Posts

Jersey City Projected to Lose $70M in Coronavirus Crisis


As cities and states across America battle the ongoing health crisis due to COVID-19, they will also have to brace for the economic impact that is coupled with it. Jersey City, which has 101 confirmed cases as of March 25, according to Mayor Steven Fulop, is no exception.

“It’s going to take time for us to recover, for our restaurants and small businesses to bounce back from this unimaginable crisis,” said the mayor. “That’s why we need help from the state and federal level.”

On Wednesday, March 25, Fulop shared that the anticipated budget impact for the city is expected to total $70 million consisting of $50 million in lost revenue loss and $20 million in added expenses.

The revenue loss comes from significantly decreased payroll tax collection, from the absence of municipal court fines, construction code fees and parking enforcement fines and from “other critical financial factors,” according to Fulop.

“There’s no playbook for us to follow on this, and we are looking to save money wherever possible to minimize the impact for residents,” he continued.

The $20 million in added expenditures is expected to be comprised of emergency purchases, increased health benefit costs and overtime.

Jersey City is not the only municipality facing economic hardship amidst the coronavirus outbreak. According to a tweet posted by the United Nations, the COVID-19 outbreak could cost the global economy a whopping $2 trillion in 2020.

Michael J. Hicks, an economist for Ball State University in Indiana, predicts that 17 percent of U.S. workers (1 in 6) will be laid off due to the impending economic crisis.

As the future seems uncertain, Jersey City is preparing for the worst.

“The City Council is not only focusing on our response to this current crisis and what our residents are going through, but we also need to plan for what lies ahead, and that reality comes with some really tough decisions,” said City Council President Joyce Watterman. “I’m really proud of how Jersey City has been a leader for those to turn to during times of hardship, and I know we’ll tackle the next difficult phase that we all inevitably face. It’s the unfortunate truth, but it’s better to be prepared than be blindsided.”

Dear reader: For the cost of a "tall" drip coffee at Starbucks, you can support local journalism! Please consider signing up for a recurring monthly payment of $2.99. Thank you!

Sign up and support Jersey City Times!

City Gears Up For “Aggressive” Anti-Virus Campaign”


Rumors and speculation notwithstanding, the specter of the coronavirus (Covid-19) has – so far – touched Jersey City only minimally, based on reports made earlier today by municipal officials.

Nonetheless, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop is taking what he called aggressive steps to minimize the potential of the virus, which the World Health Organization has labeled a global pandemic, from taking root in the multi-ethnic community which ranks No. 2 in population in the state.

Among the precautionary measures being enacted are cancellation of city-sponsored events, including the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade; cancellation of private events on city property; appointment-only visits to City Hall; waiving (for now) permit parking renewals; mandatory customer sign-in sheets for eateries and entertainment venues that hold more than 25 patrons; and a 10 p.m. curfew for any and all commercial establishments that have a liquor license.

And in the public school system, which has an enrollment of approximately 30,000 children spread among 40 schools and early-childhood centers, Superintendent Franklin Walker said the local district is conferring with state health and education officials about possible school closings and remote instructional programs. In the meantime, Walker said school personnel have been disinfecting classrooms, bathrooms and buses.

“We always want the city to be a leader and proactive in protecting our residents,” Fulop said. “In this case, we are taking reasonable steps and giving clear direction to the community on expectations. We are asking our residents to help us in keeping our community safe.”

During a press conference held in the city’s Office of Emergency Management in the firehouse at 715 Summit Ave., Fulop reiterated that there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus reported.

This, he said, despite a scare on Wednesday stirred by the unscheduled appearance at City Hall of an unidentified visitor who told security personnel that “his father had tested positive” for the virus, the mayor said.

But city Public Safety Director James Shea later added that the male visitor – who was wearing some type of surgical mask – never got into the interior of the building. Instead, Shea said, he was taken for a medical exam.  Shea didn’t elaborate.

A preferred scenario, Shea said, would have been for the man to have called a 24-hour hotline – 201-547-5208 – or to have checked out the city’s dedicated webpage, www.jcnj.org/coronavirus, for information and continuous updates.

The city is advising persons who suspect they’ve been exposed to Covid-19 to self-quarantine and to call the city’s hotline. “To avoid overwhelming our medical facilities, and if you believe you may be infected, DO NOT use public transportation to our hospitals. We will direct you on where and how to go,” a city press release says.

To date, four people in Jersey City have been tested for the presence of the virus, according to Dr. Shatrughan Bastola, Jersey City’s health officer. “Three of the four were absolutely negative,” Bastola said, “and one we’re waiting for results from the CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control).”

It’s unclear whether the City Hall visitor was included among those statistics.

Bastola said he was aware of 14 or 15 cases of self-quarantined individuals in Jersey City, all of whom, he stressed, were exposed healthy individuals.

