Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration bungled the implementation of a program to charge developers for reviewing their development plans.
Members of the City Council approved the program more than 18 months ago. The council this month approved a measure stating the administration “failed to fully implement” the program and halted the collection of deposits from developers until January 31, 2021.
Council president Flavio Rivera identified the failure after asking for a report on the status of the program.
“I wanted to see how this whole initiative was working out for us — for the residents of Paterson,” said Rivera at the December 15 council meeting. “I found out that the money was just collected, but the city did not charge any of those expenses associated with those development, which is unacceptable. Another instance, where we have failed as a city to implement an initiative.”
Rivera said the city had to give developers periodic reports showing where their escrow deposits were spent. The city could charge time staff planners, zoning officials, and other experts spent on reviewing the development plans. No such reports have been sent to developers, he said.
$183,000 has been collected through the program, said Rivera. “We should be reimbursing the taxpayers for those expenses incurred by the developments,” he said.
Sayegh’s failure means taxpayers have had to pay for those plan reviews that should have been covered by developers’ escrow deposits.
“On this issue, I will admit and agree with you that we have not lived up to our responsibilities. We have not,” said business administrator Kathleen Long to the council. “We’re going to work on this.”
Long said the city will seek assistance from the state. She suggested even rolling out the program from scratch.
Rivera urged the administration to review the developments that have been approved and identify the expenses that were incurred.
“For every penny that they have collected, they have to analyze all those projects and charge it to the escrow deposits,” said Rivera.
Council members Luis Velez and Maritza Davila said the administration is unlikely to correct the failure in little over a month.
Velez said the administration had 16 months to implement it, but couldn’t do it properly.
Sayegh’s rivals on the council were emboldened by his latest failure.
“I can sit here and gloat,” added councilman Michael Jackson.
Jackson suggested failure has been the hallmark of the Sayegh administration.
“I challenge you to find the successes that we’ve had with this administration,” said Jackson, a perennial critic of the mayor, to Rivera.
Sayegh, a self-proclaimed cheerleader, has struggled to execute as mayor for the past more than two years. His sewer reform was botched and remains unfixed. His switch to the state health insurance plan is mired in litigation for failing to adequately consult with the labor unions. His initial Covid-19 response has been described as a disaster — from questionable public health advice to lack of a municipal testing program. His forceful changes in the police force — including ouster of a well-liked chief — has led to demoralization of employees resulting in skyrocketing shootings and murders.
Jackson blamed the mayor’s hiring choices and practices. Municipal official could not produce basic qualification documents for many of Sayegh’s hires. He said Sayegh has hired people based on relationship with little or no consideration for experience and qualifications.
“We are now feeling the ripple effect of these gross failures,” said Jackson.
“This very disturbing to me because the escrows protect us,” added councilman Alex Mendez.
Prominent developer Charles Florio said it still takes half of a year to get a project approved. He had hoped paying the deposits would speed up the application review process. Sayegh’s former business administrator Vaughn McKoy had said collecting deposits from developers would speed things up. At the time, McKoy said the revenues would go towards improving quality of service developers receive from the Economic Development Department.
Rivera said he just wants the failure rectified so taxpayers are not picking up the tab for developers.
Council members unanimously approved a measure giving the administration little over a month to fix the program.
“It needs to be implemented. That’s the bottom line. We have lost out on a lot for the taxpayers,” said Rivera.
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