UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county will be borrowing up to $120 million for the planning, design and building of a new county government complex in Elizabeth.

Officials have said the new complex at 61-99 West Grand St. will save money on rent the county pays for existing office space, but legal representation fees are growing for the county’s defense in a lawsuit that challenges the legality of the county's bidding process for the project.

The Board of County Commissioners approved two measures authorizing the bond for the construction at last Thursday’s board meeting.

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The board had already authorized the county to provide $16.75 million for the complex project at the April 8 meeting. Those funds are coming from the county’s capital improvement fund and capital surplus.

Commissioner Chairman Alexander Mirabella said on Thursday that the new building is desperately needed and that “a number of leases are coming to conclusion to offset the cost.” The complex is planned to be built on the site of the county’s motor vehicle services division.

According to county Finance Director Bibi Taylor, if the full $120 million is not needed to complete the project, the balance will be canceled.

As the county is in negotiations to select a developer for the project, Dobco Inc., a Wayne-based construction company that bid on the project, continues to claim in a lawsuit that Union County and the Union County Improvement Authority are in violation of state bidding laws.

On April 22, Superior Court Judge Thomas Walsh denied Union County’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, court records show. In court papers, attorneys for both the county and the Union County Improvement Authority — which are named in the lawsuit — had argued that Dobco’s claims are “fatally flawed” because the project is governed by New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. 

Dobco’s attorneys, however, argued that the county’s solicitation of bids violates both the state’s redevelopment and its public contracts laws. “The Authority is violating these statutes by paying a private entity to construct the public improvement,” attorneys for Dobco stated in court papers opposing the county’s motion.

Bruce Paterson of Garwood, who frequently comments on county spending, noted the doubling of a prior appropriation to a law firm from $50,000 to $100,000 for “representation in regards to litigation associated with Redevelopment Projects (Union County Government Complex) on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting. 

“There has been litigation by a failed bidder on this project, and we do need to defend that case, and that’s basically what these moneys are for,” said Union County Counsel Bruce Bergen. 

Bergen said the county has been “successful to date” in the defense, but “the failed bidder has taken the matter up to the Appellate Division, so there is some further litigation ahead of us before we can win this case.”

Greg Trif, the attorney representing Dobco, told TAPinto in an email that he asked the trial court in Union County to reconsider its prior ruling after the Appellate Division stopped the process of awarding bids in Dobco’s similar case against the Bergen County Improvement Authority.

In that case, he said, “the Appellate Division entered two orders staying the public agency “from making any award pursuant to the anticipated requests for proposals in the second phase of the [Bergen] redevelopment project.”