The city council approved mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration’s second temporary budget on Tuesday night and told the administration to make spending reductions early in the budget year.
Council members approved the $34.87 million temporary budget in a 9-0 vote to run city government for the next two months. At this rate the administration is spending $22 million per month and runs the risk of going over last year’s budget, warned Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee.
“It’s going to exceed last year’s budget,” said Morris.
“No, it’s not,” responded business administrator Nellie Pou.
Pou said last year’s budget was $275 million. She said the temporary budget for October and November has one-time expenses like retroactive pay for police officers connected to the contract settled earlier in the year.
Morris was not convinced the administration is cutting spending. “We should be budgeting with an eye to cutting spending,” he said. He told his colleagues and the administration to cut spending early on in the fiscal year.
Pou said the administration has been budgeting with an eye to reduce spending. At the end of November the city will have spent $110.8 million, according to city records.
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, asked the administration when it will present an introduced budget for fiscal year 2017. The city’s new fiscal year began on July 1st, 2016.
Pou said the introduced budget will be presented to the council in late October or early November. The city typically holds a series of departmental budget hearings; Morris is expected to schedule those hearings in the next weeks.
The business administrator said the city has submitted a letter of intent to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) seeking transitional aid. In the past two years the city has received $25 million annually from the state to balance its budget.
Pou said the administration is seeking the same $25 million. She said the introduced budget will anticipate that amount in state aid. Council members wondered why the administration was not anticipating 95-percent of last fiscal year’s transitional aid as recommended by the state.
“There’s no guarantee we’re going to get that amount,” said Morris. The business administrator said she spoke to the city’s state fiscal monitor who allowed the administration to anticipate the full state aid amount from the previous fiscal year.
Council members unanimously approved the temporary budget.
“We have to do payroll,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She said she does not want to see a padded budget with line items that are later transferred from one item to another.
“I don’t want to see us doing what we did last year,” added Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, making a reference to last fiscal year’s government shutdown and repeated threats of shutdown.