MILLBURN, NJ — Tuesday evening, the Millburn Township Committee passed an ordinance and a resolution in a pair of split votes that will re-establish a Special Improvement District (SID) in Millburn and fill appointments on a board of trustees for a District Management Corporation (DMC) that will help to oversee the SID.
However, ordinance 2561-20, which re-establishes the SID and its companion resolution 20-163 had previously been opposed by a number of local business owners, who said the financial burden of what they see as an added tax will be unfeasible for any new or existing business in town, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic slashing sales and pulling away customers.
Attendees present at and calling into the meeting on Tuesday included those opposed to the ordinance, as well as members of the business community who supported the measure, such as Stephen Winer, the co-owner of Splurge Bakery. Winer was also one of the business owners set to be appointed to the new SID DMC board of trustees. He spoke in favor of the measure.
"We support the creation of the BID/SID," Winer said. "We think it's a great idea, and as I was sitting, listening to all the comments, it's like 'why now?' [...] 'why not now?' It seems to us like this is th time when you have to lean in and support businesses that are struggling, including our own, given COVID, given the economic situation. And so we feel like we need to do something, and doing nothing is not a viable option. We're very optimistic about how we can improve things."
Winer also noted that in his opinion, with no tax due for 16 months, an assessment of the BID/SID's effectiveness should occur, and he felt that that was the plan the township was going with in his opinion.
Following the public hearing and comments from committee members, a vote on a measure to table the ordinance and then a vote on the second reading and adoption were taken. On the tabling measure, introduced by Dianne Eglow, the final count was a 2-3 rejection to table the ordinance. Eglow and Cheryl Burstein voted to table, with Mayor Jackie Lieberberg, Deputy Mayor Tara Prupis and committeeman Richard Wasserman.
For the vote on passage, the members flipped in a 3-2 vote, with Eglow and Burstein voting no, and Mayor Lieberberg, Deputy Mayor Prupis and committeeman Wasserman voting yes.
After the meeting, committeewoman Eglow expressed her dissatisfaction with the final vote, as well as her suggestion for an alternative plan to the one that passed on second reading.
"I have discussed an idea with Alex McDonald for several years, something I still endorse and encourage over the SID at this time," Eglow said. "Hire an actual town hall employee that would have the duties of this Executive Director. Full examination of the towns zoning and ordinances. Compare to other towns and report back to him, and our town planner and PB and BOA what needs are not met and what needs updating.
"This person would be the liaison for all prospective businesses and sit on the Technical Review Committee (TRC) which we started last year. This person would attend the PB and BOA meetings. All the functions of this Executive Director. Still paid for by the town, but most importantly, not be tied to a SID tax to be paid for by our commercial property owners."
Eglow also noted that she had not personally heard from one commercial property merchant in favor of the ordinance which will reinstate the SID tax. She also expressed trepidation with a salary of anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 dollars going to the BID director, which would be approximately half of the organization's budget.
The group of committee members in support of the ordinance included Mayor Lieberberg, who expressed her support for the new BID after the meeting, and said that she felt the new board of trustees would be successful, bringing others around in due time.
"This BID/SID represents all businesses and all stakeholders," Lieberberg said. "The idea is a rising tide lifts all ships, and this is an equal opportunity initiative to engage everyone and make Millburn/Short Hills better. It's not selective, it's not going to have any of the previous biases. The people that have raised their hands to participate in this board of trustees are very passionate about the success [of the SID].
"Their minds are open, and they come from a diverse group of skill sets, which I think is very important. We've got lawyers, we've got small businesspeople, we've got social media, we've got marketing, we have a wide depth and breadth. And it just so happens that five of the six are also residents, so they are stakeholders on multiple levels."
For Nancy Stone, one of the local business owners who had opposed the re-establishment of a SID, the outcome was disappointing, but not unexpected.
"Clearly they had their minds made up prior to the meeting," said Stone, a Millburn resident and co-owner of two businesses in town, Nancy and David Fine Jewelers/Style by Nancy and David. "We held court for the last 48 hours, but really since April, when we got wind of the fact that it was going to be reinstated. They absolutely did not do their due diligence in the business community."
Following the passage of ordinance 2561-20, the committee also passed resolution 20-163 in a 3-2 split vote. Once again, committeewomen Burstein and Eglow voted no on the slate of trustees, while Mayor Lieberberg, Deputy Mayor Prupis and committeeman Wasserman voted yes.
The resolution names the following businesses owners, residents and local government officials as members of the DMC board:
- Mayor Jackie Lieberberg
- Nadege Nicoll, Owner Trustee
- Andrew Morgan, Owner Trustee
- Stephen Winer, Owner Trustee
- Jumana Culligan, Owner Trustee
- Tracy Levine, Resident Trustee
- Michael Parlavecchio, Resident Trustee
- Alex McDonald, Business Administrator (nonvoting ex officio member)
- Richard Wasserman, (nonvoting ex officio member)
To watch the public hearing of the SID ordinance on the Millburn Township YouTube click here.