PLAINFIELD, NJ — The City Council's Agenda Fixing Session on Monday lasted much longer than previous sessions as the newly reorganized council members raised questions and offered comments on several items.
Two resolutions related to the renewal of the Cisco Certification Training, now in its second year, raised numerous concerns from both the council and the public. A total of $61,250 was being requested for a training consultant, and an agreement with Union County College (UCC) to administer the training. Councilman Sean McKenna questioned the use of $137,000 of taxpayer funds to date which had yielded very little results; only one confirmed student has completed the certification.
IT Technical Assistant Aliqua Jones explained changes being made to address the low program completion rate, with more emphasis being placed on screening the applicants as well as decreasing the number of students. Additional program changes are also being implemented, and it is anticipated that the program would begin in March.
West reminded the council that the original Cisco program was a part of the multi-pronged initiative that included additional digital literacy training with involvement from the Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield High School and the City. The initiative was considered to be “leading-edge” for Plainfield, West stated. Since then the high school has implemented its own computer training program for students.
Councilman Elton Armady agreed that the numbers needed to improve, with greater program oversight to produce results. Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome suggested that additional data be obtained from Jazz Clayton-Hunt, Director of Communications & Technology, to address McKenna’s questions.
Councilors Ashley Davis and McKenna voted “no” but both resolutions were moved to the agenda with the remaining members voting in the affirmative. Queen City Coffee Roasters Owner Maher Janajri complimented the city on investing in its residents, but suggested that a better investment would be in providing programming, website and APP development training.
Bond 1270 for the funding of the North Avenue pedestrian mall, already on the agenda and scheduled for public hearing on February 10, again drew comment from McKenna, who restated that it was a significant amount of money to spend given the lack of a plan to address parking issues as well as data showing the high failure rate for pedestrian malls. “We are putting the cart before the horse,” he stated.
During public comment, resident Mary Burgwinkle mentioned that she had visited the area during the middle of the day, saying she found very few pedestrians but several parked vehicles. “Where are these cars going to go, with Lot 6 being considered for redevelopment? I would think seriously about the pedestrian mall,” she stated.
Resolution R, the agreement designating North Avenue Urban Renewal, LLC, as the redeveloper for property at 926-1018 North Avenue, sparked a discussion on how developer-contributed funds were determined, and were spent.
Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson explained that negotiations were mostly based on the size of a project, with the largest at $250,000 for the current Muhlenberg project. Other projects like Quin Sleepy Hollow on South Avenue resulted in the funding of computers for the schools and planned streetscape improvements to Plainwood Square Park.
West indicated that a trust account is currently being used, and Jackson mentioned creating “a redevelopment fund” to be used to benefit the community, saying she would like to include funding for police and fire projects.
"Keeping track of the funds and holding developers to the agreements is important," McKenna noted.
A related ordinance (MC 2020-06) to enter into a PILOT agreement with the developer, Jackson reviewed the tax benefits of the agreement and how the tool is used to incentivize developers as well as to obtain higher revenues for the city. Councilman Charles McCrae commented that neighboring municipalities, such as Fanwood, are also embracing PILOTS.
Ordinance MC 2020-08, a request to exceed the municipal budget appropriations limit, and to establish a bank cap, was introduced by West, who explained that it would not raise taxes but would raise the appropriations limit from 2% to 3.5%, in line with the state statue. “It’s a planning tool,” West noted, and said it would allow for flexibility if needed in the future.
The City Council will meet next on Monday, February 10 in Municipal Court Council Chambers at 325 Watchung Ave at 7 pm. The public is welcome to speak at council meetings.
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