The city council on Tuesday evening voted 7-2 to approve mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ $252.6 million fiscal year 2015 budget that increases property tax on an average home assessed at $350,000 by $329 from the previous fiscal year.
“We stayed within our cap,” said Torres during his budget presentation before the council. “We will not face any layoffs; we will not face any furloughs.”
The city’s budget went from last year’s $246.4 million to $252.6 million this year. Of that amount the city’s share is $145.9 million, schools’ portion is $39.4 million, county’s chunk is $45 million, libraries’ share is $2.27 million, and open space gets $691,000.
Torres said the biggest items on the budget are insurance, police, fire, and statuary agencies. His presentation displayed bar graphs showing those items soaring above other city expenses.
Some of the biggest increases in the city’s budget from last year’s include municipal debt service which went from $8.58 million to $11.89 million and reserve for uncollected taxes which increased from $10.92 million to $13.55 million, according to the city’s budget.
Council members Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, Ruby Cotton, Maritza Davila, William McKoy, Alex Mendez, Kenneth Morris, and James Staton voted to approve the budget while Andre Sayegh and Julio Tavarez voted against.
“We must have some skin in the game,” said Davila before casting her vote. Morris said the city has little choice but to increase taxes so long as it remains on state aid. The state earlier in the month awarded $25 million in transitional aid to the city, $2 million more than it did last year.
“If they are going to go to every other taxpayers in the State of New Jersey and ask them to contribute to the City of Paterson through municipal aid, the expectation is that local taxpayers also have to make a contribution that contribution on the local level is the 2-percent,” said Morris.
Sayegh said the city already has a great deal of skin in the game, for its taxpayers handover great sums of money through sales tax, gasoline tax, cigarette tax, and various other state taxes.
“We are pleased with the way the budget process went that we were able to hold the reins and come in with a minimum 2-percent increase and at the same time demonstrated to the state that we’re responsible in our budgeting so that we got a $2 million increase,” said McKoy. “The residents of Paterson got their money’s worth in this budget.”
McKoy suggested the city figure out a risk management strategy to curb its workers compensation expenses. He said the city should hire a risk manager to potentially bring down that item which stood at $4.7 million last year to $4.9 million this year.
Torres said his administration plans to tackle the issue. “We’ve been spending millions of dollars in workers compensation,” said Mendez. “I’m very pleased to hear the administration is going to start working on that.”
During his presentation, Torres pointed out that his administration is negotiating collective bargaining contracts with all city unions including police and fire. Morris asked what will happen to the budget document if these contracts result in increased compensation for employees.
“I’ve been very firm in that you can’t get water from a rock,” said Torres. He said those collective bargaining units did not exercise their arbitration rights to force the former administration to negotiate a contract.
“I don’t see giving anything retroactively,” said Torres. The mayor after the budget presentation said there may be increases for employees moving forward, but nothing retroactive. Torres said he hopes to settle the contracts by New Year’s Day.
Properties assessed at $150,000 will see a tax increase of $141 and properties assessed at $250,000 will see an increase of $235, according to Torres’ presentation.
By utilizing the exemptions in the two-percent cap law, the Torres’ administration increased taxes on homeowners by 3.2-percent, according to city documents.