The tax levy battle between mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and the city council is forcing the shutdown of 36 summer programs, both municipal pools, boxing program, and the adult fitness program on August 12th, 2016.
Around 400 young people, who have summer jobs with recreation, will be cut as well, said recreation coordinator Benjie Wimberly. Any savings from closing down recreation programs two weeks early is likely to be minuscule.
The city budgeted $2.1 million towards recreation last year. “Recreation is .1-percent of the budget, .1-percent, if you’re looking to cut somewhere recreation is not the place,” said Wimberly. “It doesn’t make sense. Nobody can make sense of this.”
“At this juncture that’s the last thing he needs to do considering recreation is such a small portion of the budget,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, of the mayor’s move. “He could have looked elsewhere.”
Neither Torres nor business administrator Nellie Pou responded to calls for comment on Thursday morning.
Council members twice rejected a preliminary tax levy this month. Most recently, the council voted down a proposed $147.6 million levy on Tuesday night. The business administrator warned the council the city does not have enough funds to pay for regular operations.
Pou said the city would have to borrow funds to run government until the council passes a preliminary tax levy to raise revenue.
Sayegh said the mayor may be attempting to pressure the council into passing his tax levy which council members have said will hurt over taxed homeowners.
“The council is looking for a responsible budget,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee. He said the administration did not make any new tax levy proposal other than what was provided two days ago.
When asked if he thought the mayor was shutting down recreation to send a message to the council, Morris said: “I don’t want to even begin to venture into the mayor’s mind. I have no idea.”
The real casualty of the battle between the mayor and the council are the young people, said community leaders.
“It’s going to put a lot of our children in harm’s way,” said Della Fischer, a community leader, who organized a massive rally outside City Hall after the death of 12-year-old Genesis Rincon two summers ago. “Our teenagers will have negative thoughts about making money.”
A lot of teenagers rely on their summer jobs at recreation to shop for school supplies. “This is their only life line for the summer, for their school clothes,” said Fischer.
Wimberly said the summer jobs program ends in the last Friday of August while the pools remain open until Labor Day.
The free programs and the pool are used by working parents during the summer months to ensure their teenagers and youngsters are supervised. With the early shutdown of the recreation programs a large number of unsupervised young people will be on dangerous city streets where crime is ubiquitous and gunfire ring out numerous times during the day.
“Many of our parents can’t afford a summer program so they rely on the Paterson recreation programs to provide services,” said Fischer.
The 36 summer programs include 14 sports camps and 22 camp sites, said the recreation coordinator.
Wimberly said recreation is already severely underfunded in the city. He points to the cut in full-time employees from 16 at one point to 8 now.