Newark to hire 200 cops, raise taxes in 2017 budget

NEWARK -- The city will hire an additional 200 police officers, build a new homeless shelter and beef up code enforcement under its proposed 2017 municipal budget

The $665.8 million budget was introduced in City Council Wednesday morning and does not include any layoffs or cuts, Mayor Ras Baraka said.

That means, for an average assessed home of $175,203, the local portion of the tax bill is expected to increase by $75 to about $3,195, city officials said.

Baraka said this will be the last year the city prepares its budget under state supervision. The budget includes $8 million of transitional aid from the state, about $1 million less than last year. Baraka said city finances are healthy enough that it won't need to request such aid next year. 

"The city has completed the last two years under state supervision with a healthy surplus. We have been using the surplus to pay down the debts we inherited when we took office," he said. "We are whittling down a fifty-million-dollar deficit and a myriad of unpaid bills."

This year's budget is a 1.7 percent increase from last year's and includes several retroactive payments for employees and $2 million to pay the federal monitor overseeing the police department.

The monitor is overseeing departmental reforms after an investigation revealed civil rights abuses. The additional 200 police officers will start training Aug. 1, Baraka said.

The budget also includes plans to erect a city-run homeless shelter at the closed Miller Street public school in partnership with Catholic Charities. The city has not run its own shelter in nearly a decade.

Baraka said the budget also includes a $3.3 million state grant to repave 15 streets, three in each ward, and purchase 13 properties along the Passaic River to expand Riverfront Park. 

At least five additional code enforcement officers will be hired under the budget. North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos said he'd like to see another 10 or 15 officers hired.

"We definitely heard from our residents that that is one of the biggest concerns on the community side," he said. The department currently has 12 code enforcement officers, down from 40 in 2010, Baraka said. 

The city will also ask the Newark school district to lower its budget to alleviate the burden on taxpayers. Business Administrator Jack Kelly said the district received $4.5 million additional dollars under the new state budget and officials would ask the district to use that money to offset higher taxes. 

Total taxes, including the county and school portions, for the average assessed home will increase by $210 to $6,237. Kelly said if the district adjusts its budget, the increase should be $177. 

Valerie Wilson, Business Administrator for Newark Public Schools, said the district was grateful for the additional state aid but it still fell short of what was required by the state's school funding formula. She said the district would maintain the budget -- and local tax levy -- already approved by the board.

"Far from constituting a 'windfall,' this appropriation represents a small percentage of the dollars necessary to bring the NPS budget closer to the amount provided for in the SFRA (School Funding Reform Act)," Wilson said in a statement. "Every dollar of these funds is allocated for important educational purposes, including class size reduction, expanding special education services and bilingual programs, and launching a new science curriculum and learning lab."

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the municipal budget in the coming weeks.

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