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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

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Courtesy Jersey City Arts Council

News Analysis: Arts Trust Fund


Hey there, Jersey City resident. Do you support your local arts institutions? You do, huh? Would you be willing to pay to keep them solvent?

The municipal government is wagering that you would. Last Wednesday, the Fulop Administration declared its intention to create an Arts Trust Fund designed to channel public money to Jersey City arts organizations. Unless the government reverses direction, there’ll be a question on the ballot this November, and you’ll get to decide whether a Fund like that is something the town needs.

Make no mistake about it — this is a tax. To be specific, it’s an incremental bump in property taxes, and property taxes are already a site of considerable local controversy. The exact rate of the tax hasn’t been fixed, but according to the City, it won’t exceed two cents per hundred dollars of assessed property value. Should voters approve this measure, the municipal government expects to take in $800,000 to $1,000,000 annually, all of which will be dedicated to arts organizations.

That is, to put it mildly, a lot of paintings. For an arts organization working with narrow margins, an infusion of money from a Fund as substantial as that could mean the difference between survival and extinction. Yet there are thousands of artists in Jersey City. Who will decide which ones merit public financial support, and which ones are unworthy?

So far, the City has been inexact about this. According to a statement from the press office, the municipal government intends to form a committee that includes “local leadership, community members, artists, and other stakeholders,” which could mean anybody. It’s likely that the municipal government hasn’t figured it out yet. Nevertheless, seats on a board like that are going to be coveted. The chair of a committee with a million dollars to distribute will instantly become a power broker. Jersey City has long maintained an office of Cultural Affairs, but it isn’t a centralized authority with genuine grantmaking capacity. This would be.

The proposal is modeled on the city’s Open Space Trust Fund, which has raised, through taxation, millions of dollars for local park improvements. Last year, the City began spending that money, allocating $3,000,000 to greenspace projects around town, including La Pointe Park, Van Vorst Park, and Reservoir 3 in the Heights. There’s no sign that these projects aren’t popular, or that most Jersey City residents regret giving the City the authority to use tax money like this.

But the park system is a public utility. In order to make the case for an Arts Trust Fund, advocates are going to have to argue that cultural organizations are something similar. This is a treacherous path for artists to walk. By no means is it a universally accepted position, even by artists, that the arts can or should have social value. Many of our municipal cornerstones — including the schools — are currently in the midst of a funding crisis. Those in favor of the Trust Fund may need to convince voters that local arts, too, are in peril, and that public intervention is warranted.

Perhaps it is. Many of Jersey City’s best-known arts organizations are growing; some of them are moving into newer and bigger digs in parts of town where the property values aren’t cheap. The municipal government has an incentive to create a nexus of arts institutions that would reinforce the city’s claim to be a worthwhile destination. Yet a cultural center like that comes at a high price. Heather Warfel Sandler of the Jersey City Arts Council points out that there are only a limited number of corporate donors in town. Supplementary municipal support, she believes, would allow arts organizations to thrive, and create free programming that would be directly beneficial to the community. Arts, says Warfel Sandler, contribute to the economic stability of the city.

Longtime residents will recognize that argument.  It’s the same one that was used by arts advocates during the debate over the institution of the Powerhouse Arts District. The PAD was meant to anchor arts activity in the Warehouse District, and create a Downtown haven for creative people and a magnet for visitors. The ordinance passed, and the PAD was instituted, but the neighborhood never developed in the manner in which its advocates hoped it would.  Notably, the social utility of the arts was also an argument used by those who sought to preserve the community at 111 First Street.  Jersey City residents weren’t moved to make an intervention. The building was leveled, and its tenants were scattered.

That was fifteen years ago. Jersey City has changed and grown.  It may be easier to convince residents that a small sacrifice made on behalf of arts groups is worthwhile. Artists, too, might have put aside some of their skepticism about the intentions of the municipal government, and they may be less afraid of concentrating power in the hands of a committee selected by City Hall. But before we journey further down the twisting road from proposal to reality, we’re going to need more communication, and more clarification.

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Mayor Steven

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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Jersey City Times file photo

Is Jersey City Due for Another Reval Already? A Taxpayer’s Guide to the Issue


Jersey City last conducted a citywide revaluation – its first in 30 years – in 2018.  But property tax data published in October 2019 by the NJ Division of Taxation reveals Jersey City may once again be approaching the need for another revaluation.  A driving factor is the market growth of Jersey City’s taxable real estate.

