Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration has scheduled a series of departmental budget hearings over the next three weeks in a major departure with the much-criticized past practice of hosting hearings after the start of the fiscal year.
Sayegh’s move was welcomed by members of the City Council.
“We want to know where we stand financially early on in the year,” said councilman Flavio Rivera, chairman of the finance committee. “We don’t want to continue to see what’s been going on in the past.”
Rivera and his colleagues pushed the Sayegh administration to hold the hearings before the start of the new fiscal year on Jul. 1.
“I think starting early allows us to really get a grasp on our budget before the administration starts to spend the money,” added councilman Al Abdelaziz, who campaigned on forcing the administration to start the budget process before the start of the fiscal year. “It allows the council to look at and recommend cuts.”
Over the years, the City Council often received two options from successive administrations, raise taxes or lay off employees. This often happens because the city’s budget is typically adopted when more than half of the fiscal year has elapsed. At this point, the administration has spent most of the money, leaving little or no room for cuts.
“It’s all about planning,” said Abdelaziz. For example, if the city is facing a severe shortfall, it can early on decide whether it needs to conduct a reduction in force. It could layoff 10 people in July, but if it waits until March it must layoff 30, three times as many employees, to produce the same amount in savings, he said.
“Let’s say you needed to cut two employees at the beginning of the year to make up $100,000. If you wait until the end of the year, you might need to cut four or five,” added Rivera.
“Unfortunately, early doesn’t get us there any quicker because of the state granting us transitional aid,” said William McKoy, longest serving member of the City Council. Indeed, the city has to wait on the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to provide a transitional aid award letter before adopting its budget.
The state typically provides the award amount more than half way into the fiscal year. The city operates through a series of emergency temporary appropriations before a budget is adopted.
This is the first time an administration is holding departmental hearings this early, said McKoy, who has been on the council for 19 years. Typically, past administrations, including Sayegh’s last year, have held the departmental hearings in the fall.
McKoy said he also favors Rivera’s approach to “change the paradigm” on the manner in which the budget is developed.
Rivera wants the departments to develop their own budgets. This will reveal the real needs of each department, he said.
“We’re not gambling like we did last year,” said Rivera.
Schedule of departmental budget hearings:
- Wednesday, May 29, 2019: Municipal Court, General Government, Economic Development, and Community Development
- Thursday, May 30, 2019: Law Department, Health and Human Services, and Police
- Monday, Jun. 10, 2019: Public Works, Administration, and Finance
- Thursday, Jun. 13, 2019: Museum, Library, and Fire.
Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.