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Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun Design $250 Million Plan to Fix School Budget Over Next Three Years


Mayor and Councilman Partner on Initiative to Fund Jersey City Schools
Revenue from Abatements, a Tax Levy and Budget Cuts All Part of the Plan

Taking steps to address Jersey City Public School’s $120 million budget gap, Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun partnered on the Jersey City School Funding Action Plan they outlined for the next three years. Revenue from tax abatements, a school tax levy, the sale of city-owned property along with the 1% payroll tax already in place, are all part of the $250 million plan.

“Today we are discussing a three-year, $250 million plan to solve the crisis facing the Jersey City schools,” Mayor Fulop began. “It speaks to the seriousness that we view this problem and the commitment we have to making sure that Jersey City kids have the best opportunities possible.”

Mayor Fulop’s school funding plan

Jersey City Public School funding has hit a snag. The district will lose approximately $27 million in state aid this year. That reduction along with the deficit the Board of Education (BOE ) has carried these past five years are all part of the $120 million budget crisis. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s plan targets a quarter of a billion dollars to be funneled to Jersey City’s schools over the next three years.

Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun met with stakeholders including parents, teachers and BOE administrators to come up with a strategy to bridge the funding gap. The plan includes new revenues, the 1% payroll tax, and a tax levy increase that comes to about $9 per taxpayer.

“Last year, we implemented the payroll tax and we expect that payroll tax to yield upwards of $80 million dollars this year,” Mayor Fulop said. “The last couple of months the Councilman and I have been meeting with PTA groups and we’ve introduced our budget earlier than ever so that we could make aggressive changes.”

The $250 million plan would restructure the Municipal budget to share the tax abatement shortfall in its entirety for 2020, 2021, and 2022; in total, an estimated $40 million that would go to the schools. The plan would collect $55 million from the city’s payroll tax, $15 million from the sale of the city’s Claremont Avenue property, $2 million from a Board of Education energy audit; $13 million from lead remediation; $5 million from a health benefits audit, $45 million from the Board of Education Operational Efficiency Corrective Action, and $75 million from the Municipal School Tax Levy Adjustment.

“We’ve increased the tax levy by 57% on the municipal side gradually over time and that would equate to a $9 increase per year,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think that’s manageable. We recognize that there are a lot of seniors in Jersey City and a lot of people on a fixed income that are still struggling, so we want to make sure that we’re able to achieve a solution that funds the schools but at the same time takes into account people who are on a fixed income.”

For example, a $25M increase to the 2020-2021 school levy, which can only be set by the schools, will result in a $101 annual increase ($9 a month) to CY 2020 residential taxpayers with an assessment of $440,000, the 2019 average. The BOE’s plans, so far, have been to rely on tax increases to bridge its budget gap, whereas the Mayor’s plan is less reliant on taxpayers.

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun discusses the school budget crisis

“We tried to minimize the tax increase for the people of Jersey City,” Councilman Yun said.

In addition, Mayor Fulop and the City Council approved an audit to review all PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements. The audit is to ensure the city receives the revenue outlined in each PILOT agreement. Any additional dollars discovered in the audit would go to the BOE. Although it’s possible audit savings could go unrealized, the Mayor’s office said its confident the projections are both achievable and reasonable.

On the downside, the 2020 plan calls for a reduction in police recruiting, fire recruiting, overtime, hiring and pay freezes. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s JCSFAP plan will give the schools $10 million from city budget cuts that include $2,.2 million in voluntary buyouts, $2 million in overtime reduction, $1.2 million from a pay freeze, $1.17 million from police recruitment reduction, $1.13 from fire recruitment reduction, $1 million in security contract reduction, $800,000 from operational efficiencies, and $500,000 from a health benefit waiver phase out.

“We are making sacrifices, and hard choices,” Mayor Fulop said.

In 2020, the City would move $10 million over to share from abatement revenue. By 2022, $40 million would be shared. Mayor Fulop said he’s committed to 100% sharing of abatement revenue. Jersey City has 178 tax abatements.

“That’s above and beyond anybody’s request,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think its proper to move into the direction of 100% sharing.”

Additional money for the deficit will come in when the city acquires the Claremont Avenue property where the Board of Education’s central office is headquartered, Mayor Fulop said. The city will lease it back to the school board for $1. This would be a solution to getting the BOE some additional dollars, rather than the proposal last year to sell it on the private market.

