City officials approved a preliminary tax levy on Tuesday night to allow August tax bills to be mailed out next week ending a six-week battle between the mayor and city council over municipal spending that jeopardized as many as 250 employees.
Council members in a 5-3 vote approved the $151.3 million preliminary tax levy for fiscal year 2017 which increases the tax rate to 4.339 from 4.108, according to the resolution approved by the council.
The approval means no layoffs or furloughs for employees, said business administrator Nellie Pou. Council members continued to urge mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration to cut spending.
Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, said he wants to see the mayor get rid of some of his political hires. Torres proposed to layoff 250 employees after the council approved a $147.7 million preliminary levy two weeks ago that failed to gain approval from the state.
“As we prolong this it’s going to cost our community,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He has repeatedly argued reduction in the levy will mean less services for residents. Without a preliminary levy in place to bring in revenue, the city would have ended up borrowing money to run government racking up debt.
“Do you want the city of Paterson to look like Camden? How can you live in a city where nobody’s working?” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. “Just imagine 250 people laid off. Nothing would get done. We’d be choked.”
Three times the city council rejected the mayor’s preliminary tax levy citing hardship it would result for homeowners. Three council members continued to oppose the tax levy arguing the mayor is not doing enough to raise revenue, but continuously returning to homeowners to balance budgets.
“We just can’t continue to raise taxes and not raise revenue,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He has said the mayor has no plans or vision to foster economic growth in the city.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, said the city is not doing enough to crackdown on lawbreakers. Sayegh and Mendez expected to see a plan to generate revenue from the mayor.
“I’m very disappointed. I was expecting to see the mayor,” said Mendez. Torres is on vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Mendez, Sayegh, and Shahin Khalique voted against the preliminary levy while Cotton, Jackson, Maritza Davila, William McKoy, and Velez voted in favor.
Velez, who is a vociferous critic of the mayor, served as the key vote to allow for the levy to pass.
“I cannot jeopardize the city,” said Velez.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, was not present at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the council. Morris, who serves as the chairman of the finance committee, is on vacation, according to officials.