PATERSON, NJ - Whether or not the potential loss of $35 million worth of state issued tax credits constituted the need for an “emergency” meeting took up just shy of two hours of a nearly three-hour meeting of the Paterson City Council Thursday.
The meeting, initially set as a special meeting following an action by the body Tuesday, was called to advance an ordinance that would allow the city to dual guarantee $38 million worth of debt potentially issued by the Passaic County Improvement Authority (PCIA). The real risk to local taxpayers, officials and professionals have said, is less than $5 million over thirty years, or $290,000 a year.
When asked, Paterson’s lead attorney, Farrah Irving, shared that based on her interpretation of the law the meeting was deemed to be an “emergency” based on the potential financial loss and necessitated because of public notice requirements. Though largely prevented from speaking after Council President Maritza Davila deemed him to be “disrespectful,” Mike Powell, Paterson’s director of economic development, shared that the urgency of the meeting was caused by a statutorily mandated June 30, 2022 deadline to get the project completed.
While others, including Chris Paladino, CEO of DEVCO, the non-profit developer leading the project, said that an extension would most likely be needed, Powell explained that city officials had to show “progress” for this to be possible.
Davila, who at the outset of the meeting suggested the measure should be tabled based on “findings and questions” she had about the proposal, called to the fore concerns raised by emails she received as well as those brought up by Ekaterina Valiotis, the lone participant in the meeting’s public season portion.
Valiotis is the Director of Property Management for Alma Realty Group whom, in 2019, were rejected in their bid for $40 million in tax credits to build an arena and hotel atop of and adjacent to the Center City Mall by the Sayegh Administration.
One of the emails Davilla reported receiving came from an email address attributed to a Robert Norris who identified himself as a “concerned taxpayer.” This email was subsequently shared by Davilla with her colleages and reviewed by TAPinto Paterson.
While Tuesday’s meeting, during which Mayor Andre Sayegh introduced the plan, was a mostly cordial affair, the subsequent get-together proved to be more raucous. Already complicated by the COVID-19 mandate that meetings not be held in person, several times throughout council members interrupted and attempted to speak over each other.
Among the items Davila questioned was an amendment to the ordinance being considered related to whether or not an agreement was currently in place between the City and the developer. Acknowledging the error was his, Tim Cunningham, the bond counsel for the city, offered an assurance that none of the edits add exposure to the city.
Following a failed vote to table the measure, Davila and Rivera exited the meeting, before Paladino, when asked by Jackson, shared that while there will be a requirement for at least 36 percent of the workforce on the project to be minorities, and 6.9 percent to be women, both benchmarks are ones he will seek to surpass.
With a vote brought forward by 5th Ward Councilman Luis Velez, Second Ward Councilman Shahin Khalique shared his concern that the “project was not revenue generator” and “will not bring relief to Paterson,” while Jackson, joining in objection, said that he was “not convinced there is a benefit to the community.”
“The fact of the matter is the average every day Paterson resident has no inclusion in ownership, economic gain, or change for their families,” Jackson lamented.
“We are not giving you a blank check,” Velez said, casting his affirmative vote in what would be the 5-2 passage of the measure. “We are giving you Paterson’s heart so you can bring it back to life.”
The ordinance is scheduled to be heard for a second reading on June 30.
Editor's Note: This article was amended at 11:45 a.m. Saturday to more accurately reflect concerns Davilla shared regarding her intention to table the ordinance.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.