“There’s no secret we’ve been proactive with the schools,” Mayor Fulop said “We’ve done our best to highlight the fact that the city wants to do its part. We’ve outlined how we’re going to get there. It’s a $1/4 billion commitment. We think that’s meaningful.”

Header:  Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun hold a press conference in City Hall Tuesday to outline their plan to fix the school budget deficit.  Photo by Sally Deering

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JC Council Approves Arts Trust Fund Referendum, Laurel Court Redevelopment, and New City Clerk


At Jersey City’s Feb. 13 city council meeting, members approved a referendum for a new publicly funded arts trust fund to be on November’s ballot, voted unanimously for Sean J. Gallagher to replace retired Robert Byrne as city clerk, and approved a resolution to move forward on a plan for the redevelopment of Laurel and Saddlewood Courts in downtown Jersey City.

City Hall’s council chambers buzzed with local residents including a group of Downtown homeowners who came to address the council. They represented 37 of the 38 homeowners who want the council to pass a resolution formalizing a plan that deems their properties in need of redevelopment with possible condemnation. The developer Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC) has made a tentative deal with the 37 homeowners to buy their homes for agreed-upon prices. In their place, LMC will build a 50-story high-rise with 810  rental apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space, a new public park, an expanded Filipino Veterans Plaza, and a new public school for 300-350 children.

“We support the city’s plan to redevelop our block based on safety issues as well as the obsolete design of the buildings,” homeowner Tommy Tran said. “All of us have been working so hard with the city’s planner to come up with a solution to this problem. I want to state we’re very knowledgeable about what we’re getting into.”

Tran talked to the council about the 38th homeowner who has refused to work with the other homeowners. Trans said the homeowner, a developer, doesn’t live on the property but bought a home there “with the intention to really bully us.”

“It was like, ‘If I don’t build on this block, nobody builds on this block’,” Tran said, referring to him. “We couldn’t deal with that. Our properties are obsolete. It’s been a long journey. I hope you can help us. Your vote today means a tremendous amount to us.”

Founder and CEO of the Shuster Group of Jersey City, Eyal Shuster is the 38th homeowner against the redevelopment plan. He attended the council meeting, and when it was his turn at the podium, he spoke out against the resolution, saying the city was treating him unjustly. If the resolution is approved, the council will then consider acquiring Shuster’s property through eminent domain.

“The city is unfairly and illegally favoring a competing developer and assisting its interference with our six-year effort to develop Saddlewood Court,” Shuster told the council. “With your vote today, you are not condemning my property, you’re condemning my livelihood and the livelihood of over 100 people who work in my office, 50 percent of which are Jersey City residents.”

Councilman Michael Yun showed his support for the redevelopment plan but warned the homeowners that he would not approve a tax abatement if the request came before the Council.

“Thirty-seven our of 38 homeowners want to redevelop their area,” Councilman Yun said. “I respect that. If 37 of 38 people look for redevelopment of their area, they deserve to have it, but don’t come back to the City of Jersey City looking for a tax abatement. You are not going to be happy.”

The council approved the resolution.

Art Tax Makes the Ballot

The council approved a referendum on November’s election day ballot allowing Jersey City residents to decide whether or not they want the city to establish an “Art Trust Fund,” an arts and culture initiative similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund.  The council voted 8-1 in favor of the referendum with Councilman Boggiano voting “no.”

“We have enough taxes,” Boggiano said.

The fund would support local artists and arts education and would be paid for by the city’s homeowners and businesses at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Steven Fulop supported the measure.

Three Minutes, Please

Josephine Paige addresses
the council, photo by Sally Deering

In a 6-2 vote, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would impose a three-minute limit on all members of the public wishing to speak at the second readings of ordinances at council meetings. The ordinance also includes a five-minute limitation on all members of the public “wishing to speak on the adoption of the budget and on any amendments to the budget”. Prior to the vote there had been no time limit on such opportunities. Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the restrictions, including Jeanne Daly of Jersey City.

“I think the three-minute limitation is unacceptable,” Daly began. “We have 275,000 residents in Jersey City, and the fact that 25 of us come to speak, you should consider yourself lucky. If everyone showed up, then we’d really have a problem.”

Daly admonished the council for not sponsoring ordinances and resolutions. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for the council members to research what they’re voting on, she said.

“You have the resolutions,” Daly said, “(and yet) it’s sometimes us, the residents, that have to look that up for you and then come in front of you and give you the facts. Council members are supposed to sponsor ordinances. This is what they’re supposed to be doing. If you do, you’ve done your homework.”

