Yes, you can influence how your Hoboken City Government works for you! The purpose of this article is to give you, HFA members, some insight into how Hoboken City Government works and how you can voice your opinion to affect change.
In researching this article, I spoke with City Council Members, Directors and other employees at City Hall, Police Officers, and others. Every person that I spoke with was friendly, accessible, and receptive to opinions. Specifically, many of these government employees told me that they shape their policies around what they hear from Hoboken citizens. For example, the Director of Public safety told me that the police will send an officer to specific intersections to monitor stop-sign compliance when they get calls from citizens warning of infractions in certain locations.
I hope that every HFA Member will use this article as a jumping-off point to get involved in making Hoboken a better place. Sure, it is difficult to attend City Council, School Board, or other open meetings. But, why not try direct contact? Contact your City Council representative to voice your opinions and concerns. If you see cars speeding on your block, call the police station and ask for an officer to monitor traffic. Trash on your block’s sidewalk or street? Call the Department of Sanitation or Environmental Services. Can’t see around that parked car that is blocking the intersection? Call the police and ask them to ticket or tow the unsafe vehicle. If we all take small steps such as these, we can surely make Hoboken a better place for families!
The Faulkner Act dictates that each municipality in New Jersey can choose its own government structure. Hoboken, through a referendum approximately thirty years ago, chose a form of government called “strong mayor, weak council.” The structure rests a significant amount of power in the Office of the Mayor: the Mayor designates winners of City contracts, creates the first draft of the City budget, dictates hiring and promotions in the Police and Fire Departments, and usually generates policy. Because of the strength of the Mayor, this structure can be efficient and effective – as long as the particular sitting Mayor creates and enforces good policy.
The City has two types of legislation: ordinances and resolutions. Ordinances change the City Code. Any Council Member may introduce an ordinance; all that is required is a sponsor and a second. To pass an ordinance, the Council first has a “first reading,” of the proposal. The Council then votes, usually without discussion, whether the proposal is worthy of consideration; most times, the Council votes “yes” to move a proposal to a second reading. The proposal is then scheduled for a “second reading” and public hearing at a future meeting. After the second reading and public hearing, the Council votes on whether to pass the ordinance. Hoboken City Council considers about fifty ordinances per year. Resolutions do not change the City Code: they are usually statements of policy or belief. Resolutions require only one reading; in a given year, many more resolutions than ordinances are considered by the Council.
Hoboken City Budget
In January, the Mayor introduced a budget of $87 million for the City. The Council is currently debating proposals for reducing the budget to spare citizens unpopular property tax increases.
The vast majority of the City Budget is allocated towards public safety organizations such as the Police Department and the Fire Department. The majority of that money goes towards salaries, health care coverage, and pension plans.
Did you know that only about 25-35%% of your Hoboken property tax payments go towards the City Budget? The remaining 65-75% funds the Hoboken Board of Education and the County of Hudson. In order to capture more of the property tax payments for the City, sometimes the City will allow developers to offer buyers of their condominiums “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” or PILOTs. These allow the condo buyers to pay less “taxes,” but because the taxes are not strictly property taxes, the City can keep all of the revenue rather than sharing it with Hudson County.
In the wake of the recent S.W.A.T. Team photo scandal, Mayor Roberts appointed Retired Deputy Fire Chief and curator of the City’s Fire Museum William Bergin as the City’s new Public Safety Director. Mr. Bergin oversees the City’s Police and Fire Department.
Mr. Bergin shed light on some of Hoboken’s regular police activities:
- Each night, usually after dark, police officers patrol each City park;
- Other regular activities include nightly “vertical sweeps” of the City’s Housing projects and regular policing of double-parked vehicles along Washington and other streets;
- If the police hear complaints of problems at specifics locations (speeding, park disturbances, stop-sign violations, etc.), they send out a specific police detail to address it. Otherwise, monitoring of traffic violations usually occurs only in conjunction with regular patrolling of the streets;
- On a typical police shift, Hoboken has 4-6 marked police cars on patrol, about 2 plainclothes officers in unmarked cars, and about 8 walking patrolmen;
- There are 50 active cameras installed in high-traffic areas around the City that are monitored at the police station. For example, the police had reports of many bikes being stolen from a bike rack near the PATH station. Now, a police camera monitors the bike rack. The tape is stored at the police station for 30 days, so, if a crime is committed, the police may review the tapes for insight into their investigation.
Mr. Bergin encouraged Hoboken residents to notify the Police and Fire Departments of problems in the community. If citizens feel that their concerns are not being addressed, he encourages them to contact him directly.