Mayor Zimmer’s State of the City speech
Remarks of Mayor Dawn Zimmer – As Prepared for Delivery
State of the City Address
DeBaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, New Jersey
February 22, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery—
I chose to have this event at Stevens because Stevens Institute of Technology is an integral part of Hoboken’s extremely bright future. Stevens was recently ranked by the Princeton Review as having the 12th best college town in the country.
That says a lot about Stevens and it says a lot about the City of Hoboken. I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing the new President Favaradin speak several weeks ago, and after hearing his inspiring words, I am even more excited about continuing to build a stronger relationship with Stevens going forward.
I want to start by recognizing all of my Directors and members of my Administration who are here; our City Council members, School Board members and all Board members.
Thank you for being here, and thank you for your dedicated service to our City; a lot of the work you do happens quietly and doesn’t always make headlines, but it’s because of you that we are moving our City ahead.
In addition I want to congratulate the Hoboken School Board on the appointment of Dr. Toback as the new superintendent of schools. Taken together, these are all exciting steps for the City of Hoboken.
Most importantly, I want to thank each of you, our community leaders and concerned residents who care enough to be informed and get involved.
Thanks to your dedication, Hoboken has a tremendous future. We are vibrant community, blessed with beautiful architecture, an amazing waterfront, a rich history, and a diverse community for which we should all be very proud.
But we must meet our challenges head on without hesitation, if we are to capitalize on the incredible potential for our City.
As all of you know all too well, our City has been through a traumatic experience. In order to recover from that trauma, my Administration has three overall goals for our City:
1. To operate as fiscally responsibly and cost-effectively as possible so we can reduce and stabilize taxes for the long term.
2. To address our City’s significant infrastructure challenges.
3. To improve the quality of life for all Hoboken residents.
Fiscal responsibility starts with being honest about where the costs are, and taking action to become as cost-effective as possible even if it’s politically difficult. You can’t cut spending unless you are willing to go where the money is.
Our City is tired of politicians who call themselves “budget hawks” while they throw away our dollars as they pretend to count pennies.
Personnel costs represent the vast majority of our operating budget, and we cannot cut spending without addressing salaries and staffing levels.
My Administration has not and will not shy away from making those difficult decisions.
Last fall my Administration made the tough decision to layoff some of our fine City workers. While some of our workers unfortunately did, indeed lose their jobs, I am proud that our police department met the challenge, and not a single one of our fine young police officers lost their job.
While emotions ran high at times, people of good will worked together, and through retirements, a shared service agreement with the Housing Authority, and tough negotiations, the City both improved the level of Police coverage on the streets and saved taxpayers an estimated $2 million dollars annually.
Our police officers have been without a contract since 2007, but I am pleased to report that union negotiations are going well and I am optimistic that an agreement will soon be reached that properly compensates our hard working police officers without overburdening our already overtaxed residents.
The personnel review process is ongoing, and every department is being evaluated. We will make certain that we deliver all of the services that Hoboken needs, but we will do so as cost-effectively as possible.
One important step we’ve taken to cut costs is simply being more careful managing our own money. By paying off some loans and refinancing others at better rates, we’ve reduced the City’s annual borrowing costs by approximately $2 million dollars.
Going forward, we must avoid being penny wise and dollar foolish. If the City Council works with me to maintain a responsible level of Cash Surplus, we can improve our bond rating and achieve even more savings in the future.
Our surplus is not a luxury — it’s a necessity if we’re going to be able meet the future needs of our City.
In addition to cutting costs, we’re also using our existing assets more efficiently. Just by replacing our old parking meters with multi-space meters, which break down less often and allow more cars to park on the same block, we increased revenue by 40 percent. And in the year ahead, we expect to increase revenue by $1 million by installing multi-space meters throughout the entire City.
When I took office I recognized that perhaps the biggest fiscal challenge we faced was the risk associated with the $52 million bond guarantee for Hoboken University Medical Center. Thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Toni Tomarazzo and the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority Board, we have reached a milestone.
