A proposal before the city’s governing body seeks to place on ballot this November a measure that would tack on an additional property tax to create a dedicated fund for recreation. The measure though will have to be approved by voters before it can move forward.
If the referendum is successful, the city will be able to create a trust fund dedicated to recreation, by raising $3 million annually with an additional five to six centers per $100 tax levy.
Domenick Stampone, the city’s law director, said state statute allows the city to create a separate fund which will only be used for the maintenance and acquisition of recreation facilities and programs.
Stampone compared it to the county open space trust fund. He said five municipalities in New Jersey have such trust funds for recreation among them Princeton in Mercer County. City officials said the fund will not be used for any other purposes, but for recreation.
That money can never be used for anything else, added Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, on Thursday morning. He said it also protects recreation from the city’s budget instability. “So it’s not subject to the whims of the budget and city finances,” said Morris.
This can be used to build a recreation center, said business administrator Nellie Pou. She said the city’s recreation commission, which was created late last year, will determine how those funds are expended.
“I heard talks about it,” said assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who serves as the city’s coordinator of recreation, on Thursday morning. He said he has had talks with the mayor, but was not aware that the measure was before the council last night.
“Anything that says tax increase is a tough one,” said the assemblyman. In fact, some council members have suggested alternatives to raising taxes to facilitate recreation.
James Staton, 1st Ward councilman, said there are school facilities and libraries that can be used for recreation.
Staton opposed any new taxes.
“Let us use what we have,” said Staton. “I don’t believe in overtaxing the people.”
There should be a shared services agreement that opens up the schools after 3 p.m., said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, concurring with Staton. He too did not appear in support of taxing to fund recreation.
“Majority of Patersonians do not use the services of recreation,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman. “A lot of people who will pay for this levy will not be using it.”
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres proposed the referendum. He said with $3 million from the trust fund and $2 million from the city’s budget will bring recreation up to $5 million.
Torres said he would like to see a recreation center near Buckley Park on Chamberlain and Redwood Avenues.
Pou said some will argue that recreation is a key piece to reduce youth violence. In fact, last month, Wimberly and several community leaders called for more recreation funding to get young people off the street.
Many young people, they argued, have no place to go to engage in sports or other activities, which makes they pray to the streets.
Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, worried voters will be tricked into voting for a tax hike.
“On the ballot the structure it in a really nice way. Sometimes people don’t even know what they’re voting for,” said Akhtaruzzaman. He said voters will vote in favor of recreation not realizing this will increase their taxes.
“If you go outside and say I want to raise $100 through tax increase. If the message is heard, you will get hundreds of emails in a minute,” said Akhtaruzzaman.