Friday, July 24, 2009

A Resounding "No!" to Tax Abatement on Monarch Condominium Project

The issue of tax abatement, in the past few days, has been raging like a wild fire out of control, and Plainfield’s elected officials have been challenged to put it out. I’ll take this opportunity to state my position on the concept of five-year tax abatements, in general, and the tax abatement pertaining to the 63 condos in particular.

During the council agenda fixing session of July 17th and the regular meeting of July 20th, I explained at great length my opposition to the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) application for 1272 Park Avenue, as well as my issues with the abatement application for the 63 condos on East Front Street.

In the case of 1272 Park Avenue, it is my position that the owner has enjoyed the benefit of a PILOT incentive for the past 37 years; therefore, it is now time for Plainfield to benefit from a full tax assessment on that property. The owner(s) of 1272 Park Avenue should not be allowed to profit on the backs of our fixed-income seniors and other struggling tax payers; in addition, refinancing through the NJHFA should not be used as a vehicle to guarantee lucrative profits in perpetuity.

The PILOT on 1272 Park Avenue should end and the City should collect full taxes based on the property’s assessed value. Mine was the only "NO" vote on this agenda item at the July 20th meeting.

As for the East Front Street condominium project, I told my colleagues and the public in attendance on Monday that I felt the project was a horrible one from the very beginning. It was given life by a council that was too weak to do the right thing, too concerned about self-preservation, and too eager and willing to abandon Mayor Al McWilliams in the wake of his 2005 election primary loss.

As a result, instead of moving ahead with an investment in a new senior center with commercial space that would be a guaranteed revenue stream for the City, as Al and his team had begun with a bonding process, council members at the time fell for the misguided notion that the seniors would get a center for "free" from a developer. Thus, it traded a senior center and debt service that would have been covered by a commercial revenue stream for what is now known as "The Monarch at Plainfield," with its 63 condos and all of the issues (or additional burdens) this project will bring, including additional costs for city services and education, which would be greatly exacerbated if the developer were to be allowed to have this abatement at the Plainfield taxpayers' expense.

Plainfield was let down by the previous council, which gave away prime parcels of real estate for $1 and allowed the Monarch to happen. Knowing the work that went into tearing down the properties that once stood there, and the time, costs, and effort that went into assembling the parcels of land, I felt an incredible feeling of betrayal for our seniors and for the City. It was for all of these reasons that I expressed some very strong sentiments at the last two council meetings regarding the request for abatement by the developer.

Now, I must make a confession: in spite of my very vocal opposition to this proposal, which is on the record, I fell for this past week's bait and switch hysteria that the condos could become rentals without the abatement. This was a mistake--a momentary lack in judgment that prevented me from seeing the request for what it really is--an attempt to preserve the profit margin of the developer at the expense of Plainfield’s tax payers. My hesitating "YES" vote should have been a resounding "NO!"

However, my first vote not withstanding, I knew at the time that I would have a second opportunity to make it right. Now that the public has weighed in on this firestorm, I am convinced that what I communicated to another blogger (and to numerous other residents who have contacted me over the past few days) is the right thing for me to do. That is, I will be casting a resounding "NO" vote on the second reading of the ordinance.

I know that I may face some tough critics, and I accept your criticism with humility--my feeling, though, is that a blunder corrected quickly is better than a mistake preserved with all its negative impact on Plainfield's tax base and taxpayers for years to come. Mea culpa! I said when I was elected onto the council last year that I wanted you to hold me accountable. I said I would listen to you, and I thank you for your thoughtful and passionate feedback on this issue. It is my hope that my council colleagues, too, will see this ordinance for what it is and vote "NO" as well.

P.S. In my next post, I will provide you with the true tax abatement numbers and the 5-year impact on Plainfield, meaning on you and me.

Regards, Adrian

Monday, July 6, 2009

Politics and Transparency: Roselle's Hidden "Shared Services" Plan

Dear Friends,

Over the past few days, I have received many emails and telephone calls about the news accounts regarding the current political upheaval in the borough of Roselle, where I serve as CFO. One of the issues at hand has to do with the legality of certain actions taken without the foreknowledge of Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith, and the full council in regards to entering into a "shared services" agreement with Roselle Park.

