By James Solomon
Jersey City’s 2022 budget is unacceptable. It raises taxes while slashing critical programs, and it is months overdue—a clear indication of the failure of this entire process.To prevent future failures, it is crucial to outline how this happened and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.
The first issue is that we voted on the 2022 calendar year budget in mid-October, meaning we’ve already failed at the most basic responsibility as a city: making sure we’re getting things done on time.
The delay was completely unnecessary, and it raised your taxes by an additional $10M. The City failed to submit its Annual Financial Statement by the statutory March deadline, instead turning it in in August. That document revealed a $36 million cash deficit that was previously unaccounted for—further delaying the budget vote so the city could address that deficit. Ultimately, this delay is the reason that the city was unable to collect $10 million from its annual tax sale, and as a result, Jersey City residents are being forced to shoulder that $10 million burden. This tax increase will fall entirely on your 4th quarter taxes.
Second, to make the city’s new numbers add up, this budget slashes millions of dollars in services that Jersey City residents depend on for public safety and affordability. This includes a 75% cut to the “Community Crisis Response” program pairing mental health professionals with police officers, delaying its implementation until at least 2023; cuts to 12 Parking Enforcement officer positions, preventing effective implementation of residential zone parking in downtown and across the city; and cuts to positions in Affordable Housing, Engineering, City Planning, Architecture, and Construction Code, the core divisions attempting to address the city’s rampant development.
But even with these devastating cuts, the city still found money for “merit” salary increases, overtime funding increases for Public Works, and a $3M+ outlay to pay for police overtime over-expenditures from 2021.
Most troublingly, this budget sets us up for bigger problems next year. City Hall spent over $70 million from American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to plug holes in the current budget. There is no more ARP money, which creates a $70 million budget gap for next year. Unless our budgeting processes improve substantially, working families will be forced to make up that shortfall through tax increases or service cuts.
We are elected to ensure the good governance of this city, and I am determined to do my duty no matter the political consequences. The people deserve a clear, public accounting of what went wrong. But they also deserve a plan to ensure it does not happen again—something infinitely more valuable than finger-pointing or talking points divorced from reality. Over the coming months, I will be partnering with my colleagues to pass new, City Council-imposed deadlines and oversight mechanisms on our Budget Office to prevent both future delays and to uncover financial irregularities earlier. A few months ago, I voted against renewing our Auditor’s contract because they failed to meet their statutory deadlines and put their independence in question with political donations—and I will once again propose hiring a new auditor.
Most importantly, we can’t continue to rely on working families’ tax dollars to cover up City Hall’s mistakes. They need relief and solutions, and I will propose new revenues to balance our school and city budgets without burdening homeowners.
A core part of the City Council’s job is to hold the city accountable, and the most important element of that is our oversight of the budget. But we failed by passing this budget—and that failure is something Jersey City simply cannot afford now or ever again.
James Solomon is the City Councilman for Ward E