Summer Concerts May Fall to Cuts
Among items named in his executive order last week cutting the state budget, $78 million in "undesignated balances" in the UEZ fund will be "brought into the budget and lapsed."
While the governing body cut the Recreation Division's request from $55,000 to $40,000, Christie's action may reduce it to zero.
The council had quibbled over the need for the program, which includes four days of noon and evening concerts, because some members felt Recreation Supervisor Dave Wynn and Economic Director Jacques Howard did not make a strong enough case that it benefited downtown businesses. Between the Feb. 1 agenda-fixing session and the regular meeting on Feb. 8, the council did receive a letter of support from the Special Improvement District organization, but Councilmen Adrian Mapp and Rashid Burney still voted "no." Councilman Cory Storch said he voted "yes" very reluctantly, noting the council made the same comments about Music in the Plaza last year.
"I don't think the message was received," Storch said.
Council members Linda Carter, William Reid, Bridget Rivers and President Annie McWilliams also voted "yes."
The SID group had recommended a slightly lower amount, about $38,500. Last year, organizers sought $6,000 and the council denied the request. The organizers went on to get donations totaling $26,000 from downtown businesses to put on the event.
UEZ funds come from sales tax collected by certified retailers, who are allowed to charge just half the state sales tax as an incentive to consumers. The funds are retained by the state for uses within the zone and each request must be approved by the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority. A projected timetable called for UEZA approvals by May.
Meanwhile, according to published reports, Christie has vetoed recent UEZ requests, including one for streetsweeping in Hillside.
Putting the $78 million into the state budget to help close a gap echoes a past instance in which former Gov. Christie Whitman used UEZ funds for state budget relief, with a promise to restore them over time.
In past years, the city's UEZ fund was swelled by sales at Macy's, the former retail anchor of the downtown district. The Plainfield store was closed in a court-ordered bankruptcy settlement. More recently, Appliance-Arama generated a large portion of UEZ sales tax. On Feb.8, McWilliams asked for an accounting of the city's current UEZ funds. With Christie's move, it may only serve to see how much the city will be contributing to the state's $2.2 billion budget shortfall.