Guest of the Stable: Councilman Michael Lenz on handling the surplus
Is the $12 million surplus that we have too much for Hoboken? Maybe, maybe not. Ten percent is what you would shoot for in a typical municipality, and all the more so with our recent fiscal history. That would mean that the “right” surplus for Hoboken is just over $10 million dollars, if we had nothing special to worry about. But we still do have special things to worry about – lots of them. Things like tax appeals, crumbling parks and infrastructure, deferred pension costs, cost of settling union contracts, and potential exposure from litigation.
As we put the final budget together we will look closely at those risks and at surplus. If we have appropriate reserves in the budget for those risks, I’d support reducing unrestricted surplus to $10 million, possibly allowing almost $2 million to be used in the budget. But I wouldn’t support draining surplus below $10 million as a one-shot revenue to lower taxes in the short term like Councilwoman Mason is advocating – that is how we got in this mess in the first place.
So how do we cut taxes?
We cut taxes the only way you ever really can; we must spend less. And everyone in the Zimmer administration and those council persons who support them, are working to do just that. Sadly, spending less often has a human face in layoffs, demotions, and contract concessions. But we just can’t go on the way we’ve been going. We’ve run out of things to sell, and the taxpayer’s are more than tapped out.
People have made fun of me for saying it was more important to tell the truth than to cut taxes, and I deserve the jibe. My politically inept remark made it sound like I think you have to choose: “tell the truth” or “cut taxes”. I don’t believe that. If you work at it you can both tell the truth and cut taxes. You can even maintain essential city services, like maintaining or even increasing officers on patrol. But I do think when you stop telling the truth you are sunk.
This administration’s critics have stopped telling the truth. They make wild, bold, false assertions about the surplus and everything else to create the illusion we can have our cake and eat it too. We can’t. There is no magic bullet. Want to cut taxes? Then cuts must be made. There just is no other way. You just can’t demand a massive tax cut one day and bemoan layoffs and user fees the next and maintain your integrity – so the critics have given up trying.
Sure we can spend our reserves – one time – but we’ve seen where that gets us. Mayor Zimmer and her team – of which I am proudly a part – are working overtime to cut taxes while maintaining and even expanding services. But we are doing it honestly, without gimmicks, without wild claims, without false numbers. I’m proud of that too.
Councilman Michael Lenz is a candidate for the November special election in the fourth ward. His earlier post on the surplus is available two posts down and also on his website: