The city council approved mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration’s request to borrow $3 million to resurface side streets and demolish unsafe buildings.
Council members gave final approval to borrow $1.98 million through the Urban and Rural Centers Unsafe Buildings Demolition Bond Act which allows decaying urban cities and rural towns to secure zero interest loans to knock down unsafe buildings.
The council also gave approval to borrow $604,761 to pay for the emergency repair of West Railway Avenue and another $438,108 to match a state grant to resurface six side streets.
Matching state grant
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, asked administration officials why the city could not simply use the grant money it received from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to resurface the side streets rather than borrowing additional funds.
Frederick Margron, city engineer, told Cotton the city is at risk of losing the $579,986 grant. He said this is due to the delay it will cause to secure approvals and go out to bid again. The Torres administration is matching the state grant to create a $1 million fund to repair the side streets.
When he ran for a third term, Torres told the public he would use the city’s road maintenance budget to pay down debt service on the $35 million he borrowed to repair all of the city’s primary roads. When he was asked what would happen to non-primary roads, his answer was to match the annual state grant to double the funds to resurface as many side streets as possible.
West Railway Avenue
Torres said the city repaired West Railway Avenue when it realized emergency vehicles experienced difficulties getting to the scene of the Goshen Street explosion late last year. He said the money being borrowed to pay for the repairs will be paid through tipping fees collected from Gaeta Recycling.
The city appropriated $635,000 towards resurfacing West Railway Avenue.
The mayor is taking advantage of the state bond program to demolish hazardous buildings that dot many neighborhoods. He has his sight set on a large mill building on the corner of Madison and 3rd Avenues. He hopes to demolish the structure and pave the way for economic development in that area.
Cotton said the demolition of the mill building will likely exceed $1 million leaving little money for other demolitions.
“This is all we can afford to borrow,” said council president William McKoy. He sees the location as the future site of commercial development like those on McLean Boulevard. He said the partially collapsed building has held back economic development in the neighborhood for the past two decades.
The loan requires no payments for 21 months, said city officials. And there is no interest on this loan.
At-large councilman Kenneth Morris opposed all three borrowing measures. He said these borrowings will further erode the city’s debt capacity.
1st Ward councilman Michael Jackson opposed two of the measures. He supported the largest borrowing measure for the demolition program. He said money being borrowed to match the state grant is being done in “haste.”
5th Ward councilman Luis Velez voted against borrowing to repair West Railway Avenue.
Cotton at first voted against borrowing for the demolition loan, but voted in favor of it at the insistence of the council president.