Thursday, October 18, 2007

Citizens Voice Many Concerns

Residents jammed the City Council chambers Wednesday with a myriad of causes ranging from tax overpayments, the fate of Dudley House, redevelopment issues and citizen access to information.

On tax overpayments, residents protested the complicated process required to get refunds.
Former tax collector Constance Ludden had asked the council in 2006 to approve putting $809,984 in overpayments of taxes into surplus. But by March 2007, only $29,919 came back to those who overpaid, less than 4 percent of the total sought in February 2006.
According to Plaintalker archives, the overpayments date back to 1996 and range from $5.40 to $18,292. Owners of property in the 907 accounts can claim the money if they can prove the overpayments.

Resident Dana Jefferson said he got his money back, but he said even as a person in the mortgage industry, he had to work hard to document his claim.

Real estate broker John Campbell said Monday he is owed $8,000. Campbell said Wednesday his company had “taken the liberty” of sending out reminder letters to 800 people on the list. But he said he had met with City Administrator Marc Dashield and felt he would come up with help. Still, Campbell said, like a broken record he intended to repeat his concerns again and again until satisfied.

Wilma Campbell voiced another concern her husband raised Monday, about high fees involved in selling a house. She said the city increased fees a year ago when home sales were brisk, but she said, “The boom was last year. It’s over. The bubble has burst.”

She said the city’s “red tape” is killing sales. Several other real estate brokers were in the audience in support of the Campbells’ causes.

Resident Robert Darden held up a newspaper full of foreclosure notices and said he had a stack more at home.

“People in Plainfield are losing their homes because of taxes,” he said. “People are struggling to pay mortgages.”

Darden also warned against residential redevelopment proposals for condos costing $300,000 or more, saying the plans would run minorities out of town.

One client and one former client of Dudley House asked the city to keep the substance abuse treatment program open. A large group of supporters attended the meeting. The Putnam Avenue facility serves Union and Middlesex county residents, but can’t get a state-mandated license because it does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Lacking the license, it cannot receive governmental funding. Some funding was approved Wednesday and Dashield said he is working with officials to get money for the needed improvements as well as operational funding.

Resident Maria Pellum asked when she was going to get an answer to her Open Public Records Act request regarding what happened to period street lamps that were originally included in the design of a traffic peninsula at the border of the Crescent Avenue Historic District. Dashield said there has not yet been any decision on Community Development Block Grant funds for the project, but that he might know more next week.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf said she was shocked to hear that the OPRA request went unanswered since August 10 and cautioned that there have been court cases against municipalities that did not respond to OPRA requests in a timely way.

In other matters, Councilman Rashid Burney asked residents to look for information on Halloween plans in the city. Last year’s celebration was marred by incidents of violence and vandalism. Burney said there will be police patrols and any resident who has a problem should call police. There will be a voluntary 7:30 p.m. curfew, he said.

The council will not meet again until Nov. 19, due to a hiatus for the general election.

--Bernice Paglia


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