The city’s two special improvement districts introduced steady budgets to the city council on Tuesday night after reducing their spending by thousands of dollars last year following a massive tax hikes on commercial properties resulting from the citywide property revaluation.
The Downtown Special Improvement District submitted a $304,000 budget for 2017. Majority of the district’s budget covers personnel and marketing expenses, according to the budget document. Downtown district budgeted $150,200 for personnel and $77,100 for marketing and special events.
Executive director of the Downtown Special Improvement District Sheri Ferreira said the district kept its budget “flat” as a result of the big tax hikes commercial property owners experienced late last year.
Last year, the downtown district cut its budget by $76,000. This year, the reduced budget was maintained. Similarly, the Bunker Hill Special Improvement District reduced its budget by $9,500 last year. This year, the Bunker Hill district further reduced its budget by $9,000.
John Fressie , a member of the Bunker Hill district’s board of directors, submitted a $171,500 budget for 2017. This district’s three biggest budgeted items were $68,000 for maintenance, $52,500 for security, and $24,000 for the mayor’s wife.
“We had another successful year. We’ve been able to reduce our budget for a second year in a row,” said Freese. He claimed the Bunker Hill district which is run by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ wife Sonia Torres is bringing in $4 million in rateable citing expansion of Accurate Box, Kontos Food, and the redevelopment of the old Paterson Shade building.
Torres’ wife receives $24,000 from the district for her role as executive administrator. Her husband was in charge of the district before her. She was hired through the couple’s Urban Solutions LLC in 2014 when Torres gave up the position after becoming mayor.
The two expansions are occurring through New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 which was ratified by the council and has a tax abatement clause that allows businesses to forgo paying taxes for 5-10 years on property improvements.
Freese’s two reductions amount to less than $20,000. Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, hurled the same criticism against the downtown district as last year, stating the district is not doing enough for business owners.
“This area is not producing the same type of result,” said Jackson speaking about the downtown district while citing Freese’s claims about the success of the Bunker Hill district. “The area is no cleaner than any other part of the city.” He said taxpayers, some of whose taxes tripled last year, have been complaining to him about the added assessment for the district.
Jackson wanted information about the downtown district’s employees and their job requirements. Council president William McKoy pointed out to Jackson the district is an independent entity with its own board.
The downtown district organizes several events throughout the year including an annual Fourth of July festival. It also handles sidewalk snow removal in the winter for downtown businesses, provides additional security during holiday shopping season, and has been successful in lobbying for loading zones.
Jackson last year tried to block the downtown district’s budget, but found little support among his colleagues. Some have said Jackson’s criticism of the downtown district stems from his enmity towards Jamie Dykes, business administrator for the district.
Dykes assisted Jackson in obtaining a $140,000 loan from the Paterson Restoration Corporation in 2009 for the Jacksonville Restaurant. Jackson later defaulted on the loan and filed for bankruptcy protection.
Jackson blamed Dykes and others for the default when the Paterson Times broke the news about his default two years ago while he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for an at-large council seat.
The two men have not been in the best of terms since then, according to insiders.
Jackson suggested a meeting with Ferreira. A meeting will be scheduled to discuss Jackson’s concerns, said Ferreira. The Downtown Special Improvement District is located inside the 1st Ward which is represented by Jackson.
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Correction (12/8/2016): A previous version of this report erroneously stated $24,000 was budgeted for the mayor's office when in fact it was for a position at the Bunker Hill held by the mayor's wife.