Playing politics with city services

Playing politics with city services
 
03/28/2005

Dear Editor:

Mayor Roberts shut Hoboken down on March 22, rather than face up to the $8 million budget shortfall in his so-called balanced budget. On March 24 he was in court demanding that I Carol Marsh, Tony Soares, and other minority council members be ordered to vote for the Temporary Emergency Appropriations (TEA's) exactly as he proposed, or allow the shut down to continue.

The Honorable Maurice Gallipoli scolded the city for seeking judicial intervention. "If there is an emergency it's not of my making, and I'm not inclined to fix it" he said. "If some ill falls on the city, it's because of the inability of elected officials to come together and that tragedy is on their hands."

The judge was clear that the proper resolution was for the council to adopt a balanced budget - something Tony Soares and I have been saying for seven months. He noted that we were forbidden to speak at the meeting where the appropriations failed, and suggested that, had we been heard, this shutdown could have been avoided.

The Mayor has been stalling the budget until after the election, but last night, when we were finally allowed to speak, the budget process sputtered to a start:

* The council agreed to hold their first public budget workshop in many years, if not the first ever, and set a target date of March 30 for adoption.

* We demanded that the certified audit - almost three months overdue - be available at that session, and at least got promises to "try".

* The council agreed, after weeks of heel-dragging, to my suggestion that we not fund salaries for Mayor, Council, and Directors until we pass a budget.

* Roberts admitted that the May tax bills had been sent out without legal authority, and agreed to notify taxpayers, so no moneys will be collected until the budget is final.

* And yes, unanimously, we funded operations until May, getting everyone back to work and paying them for the days lost to the Mayor's unauthorized furlough.

The Mayor has tried to make political hay out of our "refusal" to pass the March 21 TEA, calling us obstructionists. He ignored the fact that 16 times before we had approved the funding requested. He had even enlisted state officials to support his claim. Gallipoli had harsh words: "The state should have gotten involved a long time ago and forced them to pass a budget".

Now finally, we go to work, and it's not going to be easy. Mayor Roberts has presided over budget growth of $20 million, from $54 million in 2002, to $72 million in 2005. The structural deficit has risen sharply. There are no good answers to the fix he has gotten us into.

But closing the City and calling TV cameras doesn't help. Mayor Roberts had illegally overspent his budget by millions each year in office. His refusal to do so now was calculation - not conscience. City employees were entitled to 45 days notice before being laid off. City residents were entitled to an adopted balanced budget months ago.

Mayor Roberts, it's time to put politics aside and get that job done.

Carol Marsh


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