Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration cancelled the city’s “Day in the Sun” event as part of the mayor’s tax levy battle with the city council.
The event is the concluding ceremony where youngsters present their arts and crafts projects completed during the summer. It also features competitions, rides, dance performances, and a dinner for the youngsters, said recreation coordinator Benjie Wimberly.
“I just found out about it yesterday,” said Wimberly, who also represents Paterson in the New Jersey Assembly, on Tuesday morning.
He said the cancellation will save $19,000 for the city. However, the small saving leaves the young people without a day in the sun. “It’s a late hour to raise $19,000,” said Wimberly. He said the event was expected to take place on August 11th, 2016.
“The Day in the Sun / Fun in the Sun is cancelled,” wrote Lydia Robles, assistant budget officer for the city, in an internal communication. “The City cannot afford Fun in the Sun.”
The cancellation was likely part of the mayor’s cut to 36 summer camps and 2 pools made late last month, but was not communicated to recreation, said Wimberly.
Torres has since decided to keep the 2 municipal pools open until Labor Day by shifting federal grant money from elsewhere. However, it’s not clear whether the mayor intends to find funds to keep recreation programs from closing two weeks early.
The mayor has come under intense criticism for cutting recreation. He was heckled by protesters at his state of the city speech and his fundraiser at the Brownstone was targeted by them as well.
“It shouldn’t happen,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, speaking about the event’s cancellation. “It’s the culminating event of the summer. Our children deserve a day in the sun.”
Sayegh took aim at Robles stating the $15,000 salary bump she received could have been used to fund the day in the sun for city children. Robles’ salary was upped from $45,000 when she was hired in October 2014 to $60,000 today, according to payroll records.
“We could use that increase and earmark it for the day in the sun,” said Sayegh. Robles was a mayoral candidate in the 2014 elections. She heavily criticized Sayegh for accepting contributions from developers.
Robles dropped out of the race and endorsed Torres in that election. Torres hired her as an internal auditor. However, the state intervened when her qualifications came under scrutiny. Torres administration changed her title to program analyst in order to keep her on city payroll.
Robles appears to have received a promotion to assistant budget officer. She could not immediately be reached for comments on Wednesday afternoon. Wimberly said more than 1,800 children attend the day in the sun event.
“It’s disheartening. This whole thing is very disheartening,” said Wimberly. He said he hoped the meeting between city officials and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would have helped reverse the gutting of the city’s already underfunded recreation division.
Council members will take a vote on the mayor’s proposed preliminary levy for a third time tonight. The council twice rejected Torres’ tax levy proposal.
Torres did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday morning.
Correction (8/4/2016): A previous version of this report stated Robles' salary was $40,000 in October 2014. She was in fact hired at a $45,000 salary.