Acting mayor Jane Williams-Warren’s administration introduced a $285.43 million fiscal year 2018 budget on Wednesday night. Council members in a 3-3 vote rejected the mayor’s introduced budget.
Municipal portion of the budget is $155.22 million, according to the budget document distributed to the council. That’s a 2.5-percent increase from fiscal year 2017 when municipal spending stood at $151.37 million.
That increase would have to be supported by a property tax hike. “We can’t default back to taxpayers,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, pointing out that spending is going back to the same levels after a reduction in the last fiscal year.
McKoy expressed frustration that the various departments did not reduce their overall budgets by 20-percent as called for by Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee.
Finance director Marge Cherone told council members the various departments have cut their budgets. “It’s not an easy task,” she said.
Some departments have cut their budgets. For example, the Economic Development Department line has been reduced from $1.67 million last fiscal year to $1.31 million. Human services has been cut from $4 million to $3.64 million, according to the document.
Other departments have not had similar cuts. For example, the law department budget increased from $1.7 million to $2 million. Administration budget went from $2.32 million to $2.46 million. Public safety, includes fire and police, went from $87.1 million to $89.32 million. Public works saw a slight increase from $15.34 to $15.89 million.
The largest spending increase is in general government pushed by insurance expenses. General government line went to $66.67 from $61.57 million.
Cherone said the finance committee chairman wanted other expenses in each department reduced by 20-percent. Morris called for overall spending reduction of 20-percent. She said the administration also cut vacant positions.
“How about non-essential positions?” asked Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. Cherone said that would mean a layoff. Layoffs would not generate much savings, said the finance director. She noted, the city would still have to pay for unemployment insurance.
In voting on the introduced budget, council members opposed increasing taxes on property owners. “I’m running out of time. I can’t continue to support any increases,” said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large.
Davila is up for re-election next year.
“I don’t think it’s a responsible budget,” remarked Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman.
“I know for sure there are taxpayers out there at their wits end,” said McKoy. Indeed, an average Paterson family earn just $33,000 a year, a significant portion of that is paid in taxes.
Khalique, McKoy, and Davila voted against the budget while Jackson, Sayegh, and Ruby Cotton voted in favor.
Jackson criticized his colleagues for voting down the budget. He said council members should have worked with Williams-Warren to produce a budget acceptable to both sides. “There’s no excuse. We have a great mayor who is open to council members’ suggestions,” he said.
McKoy appeared to criticize Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, for his “convenience absence.” Mendez, Morris, and Luis Velez were absent. Morris is out of town and Velez is delivering aid to Puerto Rico. He also wanted department directors to be present during budget discussions.
Business administrator Nellie Pou told council members this puts the city’s transitional aid application in jeopardy. The city is seeking $27 million in state aid, that’s $2 million more than last year’s award, according to its application submitted to the state in late October.
McKoy disagreed with Pou. “You’re going to have to do more because taxpayers can’t absorb the increase,” he said.
The council requested a detailed list of cuts from the administration. On Wednesday, the new mayor sat through the discussion and the vote.
“I understand your plea because I’m a taxpayer,” said Williams-Warren after the vote. “We will do everything to comply with your wishes.”
Administration officials plan to ask the council to re-consider the introduced budget next week before a full council.