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Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response
 

Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response

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Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response on 3/4/2009

Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response on 3/4/2009

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    Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response Dawn Zimmer Tax Revolt Response Document Transcript

    • Hoboken Tax Reform Coalition Where Do our Mayoral & City Council Candidates Stand on the Issues? The objective of the Hoboken Tax Reform Coalition is to drive a significant reduction in property taxes without compromising the safety and soundness of Hoboken. We appreciate your taking time to answer the following questions that will explain your position on issues of importance, as set forth in our mission statement, to the members of the HTRC and the taxpayers of Hoboken. 1. Objective: Drive a significant reduction in property taxes without compromising the safety and soundness of Hoboken. o Question: Do you agree that the annual operating budget for Hoboken should be reduced? Yes. o What do you think the appropriate budget for each of the next five years should be? o Do you have a detailed plan to accomplish this? My first priority is delivering a budget – and a tax rate -- as low as we can make it consistent with funding needed city operations, tending to our infrastructure needs, and avoiding financial gimmicks. If implemented correctly, next year's budget should be substantially lower than this year's, if only because of the elimination of the $8 Million in Reserve for uncollected taxes, and $15 Million deferred charge resulting from the late collection of taxes. These charges are non-recurring, and a direct result of the Administration’s fiscal shenanigans that led to last year’s budget stand-off. But we need to do more. No one has seen the long promised fiscal analysis of City operations, and no one knows what curveballs the state will throw in to get out of its own budget troubles. Due to these factors, there is no way to honestly predict specific budget levels over five years. Making false promises about our financial future for political purposes is what got us into this mess. However, I can share specific ideas on opportunities to reduce costs and increase revenue. o If so, what are the significant initiatives you will support to reduce the annual operating budget? o What is the timeline to implement the plan? o Please explain any calculations of savings that may be included in your plan. For my first year in office, SFY 2010, I will target a 10% reduction across the board in operating costs, over and above the elimination of the approximately $21 million
    • in non-recurring appropriations that will happen automatically. This would mean a budget of no more than $92 million, and about a 25% reduction on average in the taxes for municipal services paid by Hoboken residents. I will work to lower taxes further throughout my term by continuing to cut costs as well as by aggressively seeking to bring in alternative revenues such as federal, state and private grant funding particularly in the emerging area of green technologies. The process of evaluating how our government works and how much it costs must be ongoing. In my administration, it will not be an election year talking point that I forget about later when fewer people are watching. Labor costs are the vast majority of our operating budget – approximately 80% - and need to be addressed from day one. Cutting 10% in labor costs in ongoing operations will be accomplished through a combination of wage freezes and reductions, demotions, benefit reductions and co-pays, furloughs, elimination of un-needed functions, and layoffs. As mayor, I would also immediately focus on strategies to reduce costs while maintaining and improving services in areas such as: Sanitation Services, Recreation, and Senior Services. Sanitation Services: Hoboken residents pay for the amount of trash that our City collects. Therefore, the more we reduce our trash levels, the more money it saves the taxpayer, and the cleaner we keep our City streets. Initiatives I would begin through a citizen/City partnership to reduce trash levels and promote more recycling would include: Decrease overlap between in-house employees and outsourcing for services; Working with the Housing Authority to initiate a recycling program; expanding recycling in the schools; improve enforcement of recycling through education and new technology that enables effective ticketing for continuous violations; establish city- wide recycling program on our streets which could be funded through grant applications or a public/private partnership agreement. Explore composting opportunities to significantly reduce trash levels. I would also require businesses to be responsible for their own trash pickup. No other community provides trash disposal services to its local businesses, and Hoboken simply cannot afford to do it. Senior transportation services: Hudson County offers senior transportation services around the County and into New York City. Hoboken provides similar services for its seniors. The County has expressed an interest in shared services, and Hoboken should pursue this opportunity to ensure that we maintain services for our seniors, but also reduce costs for the taxpayer. Energy Efficiency: Hoboken pays an estimated $50,000 per month on its energy costs. Thanks to a grant from the Board of Public Utilities that I advocated strongly for, Hoboken was awarded a $57,000 grant for a municipal energy audit. Concord Engineering will conduct this audit over the next several months, and make recommendations on new technologies and strategies for Hoboken to reduce its energy consumption. This grant positions Hoboken to receive additional grant money to implement various solutions. My Administration will aggressively pursue grant opportunities that can fund energy solutions to reduce taxes and decrease our City’s carbon footprint.
