ATLANTIC CITY, NJ- More than 16,000 elected officials, public employees, service providers and others involved in municipal government descended on Atlantic City for the annual League of Municipalities Conference last week.
The conference, now in its 102nd year, was held under the banner of “Realizing Tomorrow’s Potential!” and included over 100 educational seminars and over 700 exhibitors.
TAPinto Paterson caught up with two members of the Paterson City Council, as well Mayor Jane Williams-Warren, to speak with them about the conference and some of the issues they were focused on learning more about while in Atlantic City to bring home to Paterson.
“For eight months I have the responsibility of moving Paterson forward, to set the tone for the next mayor” stated Warren-Williams. The ‘League’, as the conference is often referred to, offers “excellent educational opportunities,” and , according to Warren-Williams, gave her a chance to formally join the Urban Mayor’s Association which also provides a “wealth of information.”
Williams-Warren also expressed her appreciation and enthusiasm for the decision announced by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) on November 14 to provide funding support for Yoland Corporation to move their headquarters from Brooklyn to Paterson, creating 50 jobs.
Catching Councilman Luis Velez as he left a panel discussion about the Sustainable NJ Program, he offered his belief that through expanded community engagement they could reduce solid waste and reduce dumping. “Educating the community on how to dispose of waste is important,” Velez said.
Velez also sees this as an area where Paterson can increase revenue and decrease expenses. By seeking additional sources of funding for solar projects the city can reduce reliance on gas, while at the same time increasing recycling rates. All together, Velez said, this would mean a “cleaner and stronger Paterson.”
For his part, Councilman Andre Sayegh sees the conference as an opportunity to “receive input from experts” and to bring best practices from other municipalities back to Paterson. Referring to the success of economic development activity in the Sixth Ward, and sharing his desire to “make the Sixth Ward’s success every ward’s success,” Sayegh said that the ‘League’ provides opportunities for discussions that wouldn’t occur otherwise.
It’s at past conferences, Sayegh said, where he first learned of updated tax assessment software, and a model abandoned properties ordinance, the implementation of both he helped spearhead locally.
Both Velez and Sayegh also offered views on continued efforts to reduce the number of vacant and abandoned properties throughout Paterson, with Velez suggesting that they must “give the fire department the tools and authority to identify and eliminate structures that pose a risk to safety.”
An in-house demolition team, Velez believes, would not only help make blocks that are plagued by abandoned structures safer, they’d also perform work that would make neighborhoods “more attractive to investors.” This would bring in new residents, and make communities “vibrant.”
Sayegh would later add that by ridding blocks of what he called “eyesores and crime magnets,” continuing to reduce the number of vacant properties, already down from over 1100 to less than 800 in just a few years, Paterson can expand its ratable base and increase the value of owner-occupied and maintained homes.
Additionally, it’s not just elected officials who benefit from and acquire knowledge at the conference Sayegh pointed out. Indeed Paterson’s Director of Economic Development Ruben Gomez and Fire Chief Michael Postorino were among other key local leaders that were in attendance at the various seminars.
As city officials continue to work to revise the budget that was introduced earlier this month, one that Velez said he is “not comfortable approving as presented,” the lessons learned and tools acquired at the League of Municipalities conference become even more critical in the coming months in efforts to identify an additional two million dollars in cuts without “hurting core services such as police and fire.”