Three months after voting down the downtown Paterson special improvement district budget, the City Council on Tuesday night reversed its position. In a 4-2-1 vote, council members approved the $304,000 budget.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee, said the district satisfied the council’s request for a revised, clear-cut budget document. Indirectly addressing councilman Michael Jackson’s personnel and spending gripes, Morris said the district’s board has the authority to hold its director and other employees accountable.
“It’s not my intention to substitute in for that board,” said Morris.
Jackson has argued the district has failed in its mission to improve the downtown area. He has said the director and the business administrator of the district were collecting large paychecks while property owners, who pay an extra tax to fund the district, received little in return.
On Tuesday night, Jackson walked in late — in middle of the vote — to the meeting. He lashed out at council president Ruby Cotton for including the budget for a vote on the special meeting agenda.
Jackson accused Cotton of holding the special meeting specifically to get the budget that was rejected in March approved.
“You just walked in. It’s 8:30. Meeting started at 6:30,” retorted Cotton. She said the special meeting was created to consider a number of workers’ compensation claims. It was scheduled a month ago, she said.
“This absolutely embarrassing and disappointing. It talks directly to the lack of willingness of the council to work with each other – to hear the cries of other council persons. This downtown SID resides in my ward,” said Jackson, who represents the 1st Ward, where the district is located.
Jackson said he has not received any of his requested documents. He wanted minutes of board meetings, payroll company records, and other data from the district. He has taken aim at the district’s ex-director Sheri Ferreira and business administrator Jamie Dykes.
“This SID has done nothing positive for this community,” said Jackson. “This is just another example of irresponsibility.”
Jackson voted against the budget. Prior to his arrival, Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman, cast his vote against the budget.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have two individuals to look over this budget,” said Khalique. He has suggested in the past the district of this size can manage with a director and without a business administrator.
Khalique said the district is spending too much on its executives. The previous director, who resigned during the budget impasse, earned $72,200 as a full-time employee with health benefits while the part-time business administrator receives $40,000.
Council members Alex Mendez, Morris, Luis Velez, and Cotton voted in favor of the budget. William McKoy abstained.
After the vote, Jackson and Dykes clashed in the council’s antechamber. Dykes accused Jackson of acting from personal animus.
“You held me responsible for the default,” Dykes told Jackson. Jackson defaulted on an almost $140,000 loan that the Paterson Restoration Corporation (PRC) gave to Jacksonville Restaurant under Dykes’ chairmanship.
“I vote clean on all items. It’s nothing personal,” Jackson replied. “I have no resentment towards you.”
Dykes pointed out the majority of property owners support the district. 75 percent of members voted in favor of the budget while 25 voted against.
The impasse led to the layoff of three maintenance workers, who reside in Paterson, at the district. Each worker makes $12,000, according to Dykes. He said the maintenance employees work full-time.
Dykes noted those employees are recruited mostly from local re-entry programs.
The impasse also means the downtown 4th of July celebration will be scaled back this year. The city will hold the Independence Day fireworks display, according to Marcia Julian of cultural affairs.
The budget approval is required for the city to send out bills to downtown property owners to collect revenue for the district.
Dykes said the district may not see revenue until September. He said the district is preparing to conduct a search for a new executive director.
Ferreira resigned after 27 years. A new director will likely be picked late this year, said Dykes.