    • Irresponsible development has also seriously impacted the Hoboken taxpayer. We’ve given developers tax exemptions, claiming that the PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) we received instead were a great deal for Hoboken. In fact, they were yet another budget gimmick, pushing costs onto the rest of the City and helping lead us to the fiscal calamity we face today. Hoboken has been plagued with ill-conceived and poorly implemented redevelopment projects. We’ve given special zoning to favored developers and added thousands of units of residential housing, without receiving the community benefits that were used to justify the deals. In July 2005, Mayor Roberts gave a press conference on what he called the “future site” of our new community center and public swimming pool. They were “give backs” – just two of the many benefits the public was told it would receive as part of the “Northwest Redevelopment Zone.” The community center and pool were never built, but the condos were. We need to decide what kind of neighborhoods we want to have, and use redevelopment only if it’s the best way to achieve our goals, not to maximize the profits of developers. PILOTs are often “fool’s gold” – they look like something good for the City, but when you run the real numbers it’s the taxpayers who are fooled. No PILOT should ever be considered without a complete financial analysis of its long- term effect both on the City’s revenues, and on the City’s taxpayers. Hoboken is a great place to live, and despite the economic downturn developers are eager to start projects in our town. We need to recognize our strength, and work harder to get the givebacks the community deserves and negotiate deals that support the Hoboken taxpayer. o What concessions, if any, will be necessary in the upcoming Police and Fire contracts in order to achieve the target budgets you propose? Labor negotiations are the City's best and first chance to get its cost of labor under control. When I assemble a team to conduct negotiations, fairness, need, and the City's dire fiscal situation will set the stage. Everything is on the table, and the focus will be having everyone tighten their belt one notch, rather than placing the burden on the taxpayers and an unlucky few who might lose their jobs if others are unwilling to share in the necessary sacrifice. Successful negotiations require trust and compromise, and neither is improved by negotiating through press releases. Our City faces tough economic times, and I believe the best way to get through this is by sharing the hardship. Hoboken taxpayers have sacrificed the most, and we need the City to share the burden. If municipal workers agree to reduced salaries and plans to reduce healthcare benefits then we can minimize layoffs. The City Council should set an example for the rest of the municipal workers. Unfortunately my proposals for salary reductions and premium co-pays both failed to pass the Council. These measures could have set the stage for negotiations with the unions.
    • o What revenue-enhancement opportunities do you see? Hoboken businesses must pay their fair share, as should we all. Parking fees should be moved closer to market rates. But in the end we must remember quot;revenue enhancementsquot; fall on Hobokenites too. There is no magic bullet. We must get spending under control. Recreation: Hoboken offers an impressive number of recreational programs for our children. We need to maintain this type of programming, but look at ways to reduce costs through participation fees and possible public/private partnerships. Children from all economic levels should be able to participate, so I would establish a system for those that cannot pay for it. If elected, I would immediately commission a committee of concerned residents and experts to explore opportunities for public/private partnerships to improve Hoboken’s infrastructure, quality of life for residents and bring revenues for the City. Potential opportunities include park development, as well as initiatives to improve transportation, make Hoboken more bike-friendly, and reduce our City’s flooding. For example, New York City has a public/private partnership agreement with Cemusa to replace all of New York’s City’s 3,200 bus shelters and 300 newsstands, to add 300 new bus shelters and an unlimited number of newsstands, and to install 37 bike parking structures and 20 new public toilets. Cemusa was granted the right to sell advertising space on these street fixtures. In return, it will provide New York City with $999 million over a 20-year period. Hoboken can develop these types of opportunities on a smaller scale by positioning itself as a dynamic and unique community just a ferryboat, bus, or PATH ride away from New York City. Hoboken’s a town with historic character, as well as an up and coming trendy place. The opening of the W Hotel should be harnessed to expand public/private opportunities for our City. Pilot audit analysis: My Administration would do a complete analysis of all pilot agreements for the City. A review will ensure that all properties with expired pilots are immediately assessed as required by law, and returned to the City as taxable properties. 2. Objective: Set standards for smart PILOTs that improve the fiscal condition of Hoboken. o Question: What are the specific quantifiable criteria that should be used to determine if a proposed PILOT brings “value-added” to Hoboken? I would only support a PILOT if: The Hoboken share of the revenue was negotiated to be guaranteed to meet or exceed regular taxes in every year of the PILOT's life. The Hoboken public schools were fully funded as well.
