Council Meeting Discussions Become Heated over Scotch Plains Management Corp.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 • 1:52pm
SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – The Scotch Plains Council Agenda meeting on Tuesday evening became a heated discussion to a packed room over the operations and budget of the Scotch Plains Management Corporation (SPMC), the entity tasked with overseeing the operations of the Special Improvement District (SID) established in 2009.
A levy of $400 was assessed against business owners in the designated Special Improvement District. The SPMC was tasked with taking the money collected and undertaking projects to improve the downtown, increase traffic to Scotch Plains businesses and be involved in encouraging new businesses to come to town. The levy had previously been suspended for 2013. (see Scotch Plains Management Corp Approves Payment Suspension )
Various business owners stepped up to the microphone to air their views. Vincent Losavio of John’s Meat Market was very vocal in expressing his opinion, that “after four years, we have not progressed.” He went on to say that he felt some of the reasons why there has been very little progress was that local businesses did not shop local and the newspaper produced did not go outside the area.
Romano Del Roio, another property owner, also felt that in four years “nothing had happened” and his property was vacant for two years with no assistance from the SPMC.
Tom Russo, SPMC Treasurer, interjected that the SPMC Board had contributed “hundreds of hours of their own time” in helping business in downtown and how Mr. Del Roio was entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.
Nick Del Negro, another business owner in town for over forty years, told the story of how he was approached about the SID. “I was happy to join. They would do things for the town and I was happy to pay the $400. However, there is not much money left after putting out the newspaper. I want no more membership, that is my opinion.”
After the business owners aired their views, Russo returned to the microphone to outline what had happened since the inception of the SPMC. “When you look back, we had a music festival, got started on the local magazine and then we talked about hiring a professional manager. As volunteers, we could not do it all.”
Russo’s contention was that things got off to a bad start when then Mayor Nancy Malool overruled the Board and all but four members resigned. “It wasn’t until 2012 that all the vacant positions were filled.” He went on to say that the majority of the Board had only been involved for less than a year.
“When people say nothing was accomplished, that is because frankly nothing was allowed to be accomplished,” said Russo. “Unfortunately, the reason for that is that the SPMC has not been able to act without political interference.” One of the “interferences” was the decision to hire a professional manager, who turned out to be less than ideal.
Lisa Mohn, President of the Business and Professional Association and a recent addition to the SPMC Board, admitted to previously being a major detractor of the SPMC. “However, I realized I could not keep complaining and do nothing.” She then joined the Board, and has spent many hours working on projects, including getting rid of the “bad manager” once his contract was up and taking money out of her own pocket to put plants up and down Park Avenue.
“I am very disheartened. No one seems to care how the downtown looks – I have badgered everyone to keep things clean, to water plants, to keep garbage cans from overflowing. I just don’t get it, you have to invest in your town to make it look nice…Yes, it was not working, now we have good people on the Board but no one is giving it a chance,” said Mohn.
Dominick Verdic, Chairman of the SPMC Board, said he could not agree with earlier comments that they had “done nothing.” He outlined the car shows, concerts and other events either put on or promoted by the SPMC. “We have done something. Have we accomplished everything we needed to? Probably not.”
“I am one of the highest payers of SID taxes. I have not really heard anyone who is in favor other than our board members. We have spent hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours trying to help downtown businesses.. . I shouldn’t be saying this. If all my fellow property owners says $400 is too much, stop wasting our time, give them back their money and shut this thing down,” said Verdick.
Joe Mortarula, one of the owners of the Darby Road restaurant, who grew up in Scotch Plains did not like to “see people so at odds”. He went on to say that by supporting the SID and by improving downtown, everyone would win. While he acknowledged the building owners perspective of “seeing no production” he also pointed out that it was time to let the new Board “get things done.”
“We are talking about $30 a month, in the scheme of things is not a large amount of money, if it is put to good use. I can understand (property owners) frustrations, but I think everyone needs to take a step back and see if we can come together and make things function properly,” Mortarula concluded.
The opportunity for public comment was then closed and Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella commented on how “interesting” it was to have so many people in the audience to be part of the process. “For whatever reason this has reached a volatile point and its becoming almost personal and hurt feelings are taking over and I was just listening to the fact that everyone wants what is best for Scotch Plains…I think we need to come together in a less formal setting and have a conversation and come up with some compromises.”
Mayor Kevin Glover then brought the Council’s attention back to the subject at hand – the approval of the SPMC’s budget for the 2013 calendar year. He outlined that when he had left the last SPMC Board meeting, it had been decided to submit a budget for $37,000 for the current year with no new money being levied.
“I now have in front of me two budgets, one for $37,000 and one for $87,000 and I find this confusing. I don’t think even Chairman Verdic is aware that two budgets were submitted,” said Mayor Glover. “It was my understanding when I left the last SPMC Board meeting that is was agreed that the current money in hand would be spent over two years to cover for the fact that there will be no new levy in 2013.”
Councilman Bo Vastine then joined the discussion by saying he felt that Mayor Glover had “imposed” the moratorium on the collection of the levy and questioned the Township lawyer concerning the protocol on such actions.
Township Lawyer Judy Verrone confirmed that is was the SPMC’s prerogative to submit a budget based on money in hand that did not include a levy to collect “new” money, although it was also pointed out that is was also up to the Council’s discretion to approve or change what was submitted. “The budget before us tonight is for $87,000 for 2013 using money that has been collected to date. It does not ask for a tax assessment for the year 2013,” said Verrone.
While the concept of the SPMC budget was put on the Agenda for the March 19 Council Meeting, it was also obvious that there were too many questions for a final decision to be made.
Councilman Vastine then noted that “We all need to be part of the discussion,” and not just have the Mayor “make a proclamation.”
“We need to not rush into this,” agreed Councilman Mickey Marcus. “We need to sit down with all the interested parties as there is a lot to discuss and consider.”
(Check back Thursday to read about other Agenda items covered at Tuesday night’s meeting.)