After repeatedly socking the Downtown Paterson Special Improvement District (SID) over the past three years, councilman Michael Jackson on Tuesday night succeeded in persuading a majority of his colleagues to vote down its budget.
Council members rejected the district’s $304,000 budget which covers spending from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2018 in a 5-4 vote.
Annie Chen, owner of a downtown Paterson commercial building, helped sway the council into voting down the budget. She questioned 50-percent of the budget being spent on personnel.
Sheri Ferreira, executive director for the district, said the personnel line item covers the wage of 5-6 employees.
- $57,000 covers Ferreira’s salary
- $40,000 pays for the business administrator/treasurer’s salary
- And the rest covers the wage of 3-4 employees tasked to keep the downtown Paterson area clean.
Jackson has criticized Ferreira’s salary. He repeatedly claimed it was $80,000. Ferreira said her salary is $57,000; however, with the inclusion of health coverage it is $72,000.
Chen expressed displeasure at the district spending half of its budget on personnel.
“I’m telling you I’m struggling,” said Chen, who owns 97 Market Street. She purchased the building in April 2015. “My property tax is too much. My storefront has been vacant.” She has been attempting to find someone to lease the space without success. It has been vacant since Sept. 2015, she said.
“I really want to ensure the money is spent in the right area,” said Chen. Her questions were eerily similar to those Jackson has been asking since 2015.
Council members’ facial cues suggested Jackson staged the opposition against the business district. “I absolutely did not,” said Jackson, preemptively shutting down any suggestions of a staging.
Jackson said his opposition originates from the district’s failure to clean up the downtown area.
“The downtown area has been in a deplorable condition. It has gotten worse,” said Jackson. “It’s disgusting down there.”
Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, described the downtown Paterson area as “filthy.” He wanted the district to provide more security in the area. He wants the district to hire private security to ensure safety.
Jackson also complained the district has failed to provide him payroll and other documents. He asked the director when she would present her payroll documents to the council.
“What do you want it for? For a personal vendetta?” said Ferreira. She grew visibly perturbed as Jackson repeatedly claimed she was being paid $80,000.
Jackson had attacked Ferreira and the district’s business administrator Jamie Dykes last week at a mayoral debate. He described Ferreira as Dykes’ “girlfriend” in front of almost 150 people at the forum that was broadcasted on several mediums.
“You accused me of basically sleeping with Jamie Dykes,” said Ferreira.
“I don’t recall doing that,” replied Jackson.
Jackson alleged Dykes gave his “girlfriend” a $40,000 job for “supplemental income” at the Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce on top of her $80,000 district post during the debate last week.
Dykes is the president of the Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce.
Dykes and Jackson share an enmity that goes back years. Dykes is the chairman of the Paterson Restoration Corporation (PRC). Jackson defaulted on a $140,000 loan in 2010 that the corporation issued to his business.
Dykes said Jackson disliked the dogged approach the corporation took in securing a judgment against the councilman. He said the corporation secured a wage garnishment decision from a judge.
Jackson claimed he was not aware Dykes was the business administrator for the district.
Council members wanted a more detailed budget document as a result of the questions raised by Jackson and Chen. Chen, who pays into the district’s budget, was completely unaware of where her money was being spent.
Property owners within the downtown Paterson area voluntarily tax themselves to provide extra services through the district.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, said the budget document “cries out for a little bit more review.”
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, said she needed a “more clear” budget document.
Some suggested the downtown district follow the simple budget document layout used by the Bunker Hill Special Improvement District which clearly spells out the director’s salary.
“I don’t even know why you need a treasurer and a director for a $300,000 budget,” said Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman.
Jackson, Khalique, McKoy, Mendez, and Ruby Cotton voted against while Davila, Andre Sayegh, Luis Velez, and Kenneth Morris voted in favor.
Morris told his colleagues without an approved district budget the city will have to delay tax bills. Property owners in downtown Paterson pay an additional levy on top of their property taxes to cover the district’s operations.
Ferreira, who has been the district’s director for 16 years, said she plans to revise the budget document and re-present it to the council.
Bunker Hill Special Improvement District
Meanwhile, council members unanimously voted to approve the $168,000 budget for the Bunker Hill district.
Sonia Torres, former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ wife, attended the council meeting. She received praise from the council. Her district struck a budget that is $3,500 less than it was last year.
Jackson described Torres’ budget as “extremely responsible.”
“That’s the reason why Bunker Hill looks so clean,” said Mendez.
“They do a very good job keeping the area clean. Sometimes you need a little extra to boost your area,” said Cotton.