Guest of the Stable: Greg Lincoln
Greg Lincoln an active Hoboken resident on issues in town, submitted this last month. For those who may have missed it and considering it’s being brought yet again to the City Council, here is his guest piece.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a parent of two boys who participate in the Hoboken Recreation programs. I have also served for 3 years as a volunteer assistant coach for instructional league soccer teams (5 and 6 year olds). After that, the kids tend to know more about soccer than I do.
I was fully supportive of the $25 recreational fee (as was the City Council, unanimously at 8-0) when it was first introduced, despite meaning money out of my pocket. I was supportive of it in part because of the provision that lower income families would be able to get the fee waved, so no children would be denied the opportunity to participate.
I spoke at the Council Meeting against the measure to remove the fee, and I applaud the Mayor’s decision to veto the ordinance.
The Arguments Against the Fee
#1: “Do it for the children”
Michael Russo argued that repealing the fee will “allow the children to participate”, and that we should give up the revenues garnered by the fee ($32,00 to date, with an expectation of annual revenue of $50,000 or more). He said we should “give it up for the children”.
Counter: Are opportunities for the children to play denied due to the inability to pay a fee? NO. Is the fee stopping children from participating? NO. Does the fee discourage parents from signing their children up for recreational sports? Not if they are aware that the fee can be waived.
#2: “It’s a backdoor tax on the backs of our children”
That’s a direct quote from the mouth of Michael Russo. Tim Occhipinti also called it a “back-door tax.” The expressed concern is that Hoboken families should be given recreation sports to play for free, and not be subject to a tax or fee in order to do so.
Counter: Someone has to pay for Hoboken Recreational sports. In fact, all tax-payers in our community are already paying for them. By eliminating the fee, Russo and Occhipinti were deciding that ALL tax-payers should continue to pay for 100% of the recreational budget, as opposed to having the people who actually use the service pay a little bit more than the rest of the community.
The analogy given by Councilman Bhalla of toll roads is an apt one. When you use a toll road, you pay to use it. It’s only fair to charge those who use a service. Most of the parents I know from my children’s sporting activities feel the same. We feel we are using a service, and are contributing to it happily. We like the service, and want to see it continue and improve, and give it our financial and moral support.
#3: The city doesn’t need the revenue
Arguments were made that with such a large budget surplus, why do we need to piddle around with $32,000? Just waive the fee!
Counter: So much for self-proclaimed “budget hawk” Michael Russo. Wasteful spending, no matter how “small” (only $32,000) is still wasteful spending. Throwing away money that can offset costs, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is still wasteful and irresponsible. Tax savings for the residents are not only accomplished at the macro-level. It’s unethical to only choose be a “budget hawk” when it serves your own agenda.
#4: Waiving of fees is “embarrassing for some parents”
This was given by Occhipinti as a reason to not charge any parents a fee.
Counter: We certainly don’t want people to have their feelings hurt. But under Tim’s logic, we should also make school lunches free for all students at the responsibility of all the tax-payers.
I’m sure that Director Pellegrini takes all matters of family finances in strict confidentiality. However, the data show it isn’t a deterrent for the parents or children. Director Pellegrini gave the example of football participation at the Council Meeting. Participation was up from last year to this year (one with fees, one without), but about 2/3rds of the football participants had their recreational fees waived. A program doesn’t grow if people are too embarrassed to participate.
This argument was touched on at the City Council meeting, and I will give some credit to Occhipinti for mentioning it. The argument is that the waiver of fees are not well communicated to the public (via registration, on the website, etc.), and the usage of those fees to date are not documented.
These are valid points, and were also brought up by Councilman Cunningham and public supporters of the fee. The current legislation needs work, that was freely admitted. Revisions need to be formalized, codified, and approved by the Council to make it better.
Counter: The proposed solution however, was not to address the issues and fix them. The solution was to get rid of the fee altogether. As I stated at the Council Meeting, this “solution” is the most wasteful and irresponsible way of ‘fixing’ the problem. As Michael Lenz said (cliché, but true) “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
The Arguments For the Fee
#1: It is a usage fee
The HOP isn’t free. You have to pay to ride (but only $1). Same for the 126 NJ Transit bus, the Path train, the ferry, and taxi services. You have to pay to park in Hoboken whether in a garage, or for your residential parking sticker, or by meter. Residents pay for water, sewer, electricity, and recycling.
No one expects services for free, we’re not a socialist society. As stated previously, many parents are quite happy to pay a reasonable fee.
Counter: (from Patch) “The fact that the $25 is a user fee for the program, didn’t matter to Russo. “That’s what government does,” he said, “it subsidizes things.”
#2: It supports a program that has growing needs
More and more families with children are staying in Hoboken permanently. As this happens, the Recreation programs need to grow as well. The revenue generated by these fees allow the Director to add programs, purchase more equipment, and improve the quality of the programs during the year without having to ask the city for more money mid-budget. It gives flexibility and options which help the recreation department operate successfully.
Counter: Occhipinti claims he “wants to make sure resources are available” for the Director to operate the recreational leagues. But by voting to remove the fees, he did the opposite.
#3: It’s a community best practice, used commonly in Hudson county and elsewhere
That’s pretty self-explanatory. Most other municipalities have much higher fees for their programs as well.
Counter: Councilwoman Castellano: “Hoboken is special.”
Thankfully, the fees are here to stay, and will help bolster a growing program that will continue to serve the needs of all children in Hoboken. While changes can and should be made to make the ordinance better, the keeping of the ordinance in place will help the city defray extra costs and tax burden as well.