Mayor Andre Sayegh has said he is confident the city will collect the $93,000 in rent owed by now-defunct Libby’s hotdog joint.
Libby’s had been renting the McBride Avenue building near the Great Falls from the city government for decades, but it failed to pay rent for 2018, 2019, and 2020, according to municipal records.
“Our legal department is in the process of doing that,” said Sayegh when asked what he is doing to collect the funds the business owes to taxpayers. “We have an attorney assigned to make sure we collect the money.”
Libby’s closed two weeks after a Paterson Times story highlighted it had failed to pay rent for years.
Its lease had ended on July 31.
No one in the Sayegh administration has explained why the city failed to collect rent for years or if anyone is facing any consequences for the failure.
“We reported these occurrences (arrearages in rent) to the corporation counsel and BA several times, with no obvious resolve. We in Finance cannot take the legal actions needed ourselves. When the City doesn’t collect rents, the law department is advised and takes the actions they see fit in the circumstances. As for me and my staff, we are always accountable and don’t shirk our responsibilities,” said finance director Marge Cherone.
Cherone took exception to the July 15 story about Libby’s rent that mentioned her salary and stated her function is to manage municipal finances.
Cherone said she and her staff made the former law director and business administrator and the current law director and business administrator aware of the rent situation involving Libby’s.
“That was never brought to my attention,” said former law director Khalifah Shabazz when asked why she didn’t take legal actions against the tenant. She said she is not going to be the scapegoat in the matter.
Former business administrator Vaughn McKoy, who still works for the city as a contractor, did not respond to a call for comment for this story.
Shabazz’s predecessor, law director Dominick Stampone, referred all questions to the current business administrator.
Cherone said the matter was brought up during a budget meeting with the former business administrator and law director. Her account was corroborated by comptroller Javier Silva, who was at that meeting.
Silva couldn’t recall the exact date of the meeting.
“No. I wasn’t made aware until councilman Rivera actually said something in a finance committee meeting,” said current law director Farrah Irving.
Councilman Flavio Rivera, who has a background in finance, noticed the Libby’s rent line item in the budget was zero earlier in the year. He later brought up the issue at a City Council meeting.
Current business administrator Kathleen Long did not respond to an email seeking her input for this story.
Rivera brought up the issue publicly to the administration months ago.
“We couldn’t do anything because, obviously, the court has moratorium on evictions pursuant to the governor’s executive order,” said Irving. Indeed, governor Phil Murphy has halted all evictions in New Jersey because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Libby’s has vacated the property on McBride Avenue. Economic development director Michael Powell has said the city will likely issue a request for proposal to put the property into productive use again.
Powell did not say whether the city will simply rent out the old building or hand over the site to a developer to construct a new building.
The former Libby’s site is steps away from the Great Falls National Park, making it prime real estate in Paterson.
Email: [email protected]