LINDEN — Mayor Richard Gerbounka is canceling the Halloween parade the city has held annually for the last 60 years and he predicted there is even more scary news on the horizon.
In the wake of an average $344 municipal property tax increase, Gerbounka’s administration is preparing to send notices during the upcoming holiday season to dozens of city employees informing them that they will be laid off.
Gerbounka said the city recreation department hosted a pumpkin painting contest instead of the parade, which annually drew as many as 3,000 marchers and 5,000 to 10,000 spectators to the Wood Avenue business district.
Councilman Derek Armstead, the Democrat who is running against the independent incumbent in the Nov. 2 election for mayor, said he disagrees with the fiscal direction Linden is taking.
Armstead was among four members of the City Council who voted against the budget that included the 14 percent municipal property tax hike.
“We need to refocus our priorities, because many of these proposed cuts will end up costing taxpayers much more in the long run,” said Armstead.
“We had a 21 percent increase in violent crime rates over a three period before this year when we had dead bodies turning up on the streets, dozens of local armed robberies and a series of home invasion burglaries,” said Armstead. “This is not the time to lay off 20 police officers or a dozen firefighters.”
Armstead compared the city’s spending choices to Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to halt construction on the Hudson River commuter rail tunnel, which will cost the state $3 billion in federal aid on top of anther $400 million lost by the GOP administration due to clerical errors on an education grant application.
“Christie’s decisions are utterly partisan, while I would say Mayor Gerbounka is more misguided, but either way Linden, New Jersey needs leadership that is able to grasp the complexities of government,” said Armstead. “Taxes have gone up by $1,000 over the last four years, as every development in town stalled. Linden is desperate for change.”
Gerbounka is sending voters mail distancing himself from the higher taxes and said that his inability to influence budgeting makes progress impossible without a change in the city’s form of government but Armstead opposes such a move.
“Another long slow process is not going to produce the kind of results we can get with new Democratic leadership,” said Armstead of what appears to be the first quarrelsome issue to emerge in the campaign.
Armstead and Gerbounka have been on the same side of most contentious issues in the last year, such as attorney expenses, a controversial skate park and the proposed coal burning carbon sequestration plant.
Their experience in city government is closely matched, as both men joined the council together in 1994 and they agree that voters in Linden are fed up with business as usual.
Gerbounka expressed confidence that he will be re-elected, while Armstead said he won’t predict the outcome until the polls close on Nov. 2.
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