ELIZABETH, NJ - About 20 people raised concerns about the financing for the Roselle Mind and Body Complex during the public comments portion of Thursday night's Union County Freeholders’ meeting.
The project includes a new school, community center, library and more in the borough.
The opportunity to speak was nixed last week when a freeholders’ special meeting vote regarding the issuance of $59 million in guaranteed bonds for the project was abruptly canceled after a Roselle resident threatened legal action against the board.
“The county is reviewing financial documents as well as a number of other issues in making a determination” about the project, said county spokesman Sebastian D'Elia today.
The resolution regarding the bonds was not on last night’s agenda, but residents still came to raise concerns about the potential tax increase the project would create in the borough. The freeholders said they could not address the concerns at last night's meeting, citing potential litigation.
There are currently several different preliminary assessments that take into account different factors when determining the local tax increases for the project. Documents provided by Roselle residents have shown a tax increase of about $500, while other documents obtained by TAP have shown an increase of $294 by 2021.
Although state Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) was not at last night’s meeting, he’s been a strong supporter of the project since he was mayor in Roselle. He said the property tax increase of about $500 for the project that’s been cited by residents is “absolutely false.”
He said the Roselle Board of Education currently pays rent to St. Joseph the Carpenter Church to use its facilities. The taxes that currently help pay that rent would be “moved” to paying for the new Mind and Body Complex school, he said.
“The payment that the borough and the board is going to be paying, [the residents] are already paying that now,” he said, referring to the lease between the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Church. He later added that several planned development projects in the borough will help generate revenue for the project too.
There were no residents who came in full support of the project at the freeholders’ meeting last night, but Holley cited the many supporters who came during the freeholders’ September 2016 meeting. The project also has the support of Roselle Councilman Reginald Atkins.
Not all residents who came to last night’s meeting were against the project entirely. Some, including Mayor Christine Dansereau, wanted a new school and community center in their borough, but only if they could afford it. She described herself as a former “advocate” for the project when it was first introduced.
"It looked like the perfect fit, except that the economy took a nose dive and Roselle was hard hit,” said Dansereau. “...The hope was that our new developments would provide the tax relief…And some of this is true, but not enough to help stabilize our overburdened taxpayers who will be forced to leave their homes because of soaring taxes.”
The median household income in Roselle is $43,397, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which is down from $58,041 in 2010. An NJ.com analysis last year showed that Roselle had the sixth worst income-to-property tax ratio in the state.
Anthony Esposito, who formerly served on the Roselle Board of Education, retained a lawyer who sent a letter to the county counsel last week raising questions about the land lease for the project. The letter also threatened legal action had the freeholders made a vote regarding the issuance of bonds for the project.
“I am against this project as it stands and totally against the financing plan,” Esposito told TAP last week. “The plan or the project was never brought before the people of Roselle through a bond ordinance from the borough or a bond referendum from the Board of Education.”
After listening to residents concerns during a nearly three-hour long meeting, many of the freeholders thanked the residents for their input
Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen sent a letter to municipal mayors in the county to alleviate concerns that they’d have to pick up the tab if Roselle defaulted on paying for the project. He told TAP last week that would only happen if Roselle went bankrupt, and that's never happened to a municipality in the state.
“Please note, questions related to bond referendums, validity of municipal ordinances as well as the local politics surrounding this project rest with the Borough of Roselle,” Bergen wrote in the letter obtained by TAP. “The County's only involvement with this project is the bond guarantee.”