Mayor Andre Sayegh secured City Council approval for his $285.2 million budget that contains a 2-percent tax increase on Tuesday night.
Council members voted 8-1 to approve the fiscal 2020 budget, a remarkable change of fortune for the mayor who last week could not count on five votes.
“We asked for a balanced budget and it is before us,” said council president Maritza Davila. “This budget has a lot of the things we’ve asked for as a council and individuals as well.”
Council members Al Abdelaziz and William McKoy, both allied to the mayor, made the strongest case for the budget.
Abdelaziz cited funding in the budget for park improvements, police bodycams, road repairs, and equipment for public works.
“This budget shows we’re doing the right thing,” said Abdelaziz.
“Our budget is short by $27 million. The state is saying, ‘I’ll give you $24 million and all you have to put in is $3 million,’” said McKoy. He argued the taxpayer contribution is a “small amount” given the larger amount the state is pitching in.
Sayegh’s budget raises the amount to be collected from property taxes to $161.7 million, up 2-percent from last fiscal year’s $158.3 million. State government is providing $24.65 million in transitional aid.
Both Abdelaziz and McKoy argued ratables has increased greatly reducing the impact of the levy increase on tax bills.
“This isn’t a 2% increase on your tax bill,” said Abdelaziz. “This budget will show a decrease on your municipal portion.”
Sayegh administration calculations show municipal portion of the tax bill will decrease from fiscal year 2019 to 2020 for most properties. An average property assessed at $192,409 will see a $113 reduction. An average property assessed at $250,000 will see a reduction of $80, according to their calculations. A tax bill is made up of municipal, school, county, open space, and library taxes. A reduction in the municipal portion does not mean a reduction in the overall tax bill.
McKoy argued there has been a dramatic increase in economic development.
“It has taken me the last two months to find a campaign headquarter in the 3rd Ward. You know why? Economic development is booming. There are no empty storefronts.” said McKoy.
“Economic development is really booming in the 5th Ward,” added Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. He said two Dunkin Donuts have opened in his ward. He said the number of abandoned properties has been drastically reduced. Paterson Armory is expected to break ground in 2020, said Velez.
Municipal officials said approximately one fourth of the new ratables are from new developments while three fourths are from annual re-assessments of properties. This means some property owners, who saw big increases in their property’s assessed value this year, will see an increase in their tax bill.
“I believe the city council recognizes we’re making progress in Paterson. We’re slowly starting to increase our ratable base. It does take time,” said Sayegh on Wednesday morning.
Governor Phil Murphy praised Sayegh for his job in running Paterson.
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, appeared to chide both Abdelaziz and McKoy for their overly optimistic assessments.
“Let’s not forget this mayor is the one that called you out during the last campaign,” said Jackson referring to Sayegh lambasting McKoy in the mayoral race in 2018 for voting on budgets with tax increases.
Some council members argued the administration needs to do more to improve quality of life for residents.
“The bigger issue is the lack of services,” said Jackson. “It’s dirty all over the city.”
“Where’s the money being spent? Services are not increasing. Until I see services improve, I’ll keep voting no on the budget,” added Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman. He also pointed out Sayegh drastically increased sewer bills for property owners.
Khalique was the sole vote against the budget.
Davila, McKoy, Ruby Cotton, Abdelaziz, Jackson, Luis Velez, Flavio Rivera, and Lilisa Mimms voted in favor of the budget.
“There’s a rumor that I was going to vote no because I want to run for mayor,” said Mimms, councilwoman at-large. “I vote responsibly, and I do my homework.”
Mimms is seen as a potential mayoral candidate in 2022.