Appoint or Elect, Voters to Decide

Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the resolution passed last month by the council to approve a referendum for an appointed School Board. The referendum will be placed on November’s ballot, and if Jersey City residents vote in favor of it, Mayor Fulop will have the power to appoint the nine members of the school board for four-year terms (or longer) starting July 1, 2021.

“An appointed (school) board will leave the public with no say or input in the decisions made by the board,” Paige said. “With an elected board you can change members every year. With an appointed board, the same is not true. Members may remain on the board for as long as the mayor wishes, regardless of public discontent. Your vote will no longer count or have any impact.”

New City Clerk

New City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher, photo by Sally Deering

The council voted 9-0 to approve Sean J. Gallagher as city clerk, replacing the retired Robert Byrne. Gallagher worked with Byrne for 22 years and credits him for the inspiration to move up the ladder at city hall.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman cast a “yes” vote after thanking Robert Byrne for his service to Jersey City.

“Sean, I know you have great shoes to fill,” President Watterman said, as Gallagher stood at the podium. “You have a way of solving problems, and I do appreciate that. You always have something positive to say, and you come up with a solution, and that’s what you need, people who come up with solutions so they can move the city forward.”

With the unanimous vote cast, and to resounding applause, Gallagher accepted the appointment, with his wife, Laura, and son, Sean, watching from the front row of the public gallery.

“I definitely have really big shoes to fill,” Gallagher said in his acceptance speech. “Robert Byrne, without him I wouldn’t exist in the clerk’s office. He taught me well. I’ve worked with Robert for 22 years. He gave me the aspirations to move up. I would love to thank my wife, Laura, my son, Sean, and my brother William who introduced the family to Jersey City politics 25 years ago.”

Resolution Honors West Indies Festival

The council approved a resolution honoring Cheryl Murphy, founder and president of the West Indian Caribbean American Carnival Association in Jersey City, and the association itself upon its twenty-fifth anniversary . The nonprofit hosts an annual parade and festival featuring health screenings and entertainment and an annual business conference on finance, taxes, insurance, and maintaining “healthy” stores.

“We appreciate all that you do for the Caribbean community in Jersey City,” Councilwoman Denise Ridley said. Council President Watterman cast the final “yes” vote.

“Every year Cheryl’s here making sure that this parade and culture is noticed, and for that I commend you.,” President Watterman said. “So often, we get weary. We get tired, but you’ve been faithful. Congratulations for 25 years. I wish you 25 more.”

With a 9-0 vote, Council passed the resolution.

In attendance: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

Next Council Meeting: Wed, Feb. 26, 6 p.m.
Jersey City City Council Chambers
City Hall
280 Grove Street, JC
For more info: https://jerseycitynj.gov

Header:  Thursday’s Jersey City Council Meeting comes to order, photos Sally Deering

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Arts Trust Fund, New Hotel and Redevelopment on Council Agenda


Mayor Steven M. Fulop Wants Voters to Decide Fate of Arts Trust Fund

The Jersey City Council’s Caucus meeting held Monday night included resolutions to convert a 5-story residential building into a boutique hotel, and a redevelopment plan for 37 homes in downtown Jersey City. An hour into the meeting, held in the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room in City Hall, Mayor Steven M. Fulop stopped by to discuss the Arts Trust initiative that could bring in an estimated $800,000 a year for non-profit arts groups.

Accompanied by Director of Jersey City’s Division of Cultural Affairs Christine Goodman, Mayor Fulop spoke to the Council about the Arts Trust, an arts and culture trust fund similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund. The Arts Trust Fund would support local artists and arts education and would be funded by taxpayers at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Fulop and Goodman want Jersey City voters to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by placing a Referendum on November’s voting ballot.

“This is something we’ve worked on with the arts council for the better part of two years now,” Mayor Fulop said, “trying to find a solution to support arts and non-profits in Jersey City with long-term sustainable funding. We met with a group of about 80 organizations last Monday.”

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun questioned why the 80 organizations couldn’t fundraise for themselves. Mayor Fulop said that a lot of the organizations don’t have the infrastructure to write the grants

“They spoke about the challenges around that,” Mayor Fulop said, “and they spoke about how difficult it is to find funding. This is a challenge arts groups face around the state and the country. We think it’s important to try and help them out because (the arts) are really crucial to a city that people want to live in.”

