City Council 4/15/2009 – Preview
Council Meeting of April 15th, 2009
You gotta love the irony of holding a Hoboken City Council meeting on tax day. The outrage over the massive tax increase caused by years of under funded city budgets is still the top issue this election year. For a lot of people in Hoboken, their municipal tax bill pales in comparison to the massive chunk of change the feds and the state take in income taxes, but that’s a post for another day.
See what’s ahead at this week’s council meeting after the break…
Agenda, Resolutions and what’s on tap – after the jump!
(City Council meeting preview 4/15/2009, continued…)
Agenda and Resolution packs
Western Edge Redevelopment
Once again, the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan ordinance is on the agenda for a Second Reading, Public Hearing and Final vote, and just like last meeting there will be no vote. Until and unless the council passes a resolution to refer the severely flawed ordinance to the Planning Board for it’s required review, there won’t be further action on the issue. Opponents of the plan for buildings as tall as 16 stories on the Western Edge say the introduced ordinance should be thrown out and no new action should be taken until a new Mayor takes office.
Parking Meters around City Hall
Public Safety Director Bill Bergin has no answers about the unresolved questions surrounding the SWAT scandal and allegations of bias against Hispanic officers (and a Captain) in the police force, so what is he focusing on instead?
A plan to put new parking meters on the blocks around City Hall. Bergin’s plan is to remove the current special permit zone for city employees, and replace it with short term meters that could be used by people coming to pay they parking tickets. Though it passed on First Reading, opposition is likely because city employees are predictably not happy about the plan.
145 foot tall building in the Northwest Zone
The third ordinance on the agenda would change the Northwest Redevelopment Plan to allow for a 145 foot tall building, or over 14 stories. The change would involve the Water Music site on a corner lot near the Shop Rite. A few years ago the owners of the low-rise recording studios proposed a 10-story building that would include new condos, a new recording studio, and the “giveback” of a public amphitheater that was designed to be four stories above grade. With few people living in the area at the time – and a well-orchestrated lobbying campaign to win approval – the City Council bumped up the zoning for the project from 6 stories to 10.
Now, with the Real Estate market tanking and the ability to build the project as proposed in question, the owner is asking to jack the building up to 145 feet. Since the original approval, more condos have been built on the block and opposition may be forming. Many eyes will be on Fifth Ward councilman Peter Cunningham, who will have to make a call on whether 145 feet is too tall. If he does support it, how will he make the case against similar buildings on the Western Edge?
Nothing exciting in the Resolutions
Most of the resolutions are routine and uneventful, from inserting special revenue items into the budget to canceling tax balances of less than $10 to clean up the books for the new collector of revenue. A resolution offered by Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer would “Require tax abatement applications to contain a comparative analysis.” Looking to capitalize on the debate over PILOTs ahead of the election next month, Zimmer’s resolution would recommend what should have been done automatically.
Critics will say it’s a late inning attempt to get something into campaign literature, while supporters will hail it as the “most important legislation on local taxation since sliced bread.” It’s probably somewhere in between, and will likely pass the council unanimously. The resolution requires applications for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes contracts to contain an analysis of the effect on non-abated taxpayers. Seems obvious, and Community Development Director Fred Bado will probably say it’s already being done.
How PILOTs work
Before the city budget finally blew up last year, the typical municipal tax bill was roughly cut up into thirds.
For example, if you paid $9999 a year, roughly:
- $3333 would go to the City,
- $3333 to the School District, and
- $3333 to Hudson County.
For this example, let’s say a PILOT from 10 years ago on a market rate condo project pays $4000 to the city, but nothing to the School District and County. The developer gets a break on the taxes for building in a redevelopment zone, the city gets more tax revenue than it normally would, but the rest of the city may take up the slack for an additional school tax burden.
Fast forward to more recent PILOT agreements in the Northwest Redevelopment Zone and calculations for the PILOT have been upped to 90% of normal municipal taxes for the City. That means a condo that would normally pay $3333 to the city is now paying $8999 in PILOTs, relieving the tax burden on the city side by paying nearly three times as much as other similar properties.
Why have PILOTS at all?
Every new high-rise you see in Jersey City has a PILOT agreement that makes the County tax burden on Hoboken greater. These huge buildings use county services, but pay no county taxes. Since Hoboken has some of the most valuable property in the county, our tax burden goes up while the Jersey City political bosses take our taxes to serve their county and city patronage operations. Critics of the system say Hoboken must use PILOTs as a means to “fight back,” while others say PILOTs have been structured so poorly as a matter of course in Hoboken that they should be avoided at all costs. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and the Zimmer resolution may help the council understand if they really are balancing the good with the bad.
In a carefully worded press release from her campaign staff, Zimmer said:
“The Council and the public need to know the true costs of going forward with a PILOT agreement before it is approved, not after we are left footing the bill. Proponents of the use of PILOTs have maintained that they save the city’s taxpayers money. Opponents like myself believe that PILOTs in fact result in a significant cost to taxpayers, and that they have been a major contributor to our long term fiscal crisis.”
“It is important that if we choose to enter into new agreements, we do so with our eyes wide open. If a PILOT is granted that results in a cost to the City’s taxpayers, we need to know up front what that cost is, and what we are getting in return. No PILOT that costs the taxpayers money should ever be granted unless it is clear that the City of Hoboken is receiving at least equal value in return.”– Zimmer press release
The council meeting begins at 7pm Wednesday night at City Hall. Watch for a heavy dose of pre-election grandstanding.