At Wednesday night’s meeting, members of the Jersey City City Council approved a feasibility study of a possible income tax to fund the Jersey City School Board. He also greenlighted a residential development project on Route 440, agreed to pay another big bill for Covid-19 expenses and scheduled a public hearing for April 27 regarding the sale of edibles containing cannabis to young people through smokehouses and confectioneries.
After debate, the council voted 7-1, with ward councilor D Yousef Saleh the only dissenter and council chairwoman Joyce Watterman absent, to ask the state Treasury Department “to conduct a feasibility study for determine the revenue potential of a local income tax”. Jersey City residents to fund the Jersey City Board of Education.
This study, the resolution continues, “should provide revenue projections taxing various income brackets at rates not exceeding 1% to help close the funding gap.”
The new taxes are hoped to help fill a $184 million shortfall projected for the 2022-23 school year.
“I don’t see the locals putting up with this,” Saleh said.
A better approach, Saleh said, would be “to pressure the state to give us back the money it cut from aid to local schools.” According to Saleh, the federal government has stipulated that under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, it will not allow funding cuts to local school districts. Nonetheless, the city’s share of local school aid has been reduced, he said.
The Board of Ed should also tap into any revenue the city collects from the local payroll tax to help close the tax gap, Saleh said.
And, Saleh said, more attention should be paid to “internal controls” over district and city spending. “We need more accountability from both sides.”
Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano reiterated his frustration with the state, which he said had passed three legislative initiatives since 1976 to provide more money to local schools, but had little or no evidence to show. that these initiatives had succeeded. “People are tired of it,” he said.
Still, Boggiano ended up voting “yes” for the study.
Ward Councilor A Denise Ridley was also skeptical of the merits of the proposal. “I don’t believe in double-taxing people,” she said, “but since this is just a study, I’m voting ‘yes’.”
Ward Councilor E James Solomon and General Councilor Daniel Rivera were more optimistic about the venture. “It’s important to be proactive,” Solomon said. “I salute the study.”
Rivera called the measure “an excellent (beginning) to start research.”
After much back and forth, council passed changes to the mixed-use Water Street redevelopment plan that will allow builders, Robert and James Caulfield (formerly of Fields Development Co.) to transfer two plots on the side east of Rt. 440 – for a possible widening of the freeway – in exchange for the right to build across the street.
The project will offer more than 600 new apartments at market price, nearly 30,000 square feet of commercial space and a garage with nearly 400 spaces.
Residents Chris Gadsden and Jeanne Daly said the development team was getting an unfair pass by not being required to include ‘affordable’ apartments – as mandated by the city’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO). , but city attorney Peter Baker said the project won city approvals in November 2021, predating the IZO and exempting it from regulation.
Gadsden warned that the developer has a questionable track record under the Katerra name, which he said failed to meet its payroll tax obligations and later filed for bankruptcy. The developer’s attorney, James McCann, said Katerra had no connection with the Water Street project.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said while she would also like to see more affordable housing on the West Side, like University Place and other projects that have accompanied smaller developments in the area, the development will benefit the neighborhood as the Caulfields have pledged to undertake “storm flood mitigation” in the area, add 40 public parking spaces and install street lighting.
“After 440 farms closed,” Prinz-Arey said, “we had to close the street. We couldn’t watch it due to crime in the area.
The transfer of ownership will also benefit the city, the councilwoman said, because on the road, when the 440 is widened, the city likely would have had to shell out “millions” to acquire the rights-of-way along that side of the freeway.
On the public health front, after receiving further information on spending on Covid-19 test kits and staffing of pop-up testing sites from late last year, the council has voted 5-2-1, with Solomon and Gilmore dissenting and Saleh abstaining, to pay Bespoke Health LLC, of New York, $1 million under an “emergency contract”.
Gilmore took issue with the financial breakdown provided by the city. “They charge $65,000 for a day of testing?…That’s crazy,” he said. Paying this bill, “makes us look bad…”.