Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Historic Missteps for the Hoboken City Council: Almost 8 Million in Debt

Below is a letter from the newest City Council Woman Dawn Zimmer. I am posting the letter in its entirety. It is astounding at this city's ability to misspend and hide the true nature of the Hoboken budget and outright lie to the people that elected them. Can you say transparency? Open government? Not in Hoboken.

Dear Friends,

Over the past several weeks, my fellow City Council colleagues and I learned that the Administration has been misleading the City Council and the people of Hoboken about the state of our City's finances. We have spent millions of dollars more in this fiscal year than the Mayor disclosed in his budget. The City has been hiding its true spending by continually "sliding" payments into the next fiscal year. This practice is clearly irresponsible and very likely illegal.

The most egregious example is our health insurance. Last week, the City's health insurance was almost cancelled due to the fact that we had fallen at least 4 months behind in our bills. This was not a simple oversight. The City had under budgeted its health insurance by $3,600,000, and the Administration was trying to hide the information from its citizens. The City simply stopped paying its bills, planning to hide the true cost of this year's operations in next year's budget.

Had the City not received a termination notice from the insurer, we may never have discovered what was going on. We still don't know what other expenses may have been hidden in this way. There are 40 days left in the fiscal year, and the Administration is still unable or unwilling to provide a straight answer as to how much it cost to run the City this year.

As of today, we know that our budget deficit is at least $7,900,000. Once full information is known, it is likely that the number will be even higher. The City has exceeded the amount that it is legally permitted to spend by millions of dollars. As a result, it is likely that there will be a substantial increase in our 4th quarter tax bills. The responsibility for this situation lies squarely with our Mayor, and those public officials who knew what was going on and helped cover it up.

Last night, the Administration asked the City Council to approve an application for a "spending cap" waiver. In essence, this waiver application would ask the State to retroactively approve over-expenditures that have already been spent, at a time when the Administration has still not been forthcoming as to the full extent of our problem.

By a 5-4 vote, the Council refused to permit this. The likely result is that the State Department of Community Affairs will step in and oversee our budget process. We finally will have the opportunity to have our "books" fully examined, so that the people of Hoboken can learn the truth about how our City is being managed. The five votes were cast by me, Councilman Cunningham, Councilman Russo, Council President Castellano and Councilwoman Mason.

While resolving our current situation will be painful, we are finally on our way to righting our fiscal ship. Once that it is done, and our financial situation is finally transparent, we will be able to plan responsibly for the future, and make the investments in parks and infrastructure that our City so sorely needs. Next Wednesday, May 28, the City Council will hold an emergency meeting to address this crisis. If you can, I urge you all to attend. I will keep you posted as to events as they unfold.


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