Several Roselle residents have also begun asking questions about why Roselle and Roselle Park have not conducted a feasibility study and public hearing IN ADVANCE of voting on such an agreement, both of which are standard operating procedures and are part of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' "Best Practices" steps to be taken by municipalities that are considering Interlocal Services Agreements with neighboring towns.

Grants are available from the state to conduct feasibility studies; for example, as reported in the June 17, 2009 Star-Ledger, "Towns looking to save money by combining services," Scotch Plains and Fanwood have begun a feasibility study, funded by the Department of Community Affairs grant in the amount of $46,000, and each municipality will hold PUBLIC HEARINGS to gather input from the community BEFORE taking action.


Many of you are aware of how the heavy hand of politics has negatively impacted the City of Plainfield. To those of you who value honesty, ethics, and integrity, I thank you for your continued support, and I will keep you apprised of developments as they occur. Reprinted below is a letter sent to the Roselle community by Roselle Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage.

The public is invited to the next Roselle Council workshop meeting on Wednesday July 8, 2009 at 7:00 PM at Roselle Borough Hall, 210 Chestnut Street, to discuss this plan. Roselle residents are especially encouraged to listen to the reasons given for these steps.

July 2, 2009

Dear Roselle Resident,

In April, a plan to control and manipulate your tax dollars was hatched under a veil of secrecy.

Councilman Jamel Holley held unauthorized meetings with county officials, former Roselle employee and current CFO of Roselle Park Ken Blum, and Special Counsel Attorney Alan Roth. Christine Dansereau –Chair of the Shared Services Committee, had full knowledge of this plan.

The plan was simple: find a way to terminate current Roselle Chief Financial Officer Adrian Mapp and gain COMPLETE control of the finances and tax dollars in the Boro of Roselle.

The plan showed up in Roselle June 30, 2009 in the form of a 7-page proposed Shared Services agreement that and was voted on the next day in a special meeting on July 1, 2009 at Roselle Boro Hall.

The outline of the agreement is as follows:

· Terminate our current CFO Adrian Mapp and his entire finance staff, which consists of four full time employees that are Roselle residents including one employee that has their QPA (Qualified Purchasing Agent) Certification, a position that the Boro is currently hiring for.

· Move our entire Boro finance operations to Roselle Park under the direct management of the Roselle Park CFO Ken Blum and his Finance Department.

· Roselle Park shall supply part time staff to Roselle and hold office hours At Roselle Borough Hall on a daily basis. Office hours shall be determined by Roselle Park.

· The Boro of Roselle shall pay all costs for the technology needed to integrate Roselle Financial Services with Roselle Park financial services.

· Upon 3 days notice, Roselle Park’s CFO or Designee shall attend Roselle Council workshop sessions and voting meetings upon the request of Roselle Council President Jamel Holley.

This is not Shared Services. This is a HOSTILE TAKEOVER of our Borough finances.

There will be no oversight, no system of checks and balances and no accountability.

This creates a HUGE potential for FRAUD and ABUSE.

But they don’t care about that, and for that matter, they don’t care about you. All they care about is power. The Union County Democratic Organization wants to control your tax dollars from out of town and to bleed this town dry as it has done for decades.

Councilman Holley and the other architects of this scheme tried to present it to you as an intelligent plan to share services, but if this was a legitimate plan for Shared Services then:

1. WHY wasn’t Mayor Smith involved in the process at all, even though his signature is required to execute the plan?

2. WHY were only four members of the Roselle Boro Council involved in the planning and process? What are they hiding? Who are they protecting?

3. WHO are they really working for? Is it you, the taxpayers of Roselle? Or is it an outside entity such as the Union County Democratic Organization waiting in the wings to gorge itself on your tax dollars?

4. WHY was a layoff plan created and readied for submission to the State on July 2nd without the knowledge of the Human Resource Committee? Who created the plan?

5. WHY did the Mayor and entire Council of Roselle Park know about this clandestine plan since April and has admittedly had Meetings with Jamel Holley without the knowledge of the Mayor, Council or you, the Taxpayer??

