Monday, October 17, 2011

A Tour of Harrison

Harrison is in debt $39 million more after the construction of the $200 million Red Bulls stadium.  The stadium still refuses to pay property taxes.  What do Harrison taxpayers have to show for this?  So far only more traffic resulting from the absence of an exit from Rt. 280 to accommodate spectators.  During events Harrison taxpayers get to pay for personnel to direct the traffic to a garage that is operated by the Hudson County Improvement authority.  Furthermore, Harrison taxpayers pay 365 days a year, whereas the stadium’s administration pays for emergency services only during event days, and the Harrison taxpayers foot the bill to provide personnel for cleaning up refuse on the street after events at the stadium.

This was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Harrison redevelopment plan, and instead it sinks our town even further into debt and decreases the overall quality of life of residents.   To have a $200 million stadium built would have one think that a priority would be to contribute back to the community, instead of donating portions of ticket sales from one recent event to a charity for South African poverty.

10 acres of land acquired by the Harrison Redevelopment Commission was secured by eminent domain and purchased for a fraction of market value by a corporate developer.  Building these condos contributes what back to the community?  Not as much as one would think.  The land was originally planned for mixed use development: commercial and residential.  However, during 12:00 noon town hall meetings, inconvenient for the public to attend, the planning was changed to primarily residential zoning.  This reduces the potential for creating jobs and increases the demand for emergency services, of which Harrison is planning to reduce by laying off police and fire fighters to close the town’s budget deficit.  The developer gains larger profits from constructing more residential units at the cost of town taxpayers.  This is another example of corporate America exploiting municipal resources at the expense of residents.

Hartz Mountain is the next site to be developed in the Harrison Redevelopment Project.  This area is highly contaminated with asbestos amongst other pollutants and chemicals leftover from the years it functioned as an industrial factory.  Who is going to pay for the remediation of this site before development can take place, the Harrison taxpayers or the developer?

If we look at the track record of the Harrison Redevelopment Commission the taxpaying residents of Harrison have much to fear.  To date some the work that has been performed on the site is worrisome:  No bid contracts; unethical practices performed by appointed and elected officials.  Are these the same people that should be responsible for cleaning up an industrial site of this magnitude?

It starts here and ends here.  We have to elect officials that work in the best interest of residents and not the interests of developers looking to make a substantial profit off of town property.  Our elected officials are elected by the people for the people, and by reducing emergency services and increasing home insurance rates they are bringing our towns property values down.  If this is their vision for Harrison’s future it’s more like a nightmare.  We will be electing people to hold public office in 2011, and I say that in 2012 we should be recalling elected officials that aren’t doing the job we elected them to do.  Harrison can be the start of a recall action to show any other town in Hudson County that it is possible to have elected officials that work in the best interest of our future and our children’s future.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Letter to the Editor 10/14/2011

The following letter was sent to the Jersey Journal on 10/14/2011:

According to an 9/30 MSNBC report Harrison is the most broke municipality in NJ. How does our superintendent of a designated Abbott district receive $340,000 a year from the town serving only 4000 students? Perhaps it's because he is also a town councilman (and appointed Hudson County Improvement Authority member, chairman of Harrison's Democratic Party, limited partner in a local real estate company), and along with three other school administrator/councilmen appoint the board of education commissioners. How does the Red Bulls stadium refuse to pay property taxes after already landing the town $39 million in debt from construction? How can the town use eminent domain to secure property only allow a developer to secure the same property at a fraction of it's value? Does it make sense that during noontime town meetings officials are changing redevelopment property planning from mixed use to residential, bringing in less revenue and employment while requiring more emergency services (of which the town is proposing to lay off)? If Governor Christie really plans to fix a broken NJ he should start by investigating the ethical misconduct and possible corruption taking place among Hudson county municipal officials. Fines from ethical violations can provide Christie's investigators with an incentive of earning 2% of fines and pensions upon conviction of a violation and returning the 98% to the municipal budget. This could pay for all of the emergency services we need.

Dan Kelly
Harrison Councilman 1996-2006

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A plan for fiscal justice in Harrison

Harrison taxpayers, do you know where your taxes are going? Do you know what you're getting back? Why are we in so much debt that the Harrison Mayor and Council needed to borrow $3.1 million this December to pay off this debt? What is to be shown for getting into this much debt? Combined with the $3.1 million borrowed in 2006 the town has borrowed $6.2 million with no accountability. 

