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Pilot Projects Presentation, Train Station Update, Homeless Discussed

1/9/17 Caucus

(L to R) Councilmen Joel Pabon, Fernando Irizarry, Council President Bill Petrick, Councilmen Fernando Gonzalez and Jelmin Caba.

PERTH AMBOY – Jeffery J. Milaniak, a Principle Partner from Bridgeport, came up first to give an update on E-port Logistics Center construction. He began by giving his credentials , “I have over 30 years experience in commercial real estate development. Some of the projects I was involved with was as a President/Partner of Heller Industrial Parks. Our labor force in the Edison (Warehouses) came primarily from Perth Amboy. Construction Jobs are Union and we encourage Perth Amboy workers. We can’t speak to how many jobs will actually be Union jobs.”

Councilman Fernando Irizarry looked at the paperwork handed out and said, “There was a discrepancy of the terms for this particular pilot project. Is it 25 or 30 years?”

Michael J. Caccavelli said, “The contract was  supposed to be for 30 years.”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez wasn’t completely sold on the idea stating, “This project has been discussed for at least eight years, but this is the first time a Pilot has been mentioned. Should we give a Pilot to our citizens? We welcome you (E-Port) for bringing tax dollars to us, but we have been left in a mess before. We need more research before voting.”

Business Administrator Adam Cruz said, “We don’t want to violate the Sunshine Law. This is why we wanted to present this project tonight.”

Gonzalez came back and said, “I just want the Council to be kept in the loop on all discussions.”

Milaniak continued to explain that Virdian Partners buys contaminated sites. “They buy, clean-up, then sell these properties. We partnered up with Viridian to clean up this site and then we on our did the final cleanup on the site. We want to bring businesses in with competitive values to compete with other towns. We are not here to ask you to vote on this now. We will put our money where our mouth is. You’ll be impressed what you’ll see right now.”

Ted Lamicella, SCGREA, CTA came up to speak. “To spur economic development, Viridian was determined to buy this contaminated property. This is the first large development that has come to fruition.”

E-Port Logistics Center Representatives Michael J. Caccavelli (R) and Jeffery J. Milaniak (L) give an update on the E-Port project. *Photo by Carolyn Maxwell

Councilman Fernando Irizarry had concerns, “In the past companies that came in under Pilot Programs would declare bankruptcy to avoid paying taxes or sometimes change their names.”

Milaniak reassured the Council by letting them know, “We have offices in three states and we undergo a lot of scrutiny. We collect just the rent from the tenants and the rest of the money goes to the City.”

DeCotiis Attorney Francis Regan came forward to let the City know that he is the one who drew up the contract and he would make the correction to show that the terms should be 25 years.

Council President Bill Petrick asked Milaniak and Caccavelli, “Can you get the square  footage that you charged for other buildings in other towns?”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez wanted to know, “What kind of traffic changes will occur with the completion of this project? This community needs to know.”

Milaniak replied, “You are located to very easy access to all major highways (Rtes. 1& 9, 287, Turnpike, Parkway)”

Councilman Jelmin Caba wanted to know, “Is inflation calculated into the cost?”

Milaniak replied, “We built in a 25% increase.”

After the E-Port Presentation, Doug Dzema, Executive Director of the Housing Authority came up to speak about the Pilot (Payment in lieu of taxes)/RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) Program. “We’re asking for two Pilots for money to go into fixing up existing properties (Stack, Hansen, Dunlap, Otlowski Gardens). In May 2015 applications for RAD were approved. We want to self develop.”

Dzema introduced the Housing Authority Consultant Bill Snyder. Snyder said, “This is for operating only and we only get what Congress allows which is 89 cents on the dollar. There’s a $30 billion shortfall to fix public housing. The RAD attracts private investors to fix up public housing. The rent will go up, but not the tenant’s rent. This will convert the units to projects based assistance. When a tenant moves out of a unit, the rent will remain the same. The quality of life will improve for the residents. The low income housing tax credit programs will be at 4%.”

This prompted Councilman Fernando Irizarry to question, “Who will be responsible for Housing Authority debt?”

Snyder replied, “It’s not on the City’s budget.”