Goodman spoke of a “severe and pervasive funding gap that Jersey City non-profits face and have faced for a very long time on the state level”.

“(Jersey City is) on the very bottom of the funding list for counties across the state,” Goodman said. “We have Essex, a comparable county pulling in $5 million in funding. The entire County of Hudson gets $200,000 to share, so there’s a huge funding gap.”

Councilman Yun asked what the arts groups would give to Jersey City in return for the funding.

“The story is what they already do for us, “ Goodman answered. “We have theaters, dance companies, but we’d like to talk about the story of arts education. This funding stream could really help programming that reaches children and young people and exposes them to art at a greater rate than they are being exposed to now.”

Mayor Fulop said the Council would set the exact tax rate with a goal of bringing in $800,000 per year which is comparable to the tax brought in to support the Open Space Trust Fund. Councilman Yun went on to say that although it was a good initiative, his main concern was the many special taxes Jersey City residents already pay.

“We have so many special taxes now, ” Councilman Yun said. “I think it’s not the right thing to do.

Proposing a new hotel

109 Columbus Drive. Photo by Sally Deering

A proposal to change the residential use of a 24-unit building to hotel use for a proposed boutique hotel was brought before the council by Charles Harrington, lawyer for the developer. Harrington said the change from residential use to hotel use would begin the process for a redevelopment plan for 109 Christopher Columbus Drive in Ward E. If the building were to be converted to hotel use, the people living in the five-story building would face eviction once their leases expired.

“If this is passed, what will happen to them?” Council President Joyce E. Watterman asked.

Harrington said that his client would work with the residents to help them relocate.

“My client is looking at that,” Harrington said. “They have rights.”

Councilman Yun said it would be important to speak with local residents and groups like the Van Vorst Park Association to get their input on the conversion.

“I’ve met with the Van Vorst group in the past,” Harrington told the Council.  “We had a similar proposal, and at that time, 4 or 5 years ago, it was really well -received. It’s a boutique hotel concept similar to here.”

Councilman James Solomon of Ward E proposed to spend the next three days meeting with members of the community for their perspective and report back his findings at Thursday night’s Council meeting.

“Before we move forward, I would like to see a financial analysis,” Councilman Lazarro added.

Redevelopment Plan for Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court

Laurel Court, Jersey City. Photo courtesy redfin.com

The Council moved on to a resolution concerning 37 homes in Laurel Court and Saddlewood Court in downtown Jersey City’s Ward E, and the approval for redevelopment and “condemnation of the property” because the homes, built in the 1970s, are dilapidated and outdated. If approved, the homeowners could sell their homes to the developer for profit.

“(The homeowners) met with me in 2018,” Councilman Solomon said, “and 37 out of the 38 homeowners on that lot said this is what they want. That is my understanding of where we’re at.”

Councilman Lavarro said the 37 homeowners are likely motivated by an inability to afford living in Jersey City, but he disapproved of the resolution because it doesn’t justify the need for condemnation of the property. The homes under consideration would be “prized homes in other parts of the city,” he said.

“If you’re going to declare this as an area in need of redevelopment, you have to be able to justify that,” Councilman Lavarro said. “We can go out and mark every home throughout Jersey City as an area in need of redevelopment and make it a home for the affluent and the wealthy. That’s not the way I want to go about redeveloping Jersey City”

Without justification, it seems unlikely the Council will approve redevelopment.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman presided over the Caucus meeting with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson in attendance.

The next Jersey City Council Meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6 pm
Council Chambers
Jersey City Hall
280 Grove St, JC
For more info: jerseycitynj.gov

Header: Mayor Steven M. Fulop and Cultural Affairs Director Christine Goodman Address the City Council at its Caucus Meeting on Monday. Photo by Sally Deering

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Events

Jersey City Council Meeting


In general, City Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM, unless otherwise designated.  Click here for the City’s schedule.

Council meetings are open to members of the public, who are welcome to speak at the designated public comment times.  Members of the public wishing to speak are advised to contact the City Clerk prior to the meeting.

Council caucuses are held on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at 4:00PM, unless otherwise designated.  The purpose of caucuses is to discuss agenda items for the upcoming meeting.  Caucuses are open to the public, however, there is no opportunity for the public to speak.  The Council may also hold closed caucuses during which the public is excluded.  In addition, the council may hold a pre-meeting caucus one-half hour prior to any scheduled council meeting.

Note that all caucuses are held in the Efrain Rosario Memorial Caucus Room, City Hall, 280 Grove Street.

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