The Board rang in the New Year by signing a letter of intent for the sale of the hospital that meets the seemingly impossible goals of preserving Hoboken University Medical Center as an acute care hospital while also removing the City completely from its bond guarantee.
While there is still a lot of work to be done and success is far from a foregone conclusion, what once seemed impossible is now within our reach.
If there’s one thing everyone knows about me, it’s that my favorite color is green. So not surprisingly, our effort to reduce costs also includes various green initiatives.
We have installed energy efficient lighting throughout the city’s buildings that save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. We are also working to increase our City’s level of recycling with the introduction of a single stream recycling system.
This new system will be more convenient for residents, because they will no longer have to separate their paper from plastic and glass. Research has shown that by making recycling easier, we both save money on collection costs and help protect our environment.
Fiscal responsibility is not only about spending less money, it’s also about spending money wisely.
Our crumbling waterfront clearly demonstrates that it is just as irresponsible to not spend money on the things that you need as it is to spend money on things that you don’t need.
If we had spent more wisely when we built our waterfront and done the necessary maintenance, perhaps we would not now be facing an estimated $20 million dollar price tag to rebuild.
But as I told the New York Times a few weeks ago during a tour I gave them of our waterfront, I cannot take back the decisions of the past, but it is my job to solve the problems for the future.
By bonding and securing as much grant money as we can, we will rebuild our waterfront, the treasure of our City. And as we did not do in the past, we will make sure that from now on, we properly maintain it.
We are developing a clear, written waterfront maintenance manual that will ensure that every future Hoboken Mayor knows exactly how to cost-effectively maintain and protect our waterfront for the long term.
The waterfront is only one example of our neglected infrastructure. Our Police headquarters does not have sufficient heat, and that’s not OK.
Our multi-service center, used by seniors and children in our community, does not have an adequate heating or cooling system, and that is not OK.
By using grant money and bonding, we are fixing these problems this year.
Our antiquated phone and computer system wastes time and money every day. The City must clear the streets of snow and trash, but our ability to perform these crucial services is diminished by antiquated technology. We need to make these capital investments.
And finally, we must repair the floor of City Hall so that our Parking Utility employees are no longer exposed to swarms of termites that often cover the ground floor. The termite nest below the floor has festered for decades, and this problem, which will require relocating the parking utility, must be addressed now.
Despite all of these challenges, we have brought down taxes by 5% in the transition year, and we will cut taxes significantly more this year as well.
Taxes have not come down as much or as quickly as I hoped, but meeting the challenges of today will ensure a fiscally responsible tomorrow.
With shipworms eating our waterfront, termites at City Hall, and flooding, I sometimes feel like I am taking on the plagues of Hoboken. But I am very glad to report that there is light at the end of the tunnel with solving our 50-plus year massive flooding problem.
The North Hudson Sewerage Authority has been working hard constructing a flood-prevention pump, down the street from City Hall at the beginning of Washington Street. I want to thank John Nastasi, a highly respected local architect, for working with my Administration, Hoboken residents, and North Hudson Sewerage, to create a modern, innovative exterior design to house the pump.
In addition to installing the pump, we are forging ahead with installing technology that will help us determine the most cost-effective solution to solve our entire flooding problem citywide.
In March, EmNet will be installing a series of wireless sensors in our combined sewer system. This technology, which I advocated for as a Councilperson, will provide the data we need to fully solve our flooding problem. This is essential since while North Hudson Sewerage is paying for the pump under construction, the taxpayers of Hoboken will likely pay the cost of any additional pumps that may be needed.
We also want to make it easier for individuals to go green to help alleviate the flooding. I look forward to working with the new Construction official and our new proactive Zoning Officer to clarify the regulations for installing rain barrels and green roofs.
We must make it easy to go green, not a hardship that no one dares to undertake because it is too difficult to deal with our Construction office. Remodeling your home or starting a business must be a straightforward process with fair rules that apply in the same way for everyone.
