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Dec 4 Town Council Meeting: Council approves $1.3 million in tax appeal payments, initial OK to nearly $3 million in capital projects and $1.7 million bond issuance

Town business administrator: Prism says will pay delinquent taxes today; Capital projects include $400,000 for renovation of high school artificial-turf soccer field and $350,000 for concession stand

The town council approved payments for property tax appeal judgments and settlements of $1.3 million at its Dec. 4 meeting last night. The council also gave initial approval to nearly $3 million in capital projects that would be financed with existing bond proceeds plus $1.7 million in new debt. Here’s the updated agenda and legislation http://bit.ly/SCpEIl.

Business Administrator Jack Sayers told the council that Prism Capital Partners, the designated redeveloper for the downtown redevelopment area that includes the Edison Battery Factory, had indicated that it plans to pay its delinquent taxes today, Wednesday, Dec 5. The town sent a notice of default of the redevelopment agreement to Prism on Nov. 20 for failure to pay Nov. 1 taxes.

Mr. Sayers said Prism, which owes more than $135,000 in taxes, also asked for an accounting for the redevelopment escrow account. Prism is required to fund the account, which covers town expenses for the redevelopment project. The town sent a separate notice of default to Prism on Nov. 14, citing Prism’s failure to pay $173,246 for account expenses since July 31.

The council also approved payments for tax appeal judgments and settlements of $1.3 million. This included three commercial properties:

-         Hutton Park Gardens, 125 Northfield Avenue: $77,754

-         West Mill Apartments, 141 Old Short Hills Road: $415,830

-         West Orange Plaza, Prospect and Eagle Rock avenues: $400,833

State law requires the municipality to make these payments, then going forward the reduced tax revenues are shared proportionally with the county and school district.

The administration is planning to apply to the state for approval to borrow up to $1 million to help pay for tax appeals.

The council also gave initial approval to two bond ordinances. The first (Ordinance 2366-12) seeks to reallocate previous authorization and funding for $1,606,799:

-         $400,000 (reduced from $500,000 in the original ordinance) to renovate the artificial turf soccer field at the high school

-         $200,000 to light the football/track & field facility at the high school

-         $350,000 for a new concession stand at the high school

-         $200,000 for public works vehicles/equipment

-         $200,000 (increased from $150,000 in the original ordinance) for computers and software

-         $56,779.25 for “improvements to outdoor facilities”

-         $200,000 for improvements to any municipal building (language clarified at meeting)

This ordinance reflects previous debt issuance, so it doesn’t require adding to the town’s debt level. The town plans to fund the $950,000 improvements at the high school, with no monetary contribution by the school district.

The second ordinance (2367) consolidates unborrowed funds previously authorized of $1,717,024:

-         $873,824 for road resurfacing for unspecified streets

-         $100,000 for Nicholas Avenue

-         $600,000 for Mountain Avenue

-         $143,201 for the balance for “outdoor facilities” from the other ordinance

Both ordinances would typically come up for public comment and possible final approval at the next council meeting, set for Dec. 18.

In my post previewing the meeting, I noted that ordinarily, school capital projects requiring debt issuance are subject to voter referendum. However, state law allows for “shared services” agreements between municipal entities to share the cost and use of common facilities and equipment. Previously, the school district and town used “shared services” to allow the township, which can borrow without a referendum first, to finance athletics improvements at the high school. The town and schools then specify which entity pays for which part of the cost. The school district and township are now operating under such agreements.

However, the administration made clear at last night’s meeting that the town planned to provide both the initial funding and payment of debt service -- with no monetary contribution from the school district for the estimated $950,000 of projects at the high school.

Subjects at public comment were:

-         A towing company official complained that his recent bid to operate in the town was wrongly denied

-         A resident who continued his request that the town buy his unimproved lot on Winding Way through the Open Space Trust Fund

-         A resident who continued to disparage the Planning Board for not following proper procedures in approving the amended site plan for Prism’s redevelopment. She also invited people to the Kwanzaa celebration at Edison Central Six on Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

-         A resident who complained about leaves raked into the street, especially by landscapers, clogging sewers and causing traffic squeezes

-         A resident who complained the council and administration weren’t adequately responding to concerns expressed by other residents and who commented on the effect of tax appeals reducing tax revenue, asking the town and council to consider not funding the capital projects

-         A resident who continued his criticism of the administration and council’s treatment of the Prism project

-         A resident who criticized the rancorous exchanges at the last council meeting by the business administrator and some members of the council during the discussion of the $207,000 surveillance camera contract and who asked that spending be cut back to keep taxes low

-         A resident who asked about the use of official debt statements for non-taxpayer-guaranteed bonding, about treatment of Prism and about the use of eminent domain to move tenants/residents from the Prism site several years ago.

-         A county public information officer who spoke of upcoming events of possible interest to residents

Video of the council meeting should be up on the town website http://bit.ly/SypDUr and www.WestOrangeGrassroots.org in the next few days.

Joe Krakoviak is a West Orange Township Councilman, since 2010. He can be reached at jkrakoviak@westorange.org. A former financial journalist, in his spare time he’s a business communications consultant.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sue Freivald December 06, 2012 at 03:33 AM
What stands out--well, so much stands out, like paying $350K for a concession stand, like the Town paying for BOE items without any contribution from the BOE, etc. But the figures are interesting--most of them are nice, rounded figures, like $400,000. Then there are the vaguest items concerning "outdoor facilities" and "unspecified streets." These are exact amounts. Does anyone really think the Town knows it will cost exactly that amount to resurface streets? No--these figures are exact to make the total amount equal the "previously authorized" amounts. No doubt a common practice, but then we must ask--if most of the figures are rounded to the nearest ten thousand or nearest hundred thousand, except for a couple that are rounded merely to make the math work, how accurate are the estimates of these projects? Were any actual estimates of the projects presented?
Joe Krakoviak December 07, 2012 at 09:43 PM
It's not unusual for West Orange to line up authorization for bond financing before getting bids for the project. So the numbers in the ordinance are by necessity best estimates. (That in part explains why we have so many ordinances authorizing debt issuance that still have unspent balances that are the source of one of the ordinances.) The exact amount for unspecified street improvements is the balance of the proposed financing after other projects are estimated. Council was presented with the estimates contained in Ordinance 2366-12 and an e-mail from the mayor that specified the estimates for Ordinance 2367-12 (and included in the blog). The accuracy of these estimates is still to be seen once the projects are bid and completed.
Steven Serebrenik December 09, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Joe, THANKS FOR STICKING UP FOR WEST ORANGE TAXPAYERS and ALERTING US TO WHAT'S HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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