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January 8 Town Council Meeting: $185,081 in tax appeal payments, Prism and redevelopment

Town council approves an additional $185,081 in successful tax appeals, while Edison Redevelopment and Prism's response to a town letter demanding financial information discussed

Town council approved reimbursement of $185,081 in property tax appeal judgments at its January 8, 2013, meeting.

The meeting also featured discussions of Prism, the designated redeveloper for the downtown Edison Factory site. Business Administrator Jack Sayers, as well as Councilman Jerry Guarino and myself, expressed dissatisfaction with Prism’s response to an October 26 township letter demanding information on the company’s financial and legal ability to move forward with the project.

Mr. Sayers said the town had asked for additional information, which he said he expected to receive soon. I suggested that since the demand letter had asked for a response in 10 days, which turned out to be more than two months, that the town consider sending a default letter. The two other instances of default letters had resulted in a quick and satisfactory resolution to delinquent property taxes and unpaid escrow funding for town redevelopment expenses. I also asked the administration to bring the town’s redevelopment legal and financial advisors to the next council meeting to advise us on this issue.

Prism came up during public comment. Resident Rosary Morelli obtained the bills for the town’s redevelopment law firm that indicate that Council President Victor Cirilo and Councilwoman Susan McCartney were involved in conference calls on Prism. Both councilpeople said they didn’t think they were on the indicated conference calls, and Mr. Cirilo said he’d have to check his records about an indicated June 2012 call cited in the bills.

Ms. Morelli said she thought that the two councilpeople should have shared the results of these calls with the rest of the council and the public. She also again asked for information about Planning Board applications that went forward without meeting rules and regulations for property tax compliance.

Public comment also featured other residents advocating for limiting the time Prism has to obtain project financing, another resident again complaining that the town should buy his property, and another resident expressing concerns about the 2013 budget and spending.

The council also approved the traditional New Year resolutions setting a temporary 2013 budget, cancelling 2012 unspent budget appropriations and transferring funds among budget accounts. The town had 2012 unspent appropriations of $467,029 (revised just before the council meeting), which will be used to fund the 2013 budget.

The council also approved administration requests for $463,575 (revised just before the council meeting) in transfers among accounts, including $46,519 from waste management operating expenses (distributed to various other accounts), $68,022 from the Joint Meeting sewer utility, and $211,096 from public works salaries and wages (to various accounts). Major recipients of the transfers were $210,893 for prescription insurance claims,$77,448 for debt service, and $15,400 for the jitney bus service. The administration also received approval to continue membership in the joint municipal insurance fund and to authorize the annual cash-management plan, which invests and safeguards the town’s funds until needed.

The council also approved a six-month extension of a contract for planning services while the Town Planner is on medical leave. These fees are primarily paid from escrow accounts deposited by applicants for planning and zoning matters. Last year, the vendor was paid $9,000 from the township and $13,460 from escrow accounts. In a related resolution, the administration received approval to use this vendor – Phillips, Preiss, Grygiel, LLC -- to help with a project to develop standards and/or zoning ordinances for stand-by generators for condominium and multi-family communities. This work would be paid by township funds not to exceed $2,500.

The resolution authorizing rebate of property tax payments is the latest in a long series of reductions in the township’s revenue and tax base from appeals to the assessed value of property relative to the market rate, as required by law. The resolution was corrected before the meeting to clarify that the court judgments are for 2012. In addition to the $185,000 payout, the judgments reduce the township’s tax base by $5.3 million, meaning it will produce less revenue going forward at a constant tax rate. The judgments included 13 reductions in assessed value of more than $100,000 from among the 114 judgments, including one of $619,400. Most of the appeals were for residential properties, although a few were for small commercial properties.

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