County Warns Paterson About $1.3 Million In Unused Open Space Grants
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 • 3:34pm
PATERSON, NJ - Passaic County officials may leave Paterson off the list when they award open space grants this year.
That’s because Paterson has failed to spend more than $1.3 million in 15 open space grants that were awarded between 2004 and 2010, according to a letter sent to city officials last month.
Similar letters were sent to every Passaic County municipality that has unspent open space money, according to Freeholder Theodore Best, who oversees the program. Countywide, more than $3 million of $27.4 million open space grants have not been used, according to county officials.
“Paterson is the worst offender,’’ Best said.
The letter, signed by Passaic County Open Space Coordinator Kathleen Caren, requires Paterson to provide an explanation on why the money has not been spent by May 11. The letter said municipalities also can provide their explanations at the May 24 meeting of the county’s open space advisory committee. The county will begin taking applications for 2012’s grants in June, Best said.
“If we’re not satisfied with it, we’re not going to allocate them any more money this year,’’ Best said of the explanations on the unspent grants.
City Public Works Director Christopher Coke said Paterson has good reason why it hasn’t spent a large chunk of the money. The funds are earmarked for projects involving the Great Falls national park area, Coke said, and the city wants to make sure whatever it does with the money is in line with federal officials’ plans.
“To me, the key is to spend the money effectively and efficiently,’’ Coke said. “We don’t want to do something and have them (the federal government) rip out what we just did.’’
The list included in the county’s letter shows there’s almost $350,000 of unspent money for four grants for Mary Ellen Kramer Park, $195,000 in two grants for Overlook Park and $545,000 in two grants for the Great Falls raceways.
But in addition to those projects in the Great Falls area, Caren’s letter identified other Paterson projects:
- Grace Buckley Park, for which $5,350 of $55,000 awarded in 2005 had not been spent.
- West Side Park, for which $14,535 of $62,000 awarded in 2006 had not been spent.
- Federici park, for which all $20,000 awarded in 2009 had not been spent.
- Wrigley Park, for which all $97,000 awarded in 2009 had not been spent.
- West Side Park’s Tennis Courts, for which all $57,000 awarded in 2009 had not been spent.
- The Passaic River Waterfront Plan, for which all $30,000 awarded in 2010 had not been spent.
- An analysis of the city’s “pocket parks,’’ for which all $30,000 awarded in 20100 had not been spent.
Coke said a portion of the money for those other projects actually had been spent, but the money had not yet been charged to the open space account. Coke said the city’s finance department is working on a report to show exactly what open space money has not yet been used.
The open space fund is generated through a one-cent tax on county property. On average, Best said, about 30 percent of the applications every year get funded. “There’s a lot of legitimate projects every year that aren’t getting funded,’’ he said.
On Monday, Passaic County issued a press release emphasizing that towns should expend their allotments.
“This is more important than ever, given the tough economic times, we need to invest in our parks and open spaces to make Passaic County a great place to live, work and play for all residents,” said Freeholder Director Pat Lepore in the press release.