ROSELLE PARK, NJ - It’s just days away from the final vote at the September 5, Roselle Park council meeting where it will be decided if the town will keep or eliminate the Department of Economic Development position.
With social media all a buzz, Mayor Joesph Signorello, III released a statement to let all residents be aware of the facts of why he and some council members have chosen to eliminate the position.
Below is the complete statement from the Mayor.
“For residents of Roselle Park, it should not come as a total surprise that I’ve moved in favor of removing the Department of Economic Development. This department was created last year under a different Mayor and Council, and on the campaign trail, I expressed my reservations with regards to this move. That said, I tried to keep an open mind to this new department, and I’ve spent the first half of my inaugural year as mayor evaluating the pluses and minuses of this department.
I’ve been hesitant to go into detail as to why I’ve come to this decision, as it’s clearly a topic that has a personnel aspect to it. However, given the interest that has been awoken on this matter, it seems appropriate to share my quantitative and qualitative reasoning to support the removal of the Department of Economic Development.
The logic I've heard for keeping this department can be broken up into a couple of general themes I'd like to respond to:
- Eliminating the department would not save that much money.
- We need someone with an independent "vision" to show us what Roselle Park could look like.
- We need someone to recruit businesses and foster a relationship between the town and the business community.
- For those of us who want the hard numbers, they break down like this: this year the budget for the Economic Development Department was about $130,000. Assuming we remove all of those costs (and bring on additional planning services) I estimate that we will save about $85,000 per year. The CFO and I have run some scenarios, and I think a realistic "most expensive case" for additional planning services is about $45,000. Assuming that there is no cost uptick in Economic Development - that saves the borough around $400,000 over five years. That only factors in costs saved. This analysis does not take into consideration salary increases or any uptick in the budget over those five years (aka cost avoidance). It's worth noting the originally requested budget was approximately an additional $40,000.
- To put that in perspective, here is what $85,000 per year means to Roselle Park:
- It's more money than we spend per year on our sidewalk program ($50,000)
- It could be another cop
- It could afford us the lease for around six new police vehicles per year
- It could buy us three new Fire Department vehicles per year
- We could double the number of trees we bought last year
- We could pave a small road
- Or we could just pass the savings on to you
We're talking real money here for a small town. The difference is: all of these are tangible assets that make RP visibly safer, or more appealing.
- I keep hearing we need an independent voice for the "future vision of Roselle Park." I want to remind everyone that the Department of Economic Development is not staffed with planning or zoning skills. If the council and residents think we need professionals to tell us how to reshape our town, we need planners - good ones.
- As Mayor I've seen resistance from the same group of people on two major themes 1) No more apartments, 2) Keep the Department of Economic Development. The Department of Economic Development has argued in favor of density (apartments) in both the Hunter and Sullivan locations with resistance from the same council people that support keeping this department. Simply put - why would we keep a department we aren't even going to listen to? It’s a head-scratcher that the same people (council members and residents) who've argued to keep this department have spoken out against recommendations of this department. Why spend the money to have opinions that some of us just end up ignoring anyway?
- Transit Village: We're also doing some pretty heavy-duty visioning through Transit Village Planning. Most of the legwork for this planning has been done by Topology (our contracted planners) or is in progress. This is another line item that was approved for $30,000 that we're already paying for. We don't need internal staff doing what we've already contracted out.
- Lights, downtown look and feel, etc.: I've also heard a lot about how nice the lights look, and how great the trash cans look, and in general how much cleaner the downtown looks. That's great, but many of these plans were already in process. In fact, the DPW already had plans to power wash and clean Chestnut Street more thoroughly. We've ended up spending money on outside hires to do what we could have just had the Department of Public Works do on their own.
- Keeping on the theme of trash cans and lights, agreed, they look great. With that said, it's ludicrous to think we need a full-time employee to ensure these things are getting done. Let's analyze what goes into these jobs,
- New Street Lights: Order is made with PSEG, PSEG puts up new lights. Done.
- New Trash Cans: Pick out new cans, buy new cans, have DPW put up new cans. Done.
Towns like Roselle spend far less for the same services to make sure their town is looking clean.
- I've also heard how important branding needs to be to better market Roselle Park. I agree - we need to brand Roselle Park better. We need to make our website better, we need a social media presence, and we an effort to present what Roselle Park has to offer. Here's the thing: the Department of Economic Development wanted/ wants another $10,000-20,000 in addition to the money we're spending to hire external consultants to do our branding. I'd much rather just pay a consultant to do this rather than have to pay for an entire department AND have to pay for external consultants to do RP's branding. It's nonsense- cut out the middle-man, and pay for the services we need!
Business Community Relationships:
- For every business owner, I've heard speak in favor of this department. I've had two come out against it. The business community I've spoken to has felt slighted and underserved since the creation of this department. I've had countless business owners reach out to me, asking when they can talk to our Economic Development Team - only to hear radio silence.
- It's explicitly in the description of the department to both reach out to and foster a relationship with the business community and chamber of commerce. This is a responsibility that I've pushed our department to work on, and sadly, it's something the department just hasn't taken on. I challenge any constituent of Roselle Park to enter into a random business in the borough and ask if they even are aware we have a Department of Economic Development. I think you'll be disappointed with the answer.
- I want to be super clear here - the new businesses that have come into town have not been recruited by the Department of Economic Development. Have they been helped along in opening shop in Roselle Park? Yes, but they were not "brought in" by this department. Does this justify a full-time person to do this? Absolutely not. The new movie theater tenants, painting shop and hair salon all found their way to RP without recruitment from our Department of Economic Development. In fact - the one remaining bank we had in RP has left since the creation of this department - with no replacement found. If there's been recruiting of businesses - I haven't seen it - and it's been fruitless.
I can't stress this enough. As Mayor - I wanted to make this work. I came into my tenure with an open mind about this function. With that said, I'm a consultant by trade, it's literally my job to evaluate where organizations have inefficiencies. Having spent more time with this department than probably anyone else in town it's my professional opinion that it needs to go.
More importantly, I pay taxes, just like you do. When I make decisions, I need to evaluate not only as Mayor but as a homeowner who spends more than $11,000 per year in taxes. The question for me is always the same: does this make sense for me as a taxpayer? The short here answer is no. Roselle Park does not have the revenue base or financial stature to afford this department. We need to be smarter with our funds and make sure we're getting the most bang for OUR tax dollars.
This has been one of the hardest calls I've made as Mayor, but maybe we've evaded the hard decisions for too long. Roselle Park needs drastic changes to stay competitive in Union County. Our taxes are a big negative to potential private and public investors, and I'm going to keep working like crazy to flatten them out.
I know we are starved for a thriving downtown and economic development here in RP- and we deserve it! However, to make this happen we need structural change - better roads, stable taxes, more businesses, adequate parking. Having a Department of Economic Development might sound good on paper, but business decisions are made on cold hard metrics - not on fluff.
I was elected to make the right decisions, not the easy ones. I'll be voting in favor to remove this department if it comes to a tie because I act on facts, not emotion and because this is factually the right move for RP.”
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