The city’s governing body approved a reduced $16.7 million temporary budget in an emergency session on Thursday evening.
Council members had rejected a $22.5 million temporary budget requested by Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration on Tuesday, raising fears among municipal employees they may not get paid on Friday.
“We could play around with many things, but I don’t think we should play around with peoples salaries,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman.
Akhtaruzzaman’s remarks appears to have been aimed at almost four dozen city employees who gathered at the council chambers to find out whether they would be paid tomorrow.
“I’m glad they took the stance they took,” said Michael Jackson, who represents blue collar public works employees, after the six council members present at the meeting voted to approve the much reduced temporary budget.
Julio Tavarez, Kenneth Morris, and William McKoy were not present. McKoy has been hospitalized, said officials. The council president has been in the hospital since Tuesday.
Hazel Hughes, who represents secretarial employees in the city, worried some workers will incur bank penalties. Many have automatic payments setup for such things as car payments, she said.
“It’s a shame we have to do this every 60 days,” said Jackson alluding to the rejection of a temporary budget that raised similar fears workers would not get paid on time.
Richard Gollin, executive director of AFSCME Council 52, said he has not witnessed anything like this in past 20 years. His council covers public employees in Newark, Jersey City, Wayne, and Sparta.
“It’s grandstanding,” Gollin described the situation after the vote.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, who voted in favor of the $22.5 million temporary budget, which many have said sets the city on the path towards significantly raising property taxes, blamed her colleagues for originally rejecting it on Tuesday.
Davila said not paying city workers would have opened the city up for legal actions. “We can get sued and pay even more money,” said Davila.
Council members Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, and Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, who voted against the much larger temporary budget, approved the measure at the emergency meeting.
Sayegh cited the smaller amount while casting his vote in favor of the measure. “This fiscal situation is unsustainable,” he said.
The city has to pay its employees, but at the same time look out for the interest of homeowners, said Sayegh. He said the Torres administration’s spending will force tax increases on property owners.
“I’m tired of politics,” said Davila. The councilwoman is not running for re-election in the May municipal elections, but six of her colleagues are. Very few of those seeking re-election wish to go down as having increased taxes on homeowners, according to political analysts.