    • Some substantial benefit (park, rec center, sewer repair, affordable housing for those in need) is given to Hoboken. o How do existing PILOTs fare against your standard for evaluating new PILOTs? None to my knowledge meet that standard. o Have you conducted any analysis of existing PILOTs to determine whether the terms of the agreements are being met and whether the City is obtaining the correct revenue stream based upon the current contracts? I would commission and complete such an analysis by a competent outside professional, within 100 days of taking office. As for what I know now, I have heard of several instances of non-compliance. I would not vote to extend any agreement that did not meet my standards above. In light of such analysis, what proposals, if any, do you have for modification or elimination of existing PILOTs upon expiration or through negotiations? When PILOTS expire, that should be the end of them. I would be open to renegotiation if ending them would create great hardship but only if they continue to serve their intended purpose, and meet the criteria above. Do you have a plan for transitioning PILOTs when they cannot be legally extended? Minimizing disruption to those who face real hardship would be a goal, so long as the above criteria is met. Specific transition options would be included in the commissioned analysis.
    • 3. Objective: Remove the taxpayer guarantee to the Hoboken University Medical Center. o Question: Are you fully informed about the financial status and quality of care of the hospital? Do you think that Hoboken should continue to own the hospital or do you think it should be spun off back into a free-standing, not-for-profit institution by the end of 2009, free of the City bond guarantee or other financial support? If so, what plan do you have to accomplish this transition? If not, what is your understanding of the taxpayer exposure in the event that the hospital should fail? What plan would you put in place to protect the taxpayers? The hospital lost $11 million last year ($4 million operating loss, plus necessary accruals for long term capital repairs). The portion of the $52 million bond that was allocated for operating expenses has been fully used. How do you see filling the gap if the hospital continues to operate at a loss? While saving the Hospital is important to Hoboken, there is ample evidence that the City cut a bad deal when the $52 million bond guarantee was entered into. Poor planning, management mistakes, bad luck, and a worsening economy have combined to put the City at risk of being liable on its guarantee. We should work with the hospital board to spin-off the hospital to a private concern at the earliest opportunity. This includes fully exploring the possibility for the Hospital to participate in a regionalization plan with another hospital. However, it is important to remember that the guarantee is a binding legal obligation. The City cannot simply decide that it does not want to guarantee the debt any longer. This potential liability will remain unless the bond is fully paid or the bondholders agree to terminate the guarantee in exchange for some other type of collateral. In today’s economic environment it is very unlikely that the City’s guarantee can be terminated in the near term. In the meantime, it is in the best interests of the City and its taxpayers to do everything we can to help the hospital succeed. I will appoint competent Hospital trustees who will improve transparency and safeguard to the extent possible the City's interests. That said, under no circumstances would I support taking any steps that would result in any increase in the City’s financial exposure if the Hospital were ultimately unable to continue operating. 4. Objective: Force the initiation of a property revaluation, as per current law. o Question: Do your support the immediate initiation of a revaluation for Hoboken with a set date for implementation of January 2011? If so, what specific proposals do you have in this regard? If not, what is the justification in light of State law mandating identifying triggers for periodic revaluations? Given the magnitude of the undertaking, even if the council voted next meeting to hold a revaluation, it is unrealistic to expect to implement it so soon. I support following the law and fairly sharing the tax burden, and will promptly take the legally mandated steps to put one into effect. Until then, and to reduce the dislocation when the revaluation occurs, I urge all who believe they are currently over assessed to take steps by April 1st, to appeal their assessment.
