LIVINGSTON, NJ – At the Aug. 19 township council meeting, the recent bond ordinance to provide an appropriation of $2.04 million for the acquisition of property in and by the township of Livingston was listed for final hearing. It may be scheduled for further public discussion as several residents complained about the council’s lack of communication on the topic.
Upon opening the hearing, Mayor Rudy Fernandez explained, “We’ll continue discussion in conference meetings--and then will repost (the bond ordinance) when we are ready to vote.”
The bond ordinance in question, No. 24-2013, would also authorize “the issuance of $1,942,800 in bonds or notes of the township for financing part of the appropriation.”
Most discussion did not surround the issue of approving the actual bond ordinance, but if the public had enough information on what the money was going to be used for. Residents who spoke up suggested that they had a vague idea that the money was going to be used to fund part of a project that would give the Department of Public Works a new facility at a new location on Industrial Parkway – but they wanted more details before talking about a Bond Ordinance.
Resident Larry Kohn told the council that he believed the public was not given enough information on the project that the bond ordinance would help fund a portion of. “I thought, when you consider a bond ordinance in particular, it was supposed to be posted and available to the public at the public hearing. It is not in that pile of material over there. So I think that is a flaw in terms of the proceedings.” He also said, “There has been a major failure to communicate with the public.”
Kohn gave a detailed list of suggestions to the council. At an informal question and answer session, Kohn felt the council should explain the planning process and what the potential cost of the entire project might be. He also wanted to know why the council wanted to fund the project on a “piecemeal basis” and to what extend the board of education was committed to moving its buses to the new location.
Kohn continued with his list, “Why you need one site for everything. Why the existing site cannot accommodate all or part of the needs of the department of public works. Why it would be disruptive to relocate on a temporary basis…I think it’s time for you to rectify the major mistake in this entire process. And that mistake is your failure to communicate with the public and to explain the entire project, how it evolved, what your plans are, and those kind of details, rather than introduce one ordinance for what maybe 10 percent--maybe more or maybe less, we don’t know--of the total cost of the project."
Fernandez said, “We (the council) have had conference meetings on this. This has not been done in secret. Everybody is well aware that we have been discussing this and what the options have been and when they were presented to us.”
Resident Bernie Searle agreed that the council has had conversations about a new DPW site, but he said that “they were done at 11 p.m. at night.”
“You have to have a plan,” Searle said, “and you have to say whether the current site can be used to partially satisfy the needs of the DPW, and if it can’t what is that land’s value?” Searle also said that he believed there were better sites than the one the council was currently looking at in town. “Terrain of that piece of property will require extensive site development. It’s being projected as 8 acres. How much is usable without putting in a significant amount of money? Instead of rushing into this, I think you should let it go. Start from square one and have a discussion with the public.”
Fernandez said, “We’ve looked at six, seven, eight pieces of property--we’ve looked at options--keeping it at the site, building new at the site--we’ve been looking at all of this and are continuing our discussions.”
Margie Rieger told the council that she also felt there had been a lack of communication and that talking about the bond ordinance at this point showed “a lack of forethought.”
Fernandez emphasized again that the council was having open discussion about the plans, “We discussed this probably the 6th of March.” He also said that the council did have preliminary estimates for reconstructing the DPW site. Fernandez said that it was estimated to cost close to $10 million to reconstruct the current DPW site and close to $11 million if a new location was chosen.
Councilman Michael Rieber said that he didn’t disagree with the need for more discussion.
“I think that this is a big project that is going to require millions of dollars when it gets done. Where it gets done--all of that stuff I think is still up for discussion,” Rieber said. “There has been no decision. I think there are many smart people in town and I wouldn’t mind sitting down and talking about this with them. I don’t think those are bad suggestions. We haven’t talked about it at the length and we should.”
Councilwoman Deborah Shapiro also agreed with the idea to create a forum for public discussion. “I think that there is a tremendous benefit to the township and also to the council to perhaps schedule something.”
Shapiro suggested that the project should also be publicized more because “it is going to be built on the backs of the tax payers.”
Township Manager Michele Meade said that she would look into setting something up with Township Engineer Richard Calbi.
Resident Mark Fusari, who told the council that he was in total favor of moving the DPW site to the location on Industrial Parkway, said that the details of the project were not on the agenda for discussion that evening.
“I don’t think that is the matter tonight,” said Fundari. “The matter is whether or not to acquire the land or not.”
“You can’t get eight acres in Livingston for that price.” Fundari suggested that the town buy the property and put it into its inventory, “There’s a huge purpose for it- (buy it) before it slips away.”
Roy Pascal, owner of the property in question on Industrial Parkway was also present for the hearing. After hearing the comments of the residents he addressed the council saying that he wanted to clarify some things that he had heard over the past week or so. “You ought to have a little piece of history,” said Pascal.
“There was another party that was interested in this property for a number of years. I heard that this has caused some friction in the council and some of the council members felt that they would be taking something away from someone else. That is simply not the case.”
Pascal explained that “the other party had ample opportunity” and that there was never any signed documentation.
Pascal also said that he began having serious talks with the town about six months ago. “I was faced with making a business decision, so I did. I told the other potential purchaser that we were going in a different direction.”
He also told the council that, “I’m on board with this (and) with you until you decide you don’t want to do it or you do want to do it--whatever it is.”