruzzaman, Ruby Cotton, Maritza Davila, James Staton, were the five votes in favor of placing the measure on the ballot.
“Let the people of Paterson decide,” said Davila
If the council did not approve the measure for ballot placement Torres vowed to forcefully place it through petitions. Torres’ supporters fanned out across the city to each collect 100 signatures during the past week. Torres himself hung about his neighborhood Dunkin Donuts on Friday collecting signatures.
Deputy mayor Pedro Rodriguez brought in a large box with 3,000 signed petitions to the city council chambers. The signatures were unverified and do not need to be verified after the council voted to place the measure on the ballot.
Rodriguez retrieved the box from the council chamber as he descended from the third floor of city hall.
Torres did not deny it is a new tax. “Yes, it’s a tax,” he said. Before the mayor gave his verbal presentation to the council Bugg implored council members not to vote in favor of placing the measure on the ballot.
“I cannot afford it anymore,” said Bugg. “I’m begging you do not allow it to get on the ballot.”
Bugg and other city voters will decide whether property owners shoulder another tax on November 3rd, 2015.