Jersey City Medical Center and LabCorp, which is also based in Jersey City, have both been approved to test for the virus by the Centers for Disease Control and have already begun doing so, according to Stacey Flanagan, city director of Health & Human Services. Test samples are forwarded by courier from those sites to a New Jersey public health environmental lab in Ewing Township for analysis, Bastola said. Results are then made available to the local health officer, he added.

Safeguards are also in place at Liberty International Airport in Newark, according to Flanagan and Bastola. CDC staff stationed at the airport check passengers who’ve been to “hot zones” for possible quarantining. But even if those passengers are judged to be asymptomatic, their names and relevant information are provided to local health authorities in their respective cities for monitoring by those authorities.

 

Header: Emergency Management Officials and Mayor Steven Fulop, photo by Ron Leir

Dear reader: For the cost of a "tall" drip coffee at Starbucks, you can support local journalism! Please consider signing up for a recurring monthly payment of $2.99. Thank you!

Sign up and support Jersey City Times!

Bodycam Tapes Show Bravery of Jersey City Cops, Fulop says


Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said police bodycam footage from the scene of the horrific Dec. 10, 2019, shooting at the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket at 224 Martin Luther King Drive showed that his city’s cops went above and beyond in exposing themselves to possible harm.

At a brief press conference held Friday, Feb. 21, directly across the street from the still-shuttered shop, Fulop, accompanied by Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea, said the newly released tapes “only reinforce a lot of what we said in the days after the Dec. 10 incident … that we are exceptionally proud of how police officers ran toward danger and how they communicated with each other.”

The attack on the market by two radicalized anti-Semitic shooters identified as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, ended with both assailants dead along with the shop’s co-owner, Mindy Ferencz, 33; an employee, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49; and a customer and rabbinical student Moshe Deutsch, 24. Police said Jersey City Det. Joseph Seals, 39, was shot dead by Anderson and Graham a short time earlier in Bayview Cemetery.

Two other Jersey City police officers – Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez – were wounded during the multi-hour gun battle. Shea said on Friday that Sanchez had elected to delay surgery to repair his shoulder wound so he could attend Seals’ funeral. He has since had the procedure, Shea said. Fernandez suffered an injury to her right hand, according to Shea.

Fulop made his remarks to a phalanx of local and out-of-town news crews the morning after the state attorney general’s office released a total of seven videos (as reported by several TV news media outlets) taken from police bodycams at the shooting scene.

Asked by a reporter if the city felt “blindsided” by the attorney general’s decision to make the video available for public consumption, Fulop replied, “We were a little blindsided, I don’t want to mince words,” but added: “We do feel that’s their prerogative. It’s important to be transparent.”

The mayor said he received an email the night prior from the attorney general’s office advising the city about the tapes.  He also said the city learned that the victims’ families were notified prior to the tapes’ going out.

Elaborating, Shea said the city “confirmed (the families) were spoken to, and they were comfortable with the release.”

In any case, Fulop observed, “We couldn’t be more proud” of the way Jersey City police officers reacted to the threats to public safety.

In an interview with a TV newsman, Shea said an examination of the images captured by the bodycams made him feel “very confident that all of our officers acted heroically.” He said that as more information is released, the department would expect to learn more.

Meanwhile, the mayor said that to ensure the police continue to be in a state of readiness for any similar incidents in the future, the city would continue to invest in active shooter training, some of which will be carried out this year.

Excerpts from some of the footage broadcast recently by New York-based TV news stations show a man and woman emerging from a van parked along Martin Luther King Drive, carrying long guns aimed at the market and striding inside.

Other images depict a police officer ensconced inside an upper-floor classroom at Sacred Heart School, located across the street from the market, firing multiple rounds from a handgun aimed at the shop. The officer, speaking into a communication device, identifies his shots as friendly fire.

In an audio portion of one of the tapes, a police officer can be heard shouting in an apparent reference to one of the attackers: “I think he’s down. … No, he’s still moving. Behind the wood! Behind the wood!”

Various collections have been set up on behalf of the victims, and the City of Jersey City announced that it would help pay off the mortgage on the Seals family home in North Arlington.

Header:  Mayor Fulop and Public Safety Director Shea courtesy City of Jersey City video.

Dear reader: For the cost of a "tall" drip coffee at Starbucks, you can support local journalism! Please consider signing up for a recurring monthly payment of $2.99. Thank you!

Sign up and support Jersey City Times!

Mayor Fulop

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

Dear reader: For the cost of a "tall" drip coffee at Starbucks, you can support local journalism! Please consider signing up for a recurring monthly payment of $2.99. Thank you!

Sign up and support Jersey City Times!

Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum


Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

Dear reader: For the cost of a "tall" drip coffee at Starbucks, you can support local journalism! Please consider signing up for a recurring monthly payment of $2.99. Thank you!

Sign up and support Jersey City Times!