SOMERVILLE, NJ - Borough Council president Dr. Granville Brady has had a front row seat this year watching the ongoing resurgence of the borough and sees good fortune ahead for residents, whose home values continue to increase; retail store and restaurant owners who continue to see an increase in customers coming through their doors, and developers whose buildings continue to change the landscape of the 2.5 mile-square county seat.
The municipal tax rate is stabilizing and over the next several years, Brady expects homeowners will see a gradual decrease in their tax rate as more and more luxury apartments are built and occupied, allowing developers to take advantage of the PILOT program (Payment in lieu of taxes) offered by the borough. The program allows developers to make payments in lieu of taxes at a lower rate than their full assessed value. Those PILOT payments escalate each year, so that eventually, the property owner will be paying taxes based on the full value of the property. The PILOT payments are negotiated with the borough.
The borough also intends to intensify negotiations with dozens of non-profit organizations with buildings that are exempt from taxes, hoping to come up with a formula that would recover some monies. The borough was successful last year in coming to an agreement with Robert Wood Johnson/Barnabas Health Medical Center that will see the medical center make annual payments of $311,000 to the borough through 2023 in lieu of property taxes.
Excluding the medical center, there is a long list of other tax-exempt properties, according to Brady: The Somerset County Courthouse and Administration buildings, other Somerset County buildings, Somerville school district buildings and athletic fields, Immaculata High School and Immaculata Grammar School, churches, Borough Hall and other borough properties, firehouses, the 10-story senior citizen building on Mountain Avenue and other smaller properties.
Those structures have a taxable value of $16,650,000, according to Brady, but because of their tax-exempt status, they are lost ratables,
The ongoing redevelopment of the borough will continue to generate more tax revenue, according to Brady, who provided the following assessment of 2019:
"When I was asked about what accomplishments the Borough made in 2019, my head was flooded with so many things it was hard for me to single them out. I suppose for many homeowners, a less than 2% local tax increase was the benefit we realize from the PILOT revenue. PILOT funds are designed to stabilize taxes and that is exactly with the finance committee’s goal has been. As important as taxes are to homeowners, they don’t tell the whole “Somerville Story”.
"Perhaps I should start with the feature article in The NY Times about how our town, not just the downtown is thriving against all odds. When “THE MALL” (Bridgewater Commons) threatened to kill our commerce in the last century (yes we are in century 21 now) doomsayers and realtors alike predicted a final end to us. Were they wrong. The NY Times article praised both the downtown and our trendy neighborhoods with houses that command prices in the stratosphere. But the view from outside “the Ville” doesn’t tell the whole story, so let me highlight some advances we made this year.
"Certainly the proposed Emergency Complex with Fire, Police and probably the County emergency system on Gaston Avenue takes the spotlight especially when residents noticed the old bakery and other buildings were razed this fall. We have actively sought a redeveloper to build the complex for us. Great news for police and fire personnel that are now housed in century’s old facilities.
"Downtown Somerville has a new face in Natalie Pineiro, the new executive director. Natalie is a ball of fire when it comes to the newly created non-profit Downtown Somerville Alliance. She seems to eat, drink and breathe Downtown and there’s plenty of places to eat and drink. The newest player is Jack Cust, Jr., a retired Major League Baseball player who promises to bring a major league eatery to town in a restaurant called “The Oak” along with an attached Reading style market. This promises to be another home run for Somerville.
"Plans to complete Phase 3 of the Edge is in the works at the western part of Main Street. Preliminary plans call for a 9,000 square-foot luxury restaurant, a health club and luxury apartments for commuters (hopefully) taking the one seat ride to Manhattan. More about that I’m sure will come forward in 2020.
"Quality housing is in great demand in the county and nowhere else has this demand been better met than by our redevelopment committee. When Governor Murphy came here in September and asked me how many of our redevelopers were New Jersey based. I told him “They all are!”
"Late last year SOMA on South Bridge Street opened. Within a few short months all of their apartments were rented. Next on the list of new housing has been Anthony DeSapio with his multi-use buildings that house apartments, offices and great restaurants like Turf, Surf & Earth and the Salted Lime.
"We cannot highlight Somerville’s accomplishments without mentioning Verve, voted as the best bar in NJ. Congratulations to Rick St. Pierre for creating the “Verve experience”. The long-abandoned Woolworth’s Building on Main Street was transformed into The Village Brewery. Reported to be one of the largest brewpubs in the state it opened to record crowds and features a full menu along with everybody’s favorite brew.
"The Storms family began construction on the Station apartment complex on Veterans Memorial Drive and The Davenport, a new complex on Davenport Street will likely open in 2020. The old LITGO site is being developed for moderate income apartments that will revitalize the area in the southern part of the Borough. Future plans call for townhome style rentals on the Baker and Taylor site to begin construction in 2020.
"As we close out 2019, we saw the largest turnout ever for Santa on Nov. 30th. Thousands of enthusiastic kids of all ages greeted Santa as he was welcomed by our mayor Dennis Sullivan. Once again, Somerville proved itself to be truly the “Downtown of Central New Jersey.”
I’m sure readers can think of many more highlights but this Council President is looking forward to a few days off and an exciting 2020. Happy Holidays to all."