Another kind of flooding that Hoboken has problems with is our numerous water main breaks. Years ago, under Mayor Russo, the City sold the rights to its water infrastructure until 2024. Well over $100 million dollars worth of future revenue was sold to United Water for approximately $13 million dollars. Instead of using those funds to rebuild our water main infrastructure, they were used to plug the City’s budget deficits. And under the current contract, they only invest $300,000 per year towards capital improvements.
As a result, we have water main breaks constantly. My Administration is working with United Water, within the constraints of the contract entered into by Mayor Russo, to develop a clear master plan for our City’s water main system, so that we can address this problem in a serious way.
Over the years, necessary investments in our infrastructure have been neglected and so have necessary investments in our quality of life.
My Administration will always work hard to address issues of concern to residents. We can always do better. For example, this has been an extraordinary winter and we plain and simply did not do a good enough job with snow removal, especially during the first big snow. I want to let you know about some strategies we are implementing to improve our response capabilities.
Within the next several months we are implementing an online service request and complaint system. Through our web site residents will be able to submit and track all kinds of service requests, whether it’s to report a pothole, graffiti, or a street that needs plowing.
This system will provide a performance measurement for my Administration, so that we can continue to increase accountability and better understand where our resources need to be directed. Residents should not need to figure out whether to email me, their council people or our directors to get a response. You should have one place to go, and you should be able to depend on a timely response.
This new system will be only the latest in our efforts to use technology to be more efficient and make services available online. As you may know, last fall our Recreation Division began accepting online registrations for recreation programs. People love this system, and it’s helping us work more efficiently.
I’m incredibly proud of the work Director Pellegrini has done – the Recreation division is providing more services than ever while cutting operating expenses by 20%.
In addition, we’ve also been expanding services for our seniors, including yoga for seniors, the addition of Wednesday night bingo, and new activities on a monthly basis. Just last month, we also joined with the Heinz foundation to launch a prescription drug card that is completely free and available to all residents, regardless of age, income, or health status. It could be particularly helpful for seniors who are in the Medicare Part D “donut hole.”
Tonight I am also proud to announce that we have developed a solution for one of the concerns that most infuriates residents who return to their cars only to find that they were unexpectedly ticketed or towed because a temporary no parking sign was ripped down.
This month, we will be launching a system that will enable residents to check on our website for current “no parking sign” locations and to sign up to receive a text message if a no parking sign goes up near where you are parked.
Quality of life also includes having a place to play ball with your child, your friends, and your dog. As a mom with two active sons, as a runner, a bicyclist, and a soccer player, I know that we don’t have enough fields to play on or parks where we can just relax.
Parks are the places where Hoboken comes together, and we need more, especially in the underserved neighborhoods toward our Western border.
We’ve conducted a complete evaluation of all of our parks, and after all you’ve heard tonight, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that like much of our infrastructure, Hoboken not only needs new parks, but we haven’t even taken proper care of our existing parks.
That’s why we’re introducing a capital investment plan to protect our parks for the long term. These capital investments will be funded by a combination of grant opportunities, a bond, and donations from Project Play for Church Square Park. In addition, we are working on a partnership with the Hoboken Housing Authority to make Mama Johnson field more useable to Housing Authority residents and all Hoboken residents.
With a 30 percent increase in our population based on recent census results, Hoboken, now with over 50,000 residents, simply doesn’t have the park space we need.
Four years ago, I fought to establish our Open Space Trust Fund. With the downturn in the real estate market, now is the time to act to improve the lives of Hoboken residents forever.
Tonight I am proposing a $20 million bond to acquire land for more open space.
This bond would be paid for entirely with revenue from our Open Space Trust Fund – it would not cost taxpayers a single additional dollar. Our focus should be new parks in our underserved neighborhoods along the western side of the City from north to south, so that every Hoboken resident will be a short walk from a quality park.
Recently, we had the partial opening of Pier C along the waterfront. It’s truly a beautiful park unlike anything else in the region. We faced challenges in getting the park fully completed due to the way the contracts for the project were written, but we’re almost there.
