Newark city council adopts amended Baraka budget

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 07, 2014

NEWARK — After months of wrangling, the Newark City Council voted on Tuesday to adopt Mayor Ras Baraka’s amended budget of about $800 million, steering the city out of a multimillion-dollar deficit.

The 8-to-0 vote will trigger substantial state oversight of Newark's finances, the terms of which will soon be decided by the state Local Finance Board.

Central Ward councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins was not present for the vote.

Some council members praised Baraka’s administration for putting together what they said was a responsible budget.

“I have absolutely no problem voting for this budget,” said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, who often votes against budget proposals because of increases in the tax rate. “I congratulate the mayor and his administration.”

But the vote came after some council members, who were not aligned with Baraka during the election, signaled they were hesitant to adopt a budget with amendments that were not fully explained.

“That’s the problem here,” said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos. “There (are only) some people who have access to information.”

Before the vote, Council President Mildred Crump said Baraka’s administration was not playing favorites and called for her colleagues to go into a private executive session to discuss the budget.

Afterward, Baraka commended the council for putting political differences aside to put the city on the right financial footing.

“The interests of the city override any other issue that we have,” he said.

The adoption of the budget ends months of wrangling over ways to pare down a $93 million dollar deficit.

Newark’s municipal council first introduced a budget drafted by the administration of former Mayor Luis Quintana, who isn ow an at-large councilman, of almost $800 million on July 1

Under the proposed spending plan, taxes for the average Newark homeowner would have increased to $5,333 from $5,082.

But Quintana’s proposed budget also included some revenue expectations that raised eyebrows among lawmakers, including one projection for the city to reap more than $47 million by selling foreclosed properties.

The new 2014 budget only accounts for $5 million dollars in revenue from city-owned property.

In August, Newark officials asked the state for $31 million in transitional aid, which is how the state awards money to municipalities to help in budgetary emergencies. At the time, the city said it would have to lay off more than 400 employees if it did not receive the aid.

But last month the state Department of Community Affairs notified the city that the state would award only $10 million, leading some council members to say Newark was being short-changed.

Crump said that although Gov. Chris Christie gave Newark “the measly $10 million dollars,” the council should approve the budget.

“Shame on him,” she said.

"This amount was determined by DLGS to be adequate in conjunction with other actions, to allow Newark to adopt a budget that provides essential services within the statutory levy cap," Division of Local Government Services director Thomas Neff wrote in a letter to the council and Baraka.

Despite receiving only $10 million, officials said the city was able to reduce the deficit and avoid layoffs by spreading some of its debt over 10 years, making small cuts in departmental spending, and lowering payments to its unemployment insurance plan, among other measures.

Under the new budget, the state is also waiving a regulation that the city pay $10 million dollars into a reserve fund.

The budget will head to the Local Finance Board on Wednesday, where the state will begin the process of approving the city’s budget and determining the terms under which the city receives transitional aid.

“I’m just grateful that is it behind us, that after today we have a passed budget,” Baraka sai

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