Adrian Mapp, Roselle’s current CFO long has been [a] target [of] harassment, political intimidation [and] character assassination by certain Council members because he has refused to take part in actions that are illegal and damaging to the Boro’s finances.

Since Mr. Mapp’s job is protected under the State Statute, Boro Code and under a contract agreement, the only way they can get rid of him and gain control of the Boro’s finances is through a Shared Services Agreement. This is the ultimate underhanded move. It is a clear attempt to circumvent a law that is in place to protect you and your tax dollars. But they think you’re too stupid to realize that.

Roselle has a municipal budget of 36 Million Dollars, which requires a full time dedicated staff to manage. Roselle Park has a municipal budget of 13 million and a finance staff consisting of two people. If we are going to pursue a shared services agreement, why doesn’t Roselle perform the CFO duties for Roselle Park instead of the other way around? Why does this proposal call for the tail to wag the dog?

Please join us at our next Council workshop meeting on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 7PM Roselle Boro Hall, 210 Chestnut Street to discuss this PLAN and WHO is really benefiting from it.

Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Safe Homes Initiative - For the Safety of ALL Plainfield Residents

In light of the recent scandal that has come to light regarding Connolly Properties, I wanted to remind everyone of an ordinance which might have prevented some of the suffering that has been documented in the recent Courier-News coverage.

When I served as City Council President during my last year on the Plainfield City Council back in 2004, one of the last ordinances that came before us in my final term was Mayor Al McWilliams’s Safe Homes Initiative, formally known as MC 2004-32, REGISTRATION AND INSPECTION OF RESIDENTIAL RENTAL PROPERTIES, Chapter 6, Article 7 of the City’s Building Code (Rev. 7/05).

The purpose of the initiative was clearly stated:

“ ensure that residential rental units as that term is defined in this Article are identified, properly registered with the pertinent unit and building information, inspected, maintained and repaired, with legal occupancy and without overcrowding, in accordance with applicable State and local building, property and health codes, and in conformance with New Jersey statutes and law so as to protect the property as well as the health, safety and welfare of City residents. To this end, the Article shall be liberally construed to assure the provision of decent and safe units of dwelling spaces.”

The section on “Inspections,” Sec. 6:7-8, deals with the steps the City was required to take to ensure habitability and safety. These steps included ANNUAL inspection of all rental units, IN ADDITION to any other inspections required under State law or City ordinances.

The ordinance also called for severe penalties for violation of the law. Sec. 6:7-17 of the ordinance outlines the penalties for violations:

a) Any person who violates the registration requirements of this Article shall be subject to a fine of nor more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) for each offense, recoverable by summary proceeding as set forth in N.J.S.A. 46:8-35.

b) Any person who violates any other provision of this Article shall, upon conviction in the Municipal Court of the City of Plainfield or such other court having a jurisdiction, be liable to a fine not to exceed Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ninety (90) days, or by a period of community service not exceeding ninety (90) days or a combination thereof each day that a violation occurs shall be deemed a separate and distinct violation subject to the penalty provisions of this Article.

c) Any person who is convicted of violating this Article within one (1) year of the date of a previous violation of the same Article and who was fined for the previous violations, shall be sentenced by a Court to an additional fine as a repeat offender. The additional fine imposed by the Court upon a person for a repeated offense shall not be less than the maximum or exceed the maximum fine fixed for a violation of the Article, but shall be calculated separately from the fine imposed for the violation of the Article.

This ordinance was repealed by the 2006 city council at the request of the Robinson-Briggs administration.

It remains my belief that this comprehensive ordinance should be reinstated. Other municipalities have very strong municipal codes to protect their residents, and there is no reason why Plainfield should be any different.

It is the moral and ethical responsibility of all of Plainfield’s elected officials to protect our residents, homeowners AND renters by making sure that we have laws on the books that will provide for their safety and security while they reside in Plainfield.

The Safe Homes Initiative is posted on my website ( Click on the Plainfield Municipal Code link on the left navigation bar to read the ordinance in its entirety.

Regards, Adrian