The city council narrowly approved the fiscal 2018 municipal budget on Tuesday night following a personal appeal from mayor Jane Williams-Warren. A majority of council members initially voted to reject the $283.36 million budget with a 2.6-percent property tax increase.
Williams-Warren’s words switched two votes which allowed for a narrow approval.
“I’m appealing to you. I’m asking the municipal council to not allow us to not have an adopted budget this evening. And not allow us to go back to the state to tell them we don’t have an adopted budget after they gave us $27 million,” said Williams-Warren to the council.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, agreed to change her vote from a no to a yes. The mayor needed a second vote to change. Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, agreed to change his vote.
Morris criticized the administration at first. “It’s truly not responsible budgeting,” he said. “Why are you counting money you don’t have?” He pointed to the $2 million that was inserted into the budget as anticipated revenue from property sales.
The city generated $1.25 million by auctioning off properties. Finance director Marge Cherone had to amend the budget to increase the revenue line for off-duty police administrative fee by $302,000.
Morris had predicted the administration would fail to keep its promise to make cuts prior to presenting a final budget for adoption. He had said the administration will keep spending through temporary measures and it will be too late to make cuts. The city has operated the past 9 months of the fiscal year using temporary spending measures.
“That’s exactly what happened,” said Morris on Tuesday night.
Williams-Warren recalled telling the council at budget introduction her administration will do everything in its power to reduce the budget. “We did. However, the council asked for a RIF (reduction in force) that was not possible because if we did a RIF it would cost us more money in our budget.”
The mayor said the city would end up repaying $7 million to the federal government if there were layoffs. She said the state as a condition for the $27 million transitional aid, up $2 million from last year, required the city to raise the tax levy by 2.6-percent.
Morris, Davila, Michael Jackson, Ruby Cotton, and William McKoy voted in favor of the budget.
McKoy said the state is providing $27 million. He said it is “unrealistic” to expect state aid and not have any local “skin in the game.”
“2.6-percent is reasonable given where we are,” said McKoy. He has had to explain to voters why he voted 14 times in the past 18 years for budgets that raised taxes. He attacked a reporter and criticized the Paterson Times for reporting that chronicled his budget votes over the past 18 years.
Council members Shahin Khalique, Andre Sayegh, Luis Velez, and Alex Mendez voted against the budget.
“Another tax increase is not an option for our property owners,” said Mendez.
An average property assessed at $198,500 will pay $8,396 in taxes, down $9 from the previous year. An average property assessed at $254,700 will pay $10,774, down $11 from the previous year, according to municipal calculations.
Morris said the slight drop is due to the way the county, which hiked taxes 2-percent this year, calculates taxes.
“The increase is still there,” said Khalique, pointing to the 2.6-percent levy increase. “We should have voted down the introduced budget. Now our back is against the wall.”
“I’m alarmed by the fact that people are losing their homes at an alarming rate,” said Sayegh. “Union Avenue alone. I was taken aback by the number of foreclosures.”
Jackson subtly criticized his colleagues for not voting down spending measures throughout the year. “Everyday be responsible. Don’t wait for the budget,” he said.
“I didn’t like this budget from the very beginning. Here we are at the 11th hour, back up against the wall, gun cocked to our forehead,” said Morris. He credited Williams-Warren for bringing stability to city government following the conviction of former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres in switching his vote from a no to a yes.
Morris’ support allowed the budget to pass in a 5-4 vote. Williams-Warren thanked him for his vote. She has three months left in her administration.