ROSELLE, NJ - Mixed emotions were displayed at the Nov. 10 Roselle council meeting as Mayor Christine Dansereau told the public that she would veto an ordinance that would allow a tax-exempt church to occupy a spot that was once a bank.
The ordinance was originally written two years ago by Roselle Borough Council to promote ratable business in Roselle. The area is now designated for a taxable business with the hope of revitalizing the downtown area. Dansereau said she would veto the measure at the next meeting.
The issue was discussed during the public portion of the meeting by several residents. One became emotional while describing the high number of foreclosures in Roselle.
Taking a stand for the ordinance to stay as written, and pointing out the lack of tax-paying businesses in the borough and the urgent need to get more ratable business in the borough, a local minister spoke up in favor of the church being allowed into the urban enterprise zone claiming it was a “quality of life” issue for the people of Roselle.
One man in support of having another church in this area said the mayor is trying to “create another Mayberry.”
When the voting on the amendment took place, all present on the council voted yes except for Reginald Atkins who abstained. Councilmen Yves Aubourg and Samuel Bishop were not present for the vote.
All present, which included Andrea Staten, Kim Shaw, Atkins and Ron Hayman, spoke in favor of the amendment. Hayman gave a lengthy overview of the current house of worship situation in Roselle, saying, “There are at least 11 churches within walking distance to my house.”
There are an about 35 churches already present in the borough, all of which benefit from tax-free status.
The mayor said that, while she agreed with creating a “quality of life” and while Roselle has over 35 churches she has no problem of having yet another, but she asserted the area in question is the problem. The mayor contended Roselle needs the ratables "to keep property taxes down or at least stable.”
She said she's witnessed many people who have lost their homes in Roselle and the tax burden has to be fixed. “We need the space for business revenue and to revitalize our downtown area,” said Dansereau. “The town needs tax-paying business.”
The area is a designated Urban Enterprise Zone and according to the law, it is not zoned for churches. Dansereau stressed that “God is everywhere and present in all of us," and said veto will be based on the needs of the entire borough and not a select few.
While the crowd was mixed in its opinions, some people who were not in support were told to leave when they spoke up, while the few in support were able to applaud and cheer at will. When the the mayor asked one resident how much she paid in taxes, the councilman at large called for a “point of order” and did not allow the resident to answer the mayor’s question.
Council President Kim Shaw called for the attending police officer to remove citizens who made any comments. After the mayor’s final message, Shaw requested another opportunity to speak, which is not typical protocol but was allowed by the mayor.
In her statement, Council President Shaw spoke of needing more black churches and told the community to “Read Between The Lines.” Shaw also reminded the audience, “You voted us into office” and encouraged citizens to attend the borough meetings and have their voices heard, although she had earlier in the meeting attempted to have several citizens removed for voicing their disapproval at some of the statements made by Councilman Hayman.
During the closing remarks, Council At Large Atkins told the public he was upset about “an article that had appeared on TAP” (referring to TAPinto Roselle). He was referencing a letter written by a resident that appeared in the “Letter to the Editor” section of the on-line news site that been published a week earlier. The letter in reference showed a photo and a movie clip of Council President Shaw pushing down the “Thumbs Up” that Councilman Atkins was giving to the camera at the October meeting where the mayor signed the community I.D. card initiative into law. The council president did not comment or explain her actions during this meeting. To review that letter, click here.
In the end, there seemed to be one unspoken issue in the room. Who is the church that is causing so much attention and that laws have to be changed just for them? It apparently is the Zion Church, whose principals are Council At Large Reverend Atkins and his wife, Cynthia Atkins.
The council meeting can be viewed in its entirety on channels 34 and 37 as well as the Borough of Roselle Website. As of Nov. 16, it was not uploaded to the borough website.