We’re looking forward to a springtime full opening of the park once the play surface can be installed. I thank everyone for their patience, and I promise you it will be worth it. I can tell you personally that the slide is a blast and no matter what your age – you don’t want to miss it!
The next large park to come online will be 1600 Park on the northern end of town.
This project had been stalled for years, and we nearly lost millions of dollars in grant money due to the City’s inexplicable failure to move forward with site remediation. I want to publicly thank Director Forbes for restarting the process and saving us millions of dollars.
I also thank the community for coming out last month and helping us begin the planning process for this park. If all goes well, we will cut the ribbon by next fall.
At the same time, we are working with the community to plan for the park at Hoboken Cove which will dramatically increase our City’s waterfront recreational opportunities.
We have also finalized an agreement to officially take ownership of the waterfront park in front of Maxwell Place and look forward to expanding kayaking opportunities this summer now that the boat house is officially under the ownership of the City.
The cultural programming that the City provides is an important part of the quality of life of our City. I want to thank Geri Fallo and the arts community for all the programming that makes Hoboken so special – the Arts & Music Festivals, Movies Under the Stars, Family Fun Nights, Concerts in the Park, and so much more.
The arts community in Hoboken provides the foundation for making Hoboken the vibrant city that we all love, which is why my Administration is committed to doing all that we can to ensure the arts community continues to not only survive but to thrive. If we lose the artists, then we lose a part of the character of our City.
With this objective as our guiding principle, we have been evaluating ways to maintain the arts community at Neumann Leather.
And during the last year my Administration has coordinated with the bankruptcy trustee for the Monroe Center, making our position clear that it is critical to maintain the artist-based businesses at affordable rents.
Now, let’s talk about parking. Over the past year, through creative management practices, we have cut waiting lists for garage parking while at the same time making more parking available. In addition, we’ve begun to chip away at the on-street parking demand that currently exceeds supply by 83%.
As bad as that might sound, it used to be much worse. Despite the fact that our population is rapidly growing, the number of parking permits has actually been shrinking. Just a few years ago, parking demand exceeded supply by 117%. In other words, there are now 3,000 fewer cars on the street.
This means that, while it may not always seem like it, we are going in the right direction, but we obviously have to do a lot more to address this very important quality of life issue.
We’ve been working on strategies to reduce the demand for on-street parking. Our initiatives have focused on making it easier to live in Hoboken without a car, because ultimately this will also make it easier to live in Hoboken with a car.
We have expanded public transportation with the introduction of the HOP, introduced the Corner Car program, and worked with the business community to encourage their employees to park in garages.
Together, these strategies are meant to help everyone – those who own cars and those who do not.
By reducing demand for on-street parking we are making parking easier for those that need to use their car everyday and park on the street.
By offering programs for people that only need to use a car from time to time, we are making it easier to go car-free in Hoboken.
And if you rely on taxis to get around, we’re working on that, too. We’re currently testing a cell phone-based virtual hailing system that will let you hail a cab by texting from wherever you are and then rate the service afterwards. We hope to launch that soon.
We’ve expanded the bike lane network and installed bike racks for 140 more bikes — including 48 more near the PATH. We’re working with Bike Hoboken and partnering with the Hudson TMA and Jersey City to explore a bike sharing system.
And with the help of Sweet Streets, we received a grant to create a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.
I want to thank Jim Vance, a founder of Sweet Streets, and everyone who was involved in creating that plan.
This Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan will go hand-in-hand with our ongoing efforts. We’ve made pedestrian safety our top enforcement priority, and have drastically increased ticketing for parking violations that impact pedestrian safety like parking too close to a crosswalk or intersection.
I know it’s hard to find a parking space, but the reason we have focused on these violations is because parking near an intersection puts the safety of both drivers and pedestrians at risk — particularly children, the elderly, and the disabled.
I’m proud to say that our approach is working and our City is becoming a safer place to walk and bike. In the last year, the number of crashes between cars and pedestrians dropped by 30%, while the number of crashes between cars and bikes is down by more than 60%.