Doug Dzema came back up to speak. “There’s a 20 year stretch of work to be done.” He talked about specifics of what each building required. “Some properties needed new fencing. Units will be updated with air filtration systems and such improvements as exterior lighting and remodeling of kitchens and bathrooms, etc.,  as needed. Any savings that will come with these improvements will go back into the Housing budget. All individual units will be able to control their own heat and air conditioning. Anytime a tenant moves out, we must put in another applicant that is on the Perth Amboy Housing Authority’s waiting list.”

Councilman Joel Pabon thanked the Housing Authority for their work. “We (the City)  really make out on your projects. You always do good jobs on your units. We have received $18 million.”

Tax Credit Consultant Sue Lenz came forward to speak, “With the Family Housing Projects, there is $22 million involved. There are six different sources for funding for both Pilot projects. One project has a $2.3 million mortgage. The other project has a $300,000 mortgage. All improvements must be done in 24 months.”

Housing Authority Chair Dot Daniel told the Council, “We (the Housing Authority) have to adhere to the standards of the Federal Government.”

During the Public Portion and Council Comments, the following issues were discussed:

Residents came up to speak about the Pilot Projects and other concerns dealing with the quality of life in Perth Amboy.

Resident Stanley Sierakowski said, “I am in favor of E-Port getting tax abatements. The County will lose about $12 million, but they can afford it. The school system will be losing $28 million over 25 years. This tax abatement makes sense in this situation. You’re (the City) getting 95% but where’s the rest of the money going? Take the money and run. It’s only good for warehouses only. How much is the City getting from the abatement from the Housing Authority? What is the present tax abatement? When Ben Carson becomes the head of the Department of Housing, he will freeze all programs. Wait and see what he does.”

Doug Dzema came up to answer that concern. “All the properties that we talked about are under the Pilot Program.”

Resident Ken Balut came up next. “They give you (the Council) a presentation at the last minute. There was a homeless study. What about the Rutgers study about illegal housing? I told you to look at the receipts for the BID book that was published. Get the PARA contracts that deal with Kushner and the Landings. There’s a lawsuit against Kushner and they may win that lawsuit. Get copies of the two mortgages (Landings) from PARA. The law firm messed up the last contract. The firm we have is disgusting. I’m asking Councilman Caba and Irizarry what they knew about two big contributors to your campaign. Did they get City Contracts? You need to tell the public where your money is coming from.”

Communication No. 7 – Mayor Wilda Diaz advising that NJ Transit has committed the necessary funding totaling nearly $47 million to renovate and improve the Perth Amboy Train Station.

Councilman Fernando Irizarry was glad this project is finally moving on. “Other towns had their stations done, but what about the homeless population? This is a recurring problem at the train station where the homeless hang out.”

Business Administrator Adam Cruz said, “The Police Chaplains are expanding and so are social services. Some people have mental problems and prefer the streets.We address each individual’s needs. We know other towns are not doing their part. It would be inhumane for us not to do anything. We reach out to other towns to help them set up Code Blue Systems.”

Acting Police Chief Roman McKeon came up to speak about the homeless problem. “It’s a catch-22. There is a point of survey that all cities in  the County have to take. It’s important that we get a hold on the homeless because this survey is coming up very quickly. Only two cities said they have a homeless problem. Other towns put their homeless on a train or bus and send them to us. Other towns don’t care and turn a blind eye. We try to get the homeless help with counseling and housing. I talk to the Freeholders but they’ve done nothing. The towns close by do nothing. Some homeless are victims of domestic violence. It’s easy to ignore, but we care and we need help. It’s not a crime to be homeless. When we need to take someone homeless to the hospital, they can only hold them for 24 hours. Our offices care. We have to all pitch in together. It’s a bunch of bologna when these towns say they don’t have a homeless problem. Woodbridge says they don’t have homeless. If there are at least 10 homeless people living in a town, you have a homeless problem. I am willing to go to any town to advocate.” McKeon put the homeless population in Perth Amboy at around 200. He continued “Just because I’m the Police Chief doesn’t make me better than the homeless.”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez said, “There is a problem when you are looking for more personnel to spend our money. We had a $3 million surplus. People complain that the audio on Channel 34 is terrible. Is it being done on purpose?”

At that point cameraman George Bonilla suggested that they call the Board of Education about that problem.

Gonzalez continued, “We need money to be spent on the audio on Channel 34. That has to be a priority.”

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