Councilman Michael Jackson, who succeeded in convincing his colleagues to reject the Downtown Paterson Special Improvement District budget two months ago, received a breakdown of the district’s expenses earlier in the month.
Jackson, who represents the 1st Ward, where the district is located, said the expense breakdown document provided to council members last week was unsatisfactory. Some of his colleagues sided with him ahead of the mayoral election citing the district’s nonspecific budget line items.
“How are we supposed to do an audit by looking at this document? This document says anything she wants it to say,” said Jackson. He wanted payroll records, bank account statements, and other documents.
Sheri Ferreira, executive director for the district, did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Jackson criticized some expenses like more than $2,000 for cellphone service and office landline. “If you have a cellphone who then has an office phone?” remarked Jackson. He also questioned why payroll taxes and salaries were in different line items.
The district has a $304,000 budget. It is funded by an additional tax on downtown Paterson property owners. The district has a board made up of property owners who vote on the budget every year.
Some council members expressed concerns at half of the budget going towards covering salaries for employees. The district has 5-6 employees. The director for the district receives $72,000 with benefits and a business administrator makes $40,000.
Jackson asked finance director Marge Cherone how property owners at the district will be billed if tax bills were already sent out.
Cherone said a separate bill is sent to taxpayers to collect the district’s assessment. Her comment is a departure from what municipal officials, for years, have told council members.
“We were always told, in order for the tax bills to go out, we had to take formal action on special improvement assessments,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
“It’s a separate, completely standalone, bill,” said Cherone.
Jackson complained the district’s director was absent at the workshop meeting. Municipal officials said Ferreira was not asked to come to the meeting.
Jackson has been attacking the downtown district for the past three years. Some of his attacks stem from his dislike of the district’s business administrator Jamie Dykes.
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 has 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 two months ago said he was not aware Dykes was the business administrator for the district.
The council has to decide whether take a second vote on the district’s budget.
“This is still a very irresponsible budget out,” said Jackson.