In the next few days, we’ll also be announcing a comprehensive pedestrian safety plan, toolkit and process for addressing resident pedestrian concerns.
We are also working hard to address noise issues. I want to thank Ann Holtzman, our Zoning Officer, for drafting legislation that will enable us to more effectively enforce noise concerns.
Finally, when I think about ensuring a positive quality of life for Hoboken residents with lively neighborhoods, I think about the importance of ensuring balanced development in our community.
Balanced development means development that works to create neighborhoods and carefully considers the impact development may have on traffic, open space, flooding, and other issues.
The economic downturn has heightened interest in Hoboken development, because Hoboken is considered the jewel of our region.
This issue is often falsely presented as pro-development versus anti-development. It should really be framed as “good development” versus “bad development.”
We need to make it easier to build things that benefit the residents of our city, and harder to build things that do not.
Development must meet the needs of residents, not maximize the profits of the developers.
When I became Mayor, we carefully chose redevelopment counsel who can guide our redevelopment process and ensure that the City’s interests’ are fully protected and that we receive all “give backs” that are promised.
This has not been the case in past redevelopment – witness the community pool we have been promised but never received.
We’ve instituted a process for true community input, involving the public at the beginning of the process to help us actually develop the plan, not at the end of the process to hear about the developer’s plan.
And the Planning Board is working hard on a reexamination of our Master Plan to ensure that it reflects an updated vision of our future that benefits our residents first and foremost.
These initiatives will help us to truly achieve smart balanced development.
But the pressure to develop in Hoboken is fierce, and there’s billions of dollars at stake, so the effort to bring balanced development also requires a reform of our City’s electoral process.
Our existing Pay to Play law is important, but it doesn’t prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars from flowing into Hoboken elections from people and groups who wish to profit from Hoboken, rather than contribute to it.
Peter Cammarano received more than $100,000 in money from political committees based outside of Hoboken in the June 2009 election alone.
So my Administration, working with Councilman Cunningham and Councilman Bhalla, proposed legislation that would prevent outside money from continuing to hijack Hoboken elections.
Unfortunately the new Council majority voted this measure down.
I call on the City Council to put the interests of the residents of the City of Hoboken first and reconsider this decision in the best interest of our City.
We must ensure that Hoboken’s elections are decided by the people of Hoboken, not by developers, vendors or wealthy individuals who circumvent our laws by directing their money to candidates through political committees.
If City Council members feel the legislation can be improved, I urge them to promptly provide their constructive suggestions to make the legislation better.
This is not the time to hurl accusations at each other. It is time to learn from our all too recent experiences and take real, immediate and effective legislative action.
Accusing each other of wheeling will not stop others from doing it. Our proposed legislation will.
Let’s stop making excuses for inaction and move forward together and get this done. The stakes are too high.
Tonight I’ve covered a great deal of ground. I want to thank all of you so much for being here tonight to hear my views on the State of our beautiful city.
Going forward I encourage each of you to get as involved as you can. Please go to our website at hobokennj.org and follow the link to sign up for Nixle alerts to stay on top of all that is happening at City Hall, or to at least know when you need to move your car when we have another one of those crazy snow storms.
As difficult as the challenges ahead of us might seem, I know that we can take them on, because Hoboken has done it before and Hoboken will do it again.
When the shipping industry left our docks in the post-war years, our economy was devastated as countless families were left unemployed. Our City suffered the same decay as so many other urban areas.
But Hoboken reinvented itself and turned the waterfront — a symbol of its pain, into its greatest asset and Hoboken was transformed from blight into bustling.
Our future is bright because of our history, and because of our incredible potential.
As we face the year ahead, I am hopeful and committed to making the investments we need to further reduce taxes and enjoy the quality of life that all Hoboken residents deserve.
It has been my pleasure and honor to speak with all of you tonight.
|Mayor Zimmer examining the Hoboken waterfront atop a pile of snow. Courtesy the NY Times|