NJ law states that property should be assessed according to its market value for local property tax purposes.  However, that only happens if the taxing authority (the city) keeps tax assessed values in sync with market values.  These two values grow disconnected when market values change but the tax assessed values remain pegged to what is on record in the city tax office. Revaluation is the process of updating the tax assessed values (what the city uses to compute property tax bills) to equal market values (what a house is worth on the open market).

Three key metrics published each year by the state help us understand this relationship between assessed and market values. These metrics are also used to help determine the case for revaluation.

The Tax Base

The “tax base” is the sum total of all taxable real estate in the city.  Each year, the city must estimate the market value of the tax base, which it does so via a process based on recent home sales data. The market value of the tax base is then factored into both the apportionment of county taxes and state education aid.

The market value of Jersey City’s tax base grew from $34 billion in 2018 to over $41 billion in 2019.

To ensure residents  are taxed fairly, assessed values should be kept in sync with market values, as state law mandates. Thus, as market values grow out of sync with assessed values (as is happening in Jersey City), a question of tax fairness arises.  The state uses the equalization ratio and the coefficient of deviation to gain insight into this question.

The Equalization Ratio

The “equalization ratio” is the assessed value of the tax base divided by the market value of the tax base.  An equalization ratio of 1.0 indicates that assessed values are in sync with market values. As the equalization ratio decreases, it points to disconnect: the market value (the denominator of the ratio) grows as compared to the assessed value (the numerator of the ratio) which remains pegged at whatever was established in the last revaluation.

Jersey City’s “equalization ratio” decreased from 1.01 in 2018 to 0.88 in 2019.  The NJ Division of Taxation states in its “Handbook for NJ Assessors” that an equalization ratio of 0.85 or lower “may denote noncompliance.” Further, it states that a “continual decline…shows a lack of assessment maintenance and may indicate a need for reassessment/revaluation.”

To dig deeper into the question of tax fairness, we have to ask: was market growth even across Jersey City in 2019?  Another way to put it: are market values growing disconnected from assessed values at the same pace throughout the city?

The Coefficient of Deviation

The state uses the “coefficient of deviation” to shed light on this question.

Each taxable property in the city – for instance, a person’s home – has an “assessment-sales ratio” which is the property’s assessed value divided by its market value. This is the per-property equivalent of the citywide equalization ratio.

The coefficient of deviation evaluates the degree of variance between individual assessment-sales ratios to the equalization ratio.  As the coefficient of deviation increases, it indicates more variance, suggesting that market values of individual properties are appreciating at different rates as compared to the equalization ratio.  Another way to put it: assessed values, which are the basis of property tax bills, are growing more obsolete at varying rates across the city.

Jersey City’s “general coefficient of deviation” increased from 16.5% in 2018 to 18.1% in 2019.  N.J.A.C. 18:12A-1.14 states, “A coefficient of deviation greater than 15 percent generally indicates a need for revaluation.” Additionally, the “Handbook for NJ Assessors” states “The current acceptable figure for Coefficients of Deviation is 15%, although some authorities advocate 10% in light of improved assessment practices, computerization, and increased valuations.”

What does this mean for taxpayers?

To understand the impact of these citywide trends on individual taxpayers, a detailed analysis could be conducted using recent property sales records.  Such an analysis could point to how the disconnect between market values and assessed values is playing out in terms of location (neighborhood), property class (for example 1-4 family home vs. commercial property), and dollar size of the transaction.  This analysis could help point to whether or not the city should conduct another revaluation.

Until then, taxpayers can use the tax appeal process to obtain tax fairness if they are over-assessed (over-taxed).  The county administers the tax appeals process. To file an appeal, taxpayers can visit the Hudson County website and access the “Tax Appeal Filing Handbook.”  The appeal process is for taxpayers who believe their property is over-assessed. There is a technical, mathematical process for determining over assessment which the Handbook explains. Taxpayers can personally petition for an appeal or engage an attorney to represent them before the County Tax Board.

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Jersey City: The Municipality’s Role in School Under-Funding


Courtesy Brigid D’Souza / civicparent.org

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Your Property Taxes and School Funding


Courtesy Brigid D’Souza / civicparent.org

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