SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- The Board of Trustees adopted a $33.8 million budget, moved ahead with an effort to find a buyer for Village Hall and agreed to study sites along Irvington Avenue for redevelopment at its meeting Monday night.
The 2014 municipal budget will mean a municipal tax increase of $59.57 for a home assessed at the village average of $459,766.09. The tax rate increased 1.34 percent.
“This budget maintains all levels of services and all staffing levels,” Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. said. “It’s something we can be proud of.”
Village President Alex Torpey praised the diligence of village staff and the board. “No stone goes unturned” in looking for ways to save taxpayers money, he said, and the result is a “very responsible” budget.
Several residents spoke in support of the village’s funding for the South Orange Performing Arts Center of $300,000, in addition to allowing SOPAC to keep $200,000 in revenue from its tenant, Bow Tie Cinemas.
SOPAC board member Dan Arrighi said, “SOPAC is an asset, and I urge the board to support the appropriation for this year.” He noted that SOPAC is developing a strategic plan to increase funding from other sources. (See related stotry here.)
Residents also spoke about their fears that if Village Hall were sold, it would mean the loss of an iconic building and that a private developer might be able to demolish the historic landmark at some future date.
“Let’s not kid ourselves that anyone has an interest in buying Village Hall … to preserve it,” said Karen Marlowe, president of the South Orange Historical Preservation Society. “Sometimes the least expensive option is not the right option. Don’t sell Village Hall.”
Lewis and village counsel Steve Rother said the request for proposals is very specific about the restrictions on the property. Any buyer would be required to restore the exterior to the same specifications as the village’s plan for renovation. In addition, the restriction on demolition is “an easement in perpetuity,” Rother said, and therefore does not expire at some future date.
The board also agreed to post the request for proposals on the village website so the documents could be downloaded for free at the urging of Trustee Sheena Collum. “I want to get (the request for proposals) out there as much as possible,” she said.
Normally, interested parties pay $150 fee for the packet of information. In this case, the $150 fee will be collected at the time of application.
Trustees also authorized the planning board to study designated parcels along Irvington Avenue to determine if they would qualify as areas “in need of redevelopment.” In addition, a study of the village as a whole will be completed to determine if it qualifies as an area “in need to rehabilitation.” (See related story here.)
Both designations would allow the village to offer financial incentives for property improvements in the form of tax abatements. In addition, property in a redevelopment zone could be subject to condemnation to make way for a development project, although Trustee Sheena Collum and others have pointed out the village has only used that option once in its history.