Sworn in for his 12th consecutive term as Kearny’s chief executive at the town’s annual reorganization meeting Friday night, Mayor Alberto Santos delivered an Inaugural Address, listing financial stability, public safety protection and development as being among his administration’s priorities for the next four years.
The mayor also attacked Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for what he felt were oppressive fiscal policies.
And he also lauded new community initiatives such as the newly formed West Hudson Arts and Theatre troupe whose mission is to be “a cultural resource that will enrich and invigorate the West Hudson community as a whole,” along with the successful first season of the Kearny Community Garden and organizers Jenny and David Mach, Ed and Peg Bixler for “beautifying, educating and nourishing the Kearny community.”
Addressing the town’s fiscal pressures, Santos said: “The future must … be one in which Kearny remains affordable to live and work,” Santos said. “With property taxes in Kearny exceeding $9,000 a year for an average-assessed home in a community that is predominantly working class and fixed-income households, the homeowner’s tax burden is heavy.”
Fixed costs figure into that tax equation, Santos said. “Since my first year as mayor (2000), employee pension costs have nearly tripled, health insurance costs have more than doubled and garbage and sewage disposal costs have doubled,” he noted. “These costs will add up to $23 million in this year’s budget, which is almost one-third of the total budget.”
In hopes of securing an equitable share of state revenue, Santos said he would “remain vigilant against efforts to undo tax sharing in the New Jersey Meadowlands.” This year’s funding formula, he said, provided Kearny with $3.8 million in revenue that helped balanced the municipal budget.
To try and shake loose additional revenues, Santos said he would press state lawmakers to lift the tax exempt status currently afforded CSX and NJ Transit for “two of the largest rail yards in the region,” as well as the county jail; two PSE&G power plants, including a $250 million peaking facility; and shipping container storage facilities, all located in South Kearny.
“Highways such as the N.J. Turnpike, the Pulaski Skyway and Rt. 1&9 impose demands on Kearny’s police and fire departments, and take up substantial portions of Kearny real estate, but generate zero revenue for the town,” he said.
State aid to Kearny has also taken a hit, Santos said. The town’s share of the state’s energy tax receipts and property tax relief programs has dropped from $21.4 million in 2000 to $18.4 million. By changing the original Public Utility tax, the state has deprived Kearny of the “full amounts” due from utilities, he said. “If the law had been followed,” Santos said, “Kearny would have received an additional $46 million from the state over the past 10 years.”
Because of these inequities, along with the mandated 2% budget cap, “we are losing our fiscal capacity to govern,” Santos said. If the state continues “encroaching” on home rule, it will open the door wider to “further consolidation of state power and probably mandated regionalism from above by the attachment of strings to whatever reduced revenues are dispensed by the state to municipalities.”
“The current state policies that reduce municipal financial burdens under the pretense of fiscal austerity will not reduce the property tax burden,” Santos said. “Rather, they will further centralize the power of the state at the expense of local democracy.”
– Ron Leir