Sal Vega and the Commissioners Call for Recall Against Themselves!

Frances Martel

Yesterday morning at 9:00 AM the Board of Commissioners for the Town of West New York held a special meeting to discuss several financial issues that have been weighing heavily on the consciousnesses and tax bills of its residents. As per the meeting agenda posted on the official West New York website, the discussion revolved around the Town Attorney’s report on the application the town made to the Superior Court of NJ for an order to demonstrate why the state’s Local Finance Board and Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) should not take some responsibility over the Town’s finances. A newer, heftier budget was also proposed as well as the topic of pension deferral approached.

Before even attempting to analyze what the town is doing, it is worthy of note that most unscientific polls will show an average of 5% of all West New York residents could properly interpret what “the Town Attorney’s report on the town’s application made to the Superior Court of NJ for an order to demonstrate why the state’s Local Finance Board and Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) should not take some responsibility over the Town’s finances” means. The person assigned to write up these meeting agendas (probably earning a six-figure salary) appears to be quite fond of wordy, clumsy, and deliberately confusing grammatical clauses. Of course, that bullet point on the agenda is the one with the potential to impact the greatest number of citizens. To rephrase the matter in plain English: the town has requested of the state reasons why the state should not take over at least some of the Town’s dismal finances. That is to say, they are requesting state intervention in the Town’s economic crisis.

West New York is in a financial state of emergency. This is abundantly clear to the thousands of residents who have been obligated by Mayor Silverio Vega and the Board of Commissioners to walk a tightrope with their rents and mortgages in order to pay an extra 47% in property taxes within the span of little more than a year. It is abundantly clear to the residents who have spent a lifetime crafting their own businesses in the Town’s formerly thriving commercial district and must now sign away their dreams in a check to the Town. And, of course, there is no need to remind the elderly of our city that thanks to the current fiscal situation proper shelter and necessary medical care are mutually exclusive. However, it seems that, until today, the Board of Commissioners had not considered it pertinent to make certain decisions regarding the $15.7 million deficit that mysteriously sprouted sometime in between the inauguration of Mayor Vega and today. And until today they were not ready to publicly admit that they are unable to solve the problem.

Despite this, there appears to be little consensus on the 2009 budget a fourth of the way into the year. If you haven’t noticed that the budget has been an issue, it may be because official Town releases (a hastily-assembled PowerPoint project the Town uploaded to their official website after the last finance meeting) claim that a “final” 2009 budget had already been drafted and submitted to the state for review. If that is the case, which no one can really deny, then why is there yet another version of the budget being presented in the meeting yesterday? Why are there all sorts of versions of the budget flying around town, and who is writing them? Why has there been no media event to meet the new Chief Financial Officer? Surely he would be the most popular man in town given the current situation.

The mess spills over into the tax debate and state intervention. The Jersey Journal had already reported last weekend that West New York had been designated by the State Department of Community Affairs $2 million in state aid—something the state likes to call “Extraordinary Aid”. According to the Journal, “Extraordinary Aid is awarded to municipalities that, because of extreme circumstances, would not be able to provide essential services to the community without a substantial increase in their property tax rate.” The idea behind it is to save citizens the dangers of extreme tax increases by giving the Town incentive to not raise taxes in the form of financial aid. The state had already been concerned about the West New York situation and had attempted to intervene in a modest way. The Vega Administration took the money and ran with the 47% increase, and it is now rumored that the Town is toying with the idea of an extra 9% increase. For them to make the conscious move of asking for state aid when they had attempted to take some hushed aid, improve the situation slightly, and take the credit themselves is a huge development.

For Mayor Vega and the Commissioners to openly request the help of the state in sorting out the mess they have created is as close to the administration honestly admitting to their own incompetence as anyone can hope for. It is the Vega administration’s way of calling for a recall themselves—on their own terms—where they get to keep their titles and the perks that come with them but don’t have to do any of the work they would be required to do in order to keep those jobs. In other words, they agree with the recall effort being lead by Dr. Felix Roque and concerned residents, but only if they are allowed to hang around for a few more years spending the Town’s tax dollars and parading themselves around important political events.

If Sal Vega and the Board of Commissioners are openly calling for a recall (of sorts), the residents are in no position to deny it to them. If even they have had enough of their own fiscal irresponsibility and general incompetence, it is time to retire them from office and let the crew ride off into the sunset of West New York history.

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