After a lengthy discussion on an agreement to lease a large portion of the Paterson Health Department building’s second floor to a nonprofit group, council members narrowly gave preliminary approval on Thursday night.
Under the agreement, the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, a group with a mission to provide resources to mothers and infants, will lease 3,906 square feet of space at 176 Broadway for $24,000 per year which translates to $6 per square foot.
Donna Nelson-Ivy, health and human services director, said the city had to make use of the space which has been vacant for almost 15 years. “We are trying to do something better for Paterson and generate revenue,” she said.
Nelson-Ivy said the city will pay for all utilities at the space and handle renovation work like painting before the organization moves in.
“Who negotiated the terms?” asked Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman.
“I did,” replied Nelson-Ivy.
Some council members thought the lease agreement too generous.
“I don’t believe $24,000 is a point of revenue generation,” said Jackson.
“We’re not getting a dime now,” said Nelson-Ivy.
Jackson asked how much the organization is presently paying for its space at Ottilio Terrace on the border of Paterson and Totowa.
Ilise Zimmerman, executive director for the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, said the nonprofit pays $6 a square foot at its existing city location.
“She must be extremely lucky that’s well below market rate,” remarked Jackson.
Zimmerman said the space was provided by the Ottilio family, but the owner of the building there has filed for bankruptcy and as a result the group has to move out of the space by the end of this month.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said the rate is clearly below market. He noted the reduced rate concession to the organization is worth it because by remaining in the city it will provide services that will benefit residents.
Zimmerman seeing councilman Luis Velez’s move to table to agreement said without a lease the organization which was founded by her in Paterson will have to relocate outside of the Silk City.
“If we don’t receive approval in this month, we will be forced to move to another location. We’re not required to stay in Paterson,” said Zimmerman. “It’s quite easy for me to move into a neighboring town.” She said majority of the people served by the organization’s Paterson office are city residents.
The union that represents Paterson Health Department employees has opposed leasing the space to the outside organization. The union argued the space can be better utilized by housing the city’s Environmental Health Office which is presently scattered inside the building.
The union also argued the program will create parking problems at the department’s already packed parking lot. The former lab space being leased out is the only part of the building that’s temperature controlled, according to union officials. The building suffers from overheating and excessive cooling which often results in employees leaving work and reduces productivity, argued the union.
The union sent a letter to council members making its arguments against leasing the space. Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said their arguments are legitimate and should be taken seriously.
Nelson-Ivy appeared to take the employees objection personally. She levied an attack against health officer Paul Persaud, who has said leasing the space out is not fair to employees.
“It wasn’t until after I cleaned it up that people at the division of health, particularly the health officer, is asking, ‘Why don’t you consider letting me have that space to do this.’ No. We need to do programming,’” said Nelson-Ivy. “He didn’t help me with the mental health, I’m not expecting him to help me with this.”
Persaud, who lives in the city, said he watches City Council meetings on television, but he missed the director’s remark. “With much respect to the office of the director, I can only support programs and activities that meet certain requirements. I also prefer not to defame, accuse, or attack my subordinates and my superiors, especially in a public forum,” he said.
The council raised questions about Nelson-Ivy’s mental health clinic questioning the credentials of the company she wanted to run the program. Nelson-Ivy, a remnant of the much-loathed former mayor Jeffery Jones’ administration, was accused of being “hostile” and “disrespectful” to Persaud in a lawsuit the city settled in 2014.
Morris said the heating and cooling problem in the building requires capital improvements. “You can now take this money and make capital improvements,” said Morris referring to the $24,000 the lease will bring in every year.
Zimmerman said the group is working with the Paterson Parking Authority to secure parking for 31 of its employees. It’s not clear whether residents will be visiting the office for services. She said the organization conducts home visitations to provide services on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle for pregnant women and how to take care of their children.
The organization works to prevent infant deaths, child demise, and infant mortality, said Zimmerman.
Council members gave initial approval in a 4-3 vote. Sayegh, Velez, and Khalique voted against while Ruby Cotton, Maritza Davila, Jackson, and Morris voted in favor. Alex Mendez and William McKoy were not present during the vote.
“$6 per square foot does not cut it for me. I’m not ready to sell Paterson short,” said Khalique in voting against the agreement. The council will take a final vote on the ordinance on March 28th, 2017.