The Red Bulls stadium was built and still refuses to pay property taxes to the town. I have a solution: The governor should send in a team of hand picked professionals to operate on an incentive basis to investigate and evaluate corruption on the municipal and county levels. Any and all business transpired by our hired professionals, those in office and hired to have our fiscal best interest looked after, found to be unethical by NJ standards should be fined. The governor's team should collect 2% as a fee for their services and the remaining 98% should be returned to the municipal and county budgets. A starting point could be the councilmen who are approving budgets for their own paychecks, and the ones responsible for negotiating their contracts.

A call for West Hudson regionalization

Both the Governor and the Senate President Sweeney are pushing for the state to regionalize services. Why haven't we done this yet in Hudson County, where we could benefit the most from such reorganization? According to a 1976 study (yes, the plans go back this far), no apparatus would be more than three quarters of a mile away from the next under a regionalized plan. The county would coordinate existing fire houses and police stations around the county with one centralized point of origin for training and equipment as per New Jersey State Fire Insurance regulations. This point of origin would be an emergency service center fully manned and equipped with training personnel. Only then will Hudson County residents see what they're getting for a third of their taxes each year that go to the Hudson County administration. That's real accountability.

With the way that we're losing man power now we're not going to have anyone to use the preexisting equipment, and the answer isn't to sell it off. The answer is to regionalize the county's emergency support services. County residents pay a third of their taxes to the county and get little in return. Ask a Harrison resident what the county provides for them with the tax revenue they collect each year. Not only do we need to get spending under control but we need to know where every dollar is being spent.

Who's watching the purse strings?

James Doran, the Superintendent of the Harrison school system received a bonus of $100K, bringing his salary to a whopping $350K+ because Harrison students are passing their state mandated tests. The Harrison school district is classified as an Abbott school district, requiring the state to send in millions of dollars a year to remedy the ailing schools. Doran, also a Councilman, voted for a budget of $9 million for the schools to come out of the pocket of taxpaying Harrison residents. Another Councilman, Francisco Nascimento, also voted for this increase while he holds the job of Principal for Washington Middle School in Harrison. The Harrison Board of Education is appointed by the council, where both of these officials hold office. Is this not a conflict of interest? I'd like to know who negotiates and approves these contracts that we're paying for. I want to get to the one person responsible. Is it Senator Menendez? Is it the Mayor, or the Governor? While taxpayers are losing homes and losing police and firemen protection how can we accept this? It is only fair for the authorities to answer for the transgressions being committed against the town.

Big Spending Hurts Harrison

Published in the Jersey Journal, Aug 15th 2011

After being told to get their spending under control in 2006, it's plain to see that the mayor and the council cannot be trusted to provide the residents with services that are essential to their well-being.
They have reduced our police and fire personnel, eliminated our in-house EMT services, and put everyone's lives in jeopardy. This, at a time when every tax dollar must be spent carefully, the town, without conscience, pays the superintendent of schools an enormous salary of $275,000, which doesn't include a $100,000 bonus because the students passed a state-mandated test.
Why are we rewarding a superintendent of schools after the state designated Harrison as an Abbott District. By definition, Abbott Districts are school districts in New Jersey that are provided remedies to ensure that their students receive public education in accordance with New Jersey's state Constitution. They were created in 1985 as a result of the first ruling of Abbott vs. Burke, a case filed by the Education Law Center.
The ruling asserted that public primary and secondary education in poor communities throughout the state was unconstitutionally substandard. There are currently 31 Abbott districts in New Jersey. Then why on earth are we paying the superintendent $275,000 with an assistant superintendent at $195,000, not to mention a quite large support staff?
It's important to note that Harrison is a one-square-mile town with four schools and an attendance of approximately 3,900 students. Governor Christie was critical of Parsippany's superintendent of schools by stating the man was the face of greed with a salary of $245,000. Parsippany has 14 schools and a student population of over 7,000.
Need I make a comparison?
Who would negotiate a contract with a salary this high for a 260-day work year, with nine weeks paid vacation and sick time.
COUNCILMAN 1996-2006