    • 5. Objective: Act as a fiscal watchdog/public advocate for the taxpayers of Hoboken. o Question: How will you increase fiscal transparency and accountability in Hoboken? How will you involve the public more in the policy-making process and financial oversight? Budget workshops and hearings will be instituted and open to the public. These won’t be like the current system where feedback from the council and citizens are ignored. I will also set up Mayor's advisory panels for specific topics to take advantage of Hobokenites who want to help. The budget document that results from extended and inclusive meetings should act as a working document, which accurately and clearly represents the personnel and programs the City intends to support throughout the fiscal year. How will you make City Council meetings more inclusive? Do you believe that the five minute public comment rule is appropriate? I will direct the Clerk to make resolutions and other documentation available online and at the meeting. I will allow the submission of written comments electronically, which will be made available on the City website. I do believe the 5-minute rule is a fair balance between's the public's right to speak and the non-speaking public's interest in having the meeting proceed. Five minutes should provide ample time for a member of the public to submit information that the Council can review in detail when the Council is not in session. The 5-minute limit should not apply to budget hearings and special meetings in which no other business is being considered. 6. Objective: Downsize county government to provide only essential non-duplicative services. o Question: What specific duplicative and/or unnecessary county services would you publicly campaign to close or eliminate? What services could be regionalized rather than provided separately in every Hudson County town? It is ridiculous for the City and the county to perform overlapping functions, yet in OEM, Law Enforcement, Street Clearing and Repair, Transportation, Planning, Parks, Grants, Records Retention and other areas this does occur to some extent. Where that overlap occurs, I will work with the County to try to save Hoboken money by taking better advantage of those County services. I have a strong working relationship with Hudson County, and am already making progress on rerouting Paterson Plank Road. I will work closely with the county to ensure Hoboken gets its fair share of county services and that all possible duplication is eliminated.
    • 7. Objective: Explore a change in the form of Hoboken government to one which is more transparent, accountable and responsive. o Question: Have you considered whether a different form of local government, authorized under the Faulkner statute would provide more transparency, accountability, austerity and responsiveness? If so, what form of government, if any, do you think could better achieve these goals and why? Would you support initiating an immediate change to that form of government? If not, why not? I think it is very possible that another form of government might be better for a City of Hoboken’s size and political environment. Changing a form of government is an extremely serious step, and we must carefully consider the implications before making such a change. I would support appointing a commission to study the issue in depth and following the commission’s recommendation, as is provided for under NJ state law. Still the fact is that the form of government is far less important than the people selected to fill it. We don't need a City Manager form of Government to get a competent, qualified City Manager. Under our current form of government we can hire a competent, qualified City Manager if we have the political will to do so. If elected, the Business Administrator I appoint will be just such an individual, with a proven track record of success in running a City. 8. Objective: Increase the Board of Education’s fiscal accountability and measure improvements in performance. o Question: How would you make the BoE fiscally accountable to City Hall and the public? o Question: How would you benchmark and measure student, teacher and administrative performance? o Question: Would you support and institute an investigation to determine whether any unapproved non-Hoboken resident students are enrolled in the Hoboken school system? o Question: Would you support consolidation of schools as a means of reducing administrative costs? Change in our schools will only come if we elect school Board of Education Trustees committed to good schools and fiscal responsibility. We need to support strong candidates every year in the School Board elections in April. The quality of our schools is important to the vitality of our community, and I encourage everyone to vote in the School Board elections in April. Unfortunately only about 2,000 people voted in the last school board election, compared to 22,000 who voted for president in 2008. Many residents who don’t have children in the system do not realize how important the school board elections are to them. The schools affect everyone in Hoboken, not just those with school-aged children. Thirty percent of our property taxes go to the school board. The quality of our schools significantly impacts both the value of our properties and our ability to enable young families to remain a part of our community.
    • Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. Sincerely, Dawn Zimmer 4th Ward Councilwoman zimmerforchange.com