Since 1989 the city’s recreation budget incrementally increased until it peaked under mayor Jose “Joey” Torres in 2009.
The next year, faced with the city’s usual financial problems, Torres shaved the recreation line item from a peak of $2.8 million to $2.6 million, according to a review of available budget documents for the past more than two decades.
His successor, mayor Jeffery Jones, after coming into office in mid-2010, maintained the same level of recreation spending at $2.6 million; however, the next year, in fiscal year 2012, faced with dire financial straits and state aid cut, the mayor reduced the recreation line item to $2.3 million.
Fiscal year 2013 saw further cuts under Jones. Recreation line item was reduced to $2.25 million.
The next couple of years saw recreation spending increase – in 2014 and 2015 – but it remained under the 2009 peak. Torres, a champion of recreation, is attempting to change that with a new tax on property owners.
Torres’ recreation tax will extract 6¢ for every $100 of assessment. An average property assessed at $192,000 will see a $115 increase in taxes. The mayor estimates the new levy will raise $3 million which will replace the existing $2.5 million recreation line item.
Council president William McKoy says the separate recreation levy will protect recreation from future reductions. He said the much needed recreation line item will be left alone and stabilize without fluctuations that results because it is a line item in the budget.
Torres’ tax will create a trust fund which will be solely dedicated to recreation. The mayor said in previous interviews that money raised through the tax will be used to acquire, maintain, and better recreation in the city.
The mayor’s plan was much more ambitious at first, but then faced with great opposition he buckled under pressure. He wanted to assemble a $5 million recreation fund that would help build a much desired recreation center for the city’s young people who often hang about the streets, many say, due to a dearth of recreational facilities.
Meanwhile, city taxpayers, galvanized by Torres’ foe Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, denounced the mayor and his proposal to further tax them.
Hundreds of taxpayers opposed the mayor’s recreation tax in various events. Many more, reeling from the recent tax bills, joined the chorus week after week protesting both the tax increases – some saw their taxes skyrocket by thousands in the third and fourth quarter – and Torres’ recreation tax.
Torres then said rather than combine the existing $2.5 million recreation budget with a newly raised $3 million for recreation, the city would merely replace the budget line item with the new trust fund.
The mayor alienated many who backed his proposal as a result. The increase in recreation would be a paltry $500,000, according to a resolution Torres presented to the council seeking its support for the replacement.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, says the meagre increase will not go far enough to help city children.
Torres then introduced the idea that a portion of the funds raised through the levy if it is approved by voters on November 3rd, 2015 would go towards Hinchliffe Stadium renovation. Torres’ move appeared desperate to many and an attempt to build support for an unpopular tax.
Many years before Torres was successful in getting city voters to support borrowing money to repair the historic stadium in a plebiscite.
Although Torres increased the recreation budget every year in his past two terms as mayor, the biggest champion of recreation was his first predecessor mayor Martin Barnes.
Barnes found the recreation budget at $500,000 when he succeeded Bill Pascrell in 1997. When he departed in 2002, he left the recreation budget near $2 million, according to budget records.
Chart note: 1991 was a transitional year (full data was not available).