Monday, July 10, 2006

SID Expansion Up Again

The third time might still not be the charm for the proposed expansion of the city’s Special Improvement District.

The matter may be up again for a public hearing July 19 at Muncipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The current SID includes the city’s downtown district south to Seventh Street, as well as the South Avenue business district. Industrial and commercial property owners are assessed a surtax of about 3 percent to fund improvements and attractions to invite shoppers and visitors. The proposed expansion is mainly north from the central business district to the city’s border at the Green Brook.

In May, a legal notice was published, adding 84 new properties. But as Plaintalker discovered, a number of residential apartment buildings were listed erroneously. SID officials said the properties in question were not on the list submitted to City Hall for publication prior to the required public hearing.

June’s list had 50 new properties. At the regular meeting on June 21, the expected public hearing did not take place. It seems there were more revisions to be made.

On July 8, a legal notice with 44 new properties ran in the Courier News. However, this time the additions were not indicated in bold type, as they had been in May and June.

City officials could not say Monday what effect the lapse might have on the public hearing scheduled for July 19. The SID’s manager, David Biagini of FirsTEAManagement could not be reached by phone and city liaison Jacques Howard was on vacation.

A SID copy of the June list was in order by block numbers and had the bold underlining for the new properties, but both the June and July legal notice lists skipped around out of sequence. Each publication cost $704.

The SID board gave a heartfelt presentation to the City Council in June, stressing that the organization has brought about greater communication and unity of purpose among its more than 400 original members. Biagini and board members detailed first-year improvements such as graffiti removal and extra trash pickups. The group sponsored holiday horse-and-wagon rides and sale days with strolling clowns.

The SID also donated $8,000 to the Independence Day Committee for travel expenses of a Washington, D.C. band for the annual parade.

Half the SID budget comes from the special assessment and it is matched with Urban Enterprise Zone funds. The amount for fiscal year 2004-05 was $227,200.

Until the new properties are duly added and a public hearing takes place, the surtax cannot be calculated on the expanded SID.

Besides the bureaucratic issues, the SID encountered some criticism in June from City Council President Ray Blanco, who called the SID presentation a “dog and pony show.”

He said he found out that Biagini lives in Mississippi and questioned his ability to manage the SID. Blanco called for a full-time manager based in Plainfield.

“Your consultant in Mississippi is unacceptable,” Blanco told the SID board.

But Councilmen Elliott Simmons, Cory Storch and Don Davis applauded the SID members for their commitment.

Board member Jeffery Dunn told the council, “I have never seen the business community come together like they have now,” adding, “I see synergy.”

Dunn said his message to city officials is, “Give us encouragement.”

--Bernice Paglia


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