The Mayor’s Reaction to State’s Demands: “We’re Going To Do Our Part.”
Friday, March 1, 2013 • 7:07am
PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffery Jones called the state’s latest demands on Paterson an “opportunity” for the city to get its finances in order so the municipal government could become self-sufficient once again.
In an interview on Thursday, the day after the state sent the city a letter outlining the tough new conditions being placed on Paterson’s Transition Aid, Jones said he thought the requirements were “fair and reasonable” as well as “harsh and punitive when needed.’’
“They want accountability, I get it,’’ said Jones. “We’re going to do our part.”
The letter from the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services warns Jones and City Council members that the state would move to reduce their pay by 25 percent if officials in Trenton determined they had acted with “reckless indifference” by not complying with an agreement setting the terms of $22.4 million in transition aid.
It says the state will require the council to approve financing for a citywide property revaluation and enact an ordinance setting fees to cover some municipal expenses incurred during public events hosted by private organizations.
The letter also directs the city to consider scrapping its current self-insurance program for employee health benefits in favor of membership in the state’s health program and calls for a reassessment of the way the Paterson handles lawsuits.
Moreover, the letter says the state will deduct an unspecified amount of Paterson’s transition aid either this year or next to offset expenses the city incurred without Trenton’s approval, such as the hiring of $1.2 million worth of recreation workers last summer.
Over the past three years, state officials have gradually increased the severity of the demands placed on Paterson municipal government through the transition aid agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The Christie administration has made it clear that the transition aid is not supposed to be a permanent form of state support, but simply a stop-gap measure to allow New Jersey’s distressed cities to get back on their fiscal feet.
The mayor said he embraced that outlook. “It’s an opportunity for us to be independent again, which we haven’t been for a long time,’’ said Jones.
When asked if he was concerned about the state requirement that could result in a reduction of his $119,000 salary, Jones said he would have no problem with compliance, “I’ve always been that guy. I don’t spend what’s not mine. I stick to the budget.’’
When asked the impending state penalties because of his administration’s lack of compliance in the past year, the mayor said, “We sometimes get it wrong, because it’s not clear.’’ He said part of the reason for the mistakes has been the changes made in the MOU over the years. “It’s kind of like a moving target,’’ said Jones.
The mayor also asserted the city’s relationship with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has been on the upswing, which he said has allowed for a better understanding of what the state wants from Paterson. “We’re at the point, where we can talk about it,’’ said Jones.
Jones said he planned to meet with his top managers as well as with council members to discuss compliance with the state’s terms. He pointed out that the council has repeatedly refused to move ahead on the revaluation and has not taken action on a parade fees ordinance that the administration proposed exactly a year ago.
Several council members have expressed their displeasure with the state’s demands regarding the revaluation.
“I am not necessarily in favor of the revaluation stipulation being tied to our transitional aid award from the State,’’ said Councilman Kenneth McDaniel. “Nonetheless, being that it is a clause in the agreement and we desperately require the aid to our financially distressed city, the council and the administration must ensure not only that the process is conducted appropriately, with measures to ensure fair and equitable valuations, we must also ensure that our Tax Assessor's Office, moving forward, is in a position to receive and utilize the work product of the reval in a manner consistent with professionalism, due diligence and modern technology.’’