City Hall of Jersey City
City Hall, Jersey City Times file photo

In what amounts to an 11th hour maneuver, two Jersey City councilmen are urging their colleagues to consider amending the 2020 municipal budget by diverting $5 million earmarked for public safety to “youth enrichment, housing and anti-violence initiatives.”

But the proposal is getting a chilly reception from Mayor Steve Fulop, and it’s unclear whether the council members will get enough support from their colleagues to push it through.

The city administration has scheduled a special city council meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 2 p.m., to adopt the budget. The entire budget is approximately $600 million, of which about $270 million would be raised through local taxation, with the balance coming from state and federal aid, grants, and other revenue sources.

Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Councilman At Large Rolando Lavarro issued a joint statement today proposing that the council redirect $5 million in projected savings from public safety “retirements and other employment separations” into alternate programs as follows:

  • $1.5 million to help fund city schools, replacing lost payroll tax revenue
  • $1 million to hire social workers and mental health professionals to work with local police officers
  • $1 million to restore cuts made to the city’s youth enrichment program for a fall youth jobs program
  • $1 million to the city’s Department of Housing, Economic Development & Commerce to fund the creation of a Right to Counsel program to help tenants avoid displacement and to bolster the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • $500,000 to fund “community-based violence prevention strategies”

Solomon said no layoffs of police or firefighters would result if the proposed amendment were adopted.

A review of municipal financial records showed, Solomon said, that the city could tap the money it would save from no longer having to pay 52 members of the police department and 25 members of the fire department who have either recently retired or left the city’s employ.

The proposed municipal budget, which was introduced in June, lists approximately $102 million in salaries for city cops in 2020, down from the roughly $106 million appropriated in 2019. The city anticipates spending $70.3 million in firefighter pay in 2020 up from the approximately $66.8 million budgeted last year.

Solomon said that in prior years Fulop used public safety employee retirement savings to fund massive amounts of police overtime and “patronage promotions.” Instead, he said, that money should be used to foster “police, community, and social service professionals all working together to build a safer city.”

Lavarro and Solomon griped that Mayor Steven Fulop gave council members little time to meet with city department heads and fiscal officers to conduct a thorough review of the city’s proposed spending plan, choosing instead to “rushing a last-minute August 25 daytime special meeting vote on his own amended municipal budget, which would slash youth services and provide no funding to community-based violence prevention strategies.”

Lavarro said: “Our country’s moral reckoning demands bold leadership to create a more equitable Jersey City. Mayor Fulop’s proposed budget fails to meet this moral moment. It fails to invest in Jersey City’s south side. It fails to invest in Jersey City’s black and brown communities.”

Lavarro termed the lawmakers’ proposal “a down payment on an equitable future for Jersey City.”

Asked for comment, mayoral spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione issued this statement: “The mayor presented a balanced budget with no tax increase for residents while investing more in affordable housing and public safety. Inversely, there is no question that Councilmen Solomon and Lavarro’s proposal is exactly what they recommended before, which would result in police officer layoffs. It’s time for these two council people to stop playing politics with people’s safety.”

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...

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