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.