Fiscal Détente: City Council Approves Temporary Budget As Administration Admits Mistake
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 • 12:30am
PATERSON, NJ – In contrast to the war of words that erupted last week, the City Council and administration officials held a harmonious discussion of Paterson’s finances Tuesday night before the council unanimously approved a temporary budget for February and March.
Both branches of city government struck a conciliatory tone as Mayor Jeffery Jones obliged the council’s demands by attending the meeting and Council President Anthony Davis extended him a hearty welcome.
In response to questions from Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris, administration officials acknowledged they should have sought the council’s authorization two weeks ago before issuing payroll checks.
The evening also provided good news in terms of the substance of the budget. City Business Administrator Charles Thomas told the council that municipal finance officials had cut almost $5.2 million from Paterson’s structural deficit for 2013, reducing the gap by about 60 percent.
The city’s preliminary 2013 budget had a deficit of $8,570,655 and that number was down to $3,376,314, Thomas said. For the most part, the savings resulted from the city’s decisions not to fill vacant jobs, Thomas said. That’s how salary accounts were cut in seven city departments, according to a report provided to the city council.
The two exceptions are the fire and police departments. The city expects to save $464,740 from the fire department’s budget through a federal grant that will cover firefighters’ salaries. Meanwhile, the city also is reducing the police department’s salary account by $2,400,578 by using savings achieved through a previous decision to borrow money to cover severance pay for retiring officers.
The city’s 2013 budget still has a $3.3 million deficit which could grow, get smaller or stay the same depending on how much Transition Aid the state plans to give Paterson. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has said it would notify cities on how much they will be getting on Wednesday.
The preliminary version of the budget includes a projection of $20 million in transition aid. If Paterson gets less than that, the deficit will grow. If the aid number is higher than $20 million, the deficit will become smaller.
Councilman Andre Sayegh asked Thomas if he had contingency plans in case the state gives Paterson less aid money. Thomas said there remained some other vacant jobs in the budget that could be scrapped. Also, he said the city was still working on getting contract concessions from municipal unions.
“Mr. B.A., could you rule out any layoffs, particularly in the police department?’’ Sayegh asked.
“No,’’ Thomas responded.
Morris then asked Thomas if layoffs were the only way to eliminate the remaining deficit.
“We’re looking at all options,’’ Thomas said.
But it’s clear that city officials won’t be spending much more time looking for budget savings. Officials said they plan to vote on budget amendments next Tuesday and may hold a final public hearing and adoption the week after that.
Here’s the department-by-department list of savings that Thomas said would be achieved by not filling vacant jobs:
- General government: $147,087
- Administration: $150,900
- Finance: $45,000
- Law: $44,318
- Public Works: $218,775
- Community Development: $429,500
- Health and Human Services: $603,443
In addition to those cuts, Thomas said the city will be able to save $1.4 million from this year’s budget by borrowing money to cover part of the deficit pending from 2012. But the revised budget also will have to include $710,000 in unanticipated expenses stemming from Hurricane Sandy, he said.