Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration was unsuccessful in securing City Council approval for a $41 million temporary budget on Tuesday night, raising the prospect for a municipal government shutdown.
Sayegh’s temporary spending measure covers government expenditures for June and July. Members of the City Council rejected the measure, which required a super majority or six votes, in a 5-4 vote.
Council members expressed their frustrations with the Sayegh administration during the vote.
“I think this administration is spending more than what they need to spend,” said councilman Shahin Khalique. He said the administration needs to “hit the brakes” on spending.
The latest temporary spending measure translates to 66-percent of the entire budget, said acting finance director Javier Silva.
Sayegh’s team has been running the government on a series of temporary spending measures since the beginning of the calendar year in January.
“We switched from fiscal to calendar so we can adopt our budget in a timely manner,” said council president Flavio Rivera. “Now, we’re in June and we still don’t have an introduced budget.”
Rivera said it’s not “acceptable” to go without even an introduced budget this late into the year. With most of the budget already spent, the council will not be able to cut expenses to control spending, said council members.
Business administrator Kathleen Long blamed the delay in presenting an introduced budget on the uncertainty around the sewer utility.
Previously, the administration had claimed the delay stemmed from not receiving a state aid award letter. Rivera said the administration can introduce a budget anticipating 85 percent of the previous year’s transitional aid amount.
“This is another failure by the administration,” said Rivera on Wednesday morning.
Long said the mayor will appear next week before the City Council to present the introduced budget.
Council members also criticized the Sayegh administration for failing to inform them about funds received through the American Rescue Act.
Paterson is entitled to $63.7 million under president Joe Biden’s stimulus package.
“Have we received any of this money?” asked councilwoman Lilisa Mimms.
“We have received our first tranche of the money,” answered Long. She said the city received $33.5 million at the end of last week.
Sayegh and his team never informed the City Council it had received the funds. Rivera, who is chairman of the finance committee, was unaware the city had received some the funds.
“If she didn’t ask, we wouldn’t know,” added councilman Luis Velez.
“Does the administration need council approval to spend the dollars out of the $63.7 million that we are getting?” asked councilman Alex Mendez, who is serving his second nonconsecutive four-year term on the City Council.
“It’s going to depend on what it is,” answered Long, who has been working for the city for the past three years. She later added, “Yes, the council would have to approve.”
The City Council has to approve every dollar, grant or otherwise, that is spent by the government.
Council members wanted to see a plan on where the funds will be spent. They said they did not want a repeat of the Cares Act spending that funded overtime for employees, who mostly do not reside in Paterson.
“This administration has to have a plan,” said Velez.
Council members Al Abdelaziz, Ruby Cotton, Velez, Mimms, and Rivera voted in favor of the temporary spending measure while Khalique, Mendez, Michael Jackson, and Maritza Davila voted against.
Velez argued the city has to pay its employees and cover debt service payments.
After the measure failed, Rivera suggested the administration seek temporary appropriation for one month, June.
“I don’t want to do two months,” said Rivera. “I don’t feel comfortable.”
Rivera said it’s an “embarrassment” that the administration has yet to present an introduced budget.
Long said the administration will consider the one-month proposal.
The finance director suggested approving $23 million for June, but council members could not agree on reconsidering the rejected measure.
“It is very unfortunate that the council refused to adopt a temporary budget last night. We all have an obligation to ensure that our police officers, firefighters, and the rest of our employees are paid,” said Sayegh on Wednesday. “I remain cautiously optimistic that the council will adopt a budget and allow for city operations to be maintained.”
Sayegh will have to secure approval for the temporary budget or risk a government shutdown. Rivera said the council could likely consider the temporary budget at its June 1 special meeting, which could avert a government shutdown.
Email: [email protected]
Updated 12:25 p.m.