The Montclair Township Council got off to a slow, quiet start for 2017 in its January 10 conference meeting. Five resolutions, which included the passage for the temporary 2017 budget, a purchase of anti-virus software for the township, and an application for a certified local grant from the New Jersey Historic Preservation funds, passed unanimously.
The one ordinance voted on, a first-reading measure amending the 2008 financial agreement for the Siena condominium apartment building, prompted resident Sandy Sorkin to ask for an explanation of it in public comment. Mayor Robert Jackson deferred to Township Attorney Ira Karasick, who explained it once the ordinance came up for a vote.
Karasick reminded the council and the few residents in attendance that the Siena was part of a redevelopment plan in which the revenue is generated through via a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. He explained that the agreement had a several formulas for calculating the amount of money each apartment unit paid, and the formulas had various inconsistencies and contradictions, none of which accounted for changes in the real estate market or values. It became very difficult, Karasick said, to calculate how much each unit was supposed to pay. Also, the units’ values had grown so disparate that the payments were being unfairly distributed among the units.
“What this amendment does,” Karasick said, “is, it rationalizes that system. It creates one formula, which is intended to fulfill the intent of the original agreement. The original agreement laid out its intent that the units in the Siena, for a certain period . . . were to pay a discounted tax rate. And, it so happened that some paid a lot less, some paid more, some paid in the middle. What we’ve done now is, we made all units subject to the same formula, and . . . we took the units and we revalued them so we created a base value for each unit based on their current market value.” Karasick said that the financial consequences are minor. After having collected $1.3 million for the Siena with some of the PILOT payments going to the county, the new revision will yield $100,000 less than that but the township will get 95 percent of the payments.
The loss would be a loss of tax revenue, not PILOT revenue; the PILOT money, Karasick said, goes to a different place in the budget. He said that unit owners at the Siena were “very supportive” of the amendment.
The ordinance passed 7-0, with a second reading pending. For the record, Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager is the only council member who was on the council when the original agreement took effect in March 2008.
The council also welcomed Jocelyn Gilman, the executive director of the Red Cross of Northern New Jersey, who said she had “bittersweet news” for Mayor Jackson and the council. Gilman said that the American Red Cross’s extensive network had become unwieldy, and that the 136-year-old organization was looking to centralize its services nationwide. Explaining that the Red Cross was looking to reduce its “real estate footprint,” she announced with great regret that its Park Street location is to be sold. Gilman, however, stressed that the Red Cross was not abandoning its commitment to Montclair. She said she was looking to establish partnerships with local groups to hold blood drives and offer lifesaving courses in town.
Gilman said that such partnerships were integral to the involvement of service organizations in the community, citing how groups came together to alleviate Montclair residents of the effects of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “We don’t exist alone,” she said. “We exist as partners working together.” In that spirit, the councilors expressed interest in going over potential partnerships between the Red Cross and other local groups with Gilman, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford is expected to come in and look at the possibilities for such partnerships.
Also, Karasick said that his office has been working on the Seymour Street redevelopment plan, and he said that there are agreements that will become before the council soon. Some of the details are to be vetted before the Finance Committee, and the council may be seeing some of this at the January 24 meeting. “That project is moving along,” he said.
He added that he has been working on a few ordinances, among them a pricing ordinance requiring certain business to display prices for services, for consideration later on. The township attorney said he has been working on them and promised to contact council members individually in regard to the ordinances they’re interested in, but he also encouraged them to reach out to him if they had any questions.