After much wrangling over the past month that even led to a brief government shutdown, council members on Tuesday night approved mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ budget amendments with a reduced 5.8-percent tax increase.
The Torres administration proposed a 6.1-percent tax increase which was reduced after Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, decided to cut the municipal levy by $494,000. The cut triggered an automatic equivalent reduction in state transitional aid resulting in $988,000 reduction in municipal spending.
Morris said the small reduction in spending will soften the tax increase on homeowners. An average property – assessed at $192,600 — will get to keep $228 rather than paying it to the city under the 5.8-percent municipal levy increase.
“In my opinion, it wasn’t that much of an impact,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He said it will result in reduction of services. He said he did not think $19 in savings per month for a taxpayer made much of a difference.
“To many folks living in the city of Paterson $200 makes a world of difference,” said Morris. “It makes a world of difference whether or not they can put gas in their car, food on their table, pay their gas and electric bill, and provide lunch money to their children.”
Morris said the reduction in the municipal levy combined with the equal cut in state aid serves to wean the city off state financial assistance. He could have reduced the budget further, but with only three months to go before the end of the fiscal year, much of the budget has been already expended.
Morris said there’s only $17 million from which the council could make cuts this late into the fiscal year. “You can’t cut what has already been spent,” he said.
The Torres administration’s municipal budget is $156.8 million up from last year’s $148.2 million, according to city records. The overall budget is $275.5 million, according to city records, this is up from last year’s $252.6 million.
The budget amendments passed in a 5-3 vote. Council members Ruby Cotton, Jackson, Maritza Davila, Morris, and William McKoy voted in favor while Andre Sayegh, Julio Tavarez, and Alex Mendez voted against.
Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, was not present during the vote.
“We need to try to move the city forward. We can’t keep the city in limbo,” said Cotton.
Morris told his colleagues to stop voting on temporary budgets so that the council is not forced to pass a property tax increase on homeowners in the last few months of the fiscal year when it no longer has the ability to reduce spending.
“We continue to see ourselves in this position year after year, after year without a real comprehensive economic plan,” said Sayegh. “We haven’t seen a real vision as far as where we’re going to go in terms of economic development.”
City residents have been protesting tax increases over the past six months when many were hit with thousands of dollars in increases. Even the reduced 5.8-percent tax increase will hit homeowners hard, said Tavarez.
“It might be the breaking point for some people this year. Last year, it was the breaking point for a lot of people,” said Tavarez. “Every year we’re sending people into foreclosure, bankruptcy, because we’re taking away peoples income.”
A public hearing and adoption of the city’s fiscal year 2016 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 at 8 p.m. at the City Hall building.