Issues About Prism, Dowtown West Orange Alliance, and Ospac Top West Orange Town Council Meeting News
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 • 12:22am
WEST ORANGE, NJ - A lengthy Town Council meeting focused primarily on ongoing discussions about Prism, questions surrounding the appointment of Megan Brill as the new Executive Director of the Downtown West Orange Alliance, and approval for the New Jersey Arts Incubator (NJAI) to be named to manage the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center (OSPAC).
Susan McCartney presided over the meeting as Town Council President Victor Cirilo was out of town. As the council began their discussion of general matters, Councilman Krakoviak raised several questions of concern regarding Prism and the redevelopment of the Edison Battery Factory. He again cited that their tardiness in paying their taxes (they are still late on their Feb. 1 payment); and issues with property foreclosures and mortgages due (the Main Street CVS building was for sale) indicated negative cash flow and the project did not appear to be moving forward successfully. He requested each council member state whether or not they agreed with his desire to have the town's redevelopment counsel present another update and request a timeline as to when Prism had to move forward, or the town take action.
Ken Kayser, Township Attorney, said Prism had not yet been set a Notice of Default, and that this was a "mayoral matter" that also included the town administrators, and not the council. He also advised that the approval from Planning Board was good for three years. As to the request for an updated marketing plan, he noted that it would be nice to see but it was not the business of the town to demand one. The town does not even get involved financially with Prism until they receive their financial backing for the project. Jack Sayers, town administrator, said that Prism did not have their 2012 financials available yet for review (they are not legally due to the government until April 15).
Ultimately McCartney, Spango and Guarino felt that until the time came that the redevelopment attorneys had something to report, it made little sense to have them give a presentation. McCartney also said that it was the Mayor's hope that there would be movement with the project by May or June, at which time the council could assess the need to take action.
Councilman Krakoviak then requested that the Town Council launch into an investigation of the selection of Megan Brill as the new Director of the Downtown West Orange Alliance, citing confusion and conflicting reports over the applicants, the finalists, the selection committee, and the DWOA board's role in the process. He noted that he had spoken to 6 of 11 board members and to Main Street, NJ, the Certified State Coordinating Program of the National Trust's National Main Street Center, that provides technical assistance and training in revitalizing downtown areas. According to Krakoviak, Main St NJ was under the impression that the decision to hire Brill was voted on by all Alliance members, though that appeared to not be the case.
Councilman Jerry Guarino, liasion to the DWOA, defended the hiring of Brill and said the selection process was done on the up and up and state representatives were aware of the process.
McCartney, who acknowledged she had confidence in Brill, still voted for an investigation, saying to Krakoviak, "you raised a red flag." She also said that council members should discuss the matter with their DWOA appointees. Krakoviak's appointee spoke during public comment and expressed her confusion over the process. The vote was split 2-2, and was left in the hands of the town attorney to determine whether the council has authority over DWOA, a 501C3, to investigate the situation.
The third issue generating a lengthy discussion was turning the management of OSPAC over to the NJAI. The pluses of the arrangement, according to Jack Sayers, would be that while the town would maintain the property (OSPAC was donated to the township and never meant to make money) that NJAI would be responsible for security and custodial fees.
Additionally, NJAI indicated that they would utilize the facilities to provide more outlets for the schools and local township arts groups. Krakoviak wanted more township authority over fees and revenues, feeling that the town should also make money, not just NJAI. John Gross, township CFO for not only West Orange but South Orange, said that historically these venues are not moneymakers, and cited the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), an indoor venue, as an example. The resolution passed, with Councilman Krakoviak voting no.
All other ordinances and resolutions passed without incidence, including the Resolution to Calculate the Township's Tax Collection Rate by Taking Into Account 2012 Tax Appeals and Provide Taxpayers the Tax Relief Benefit. Officials noted that 2012 tax collection rates were 98.81 percent, which allowed for a reduced reserve that was $392,653 less than 2011. The Resolution to Introduce the 2013 Local Municipal Budget also passed without discussion.
The last item of interest, the Resolution Authorizing Settlement of Litigation NJ DEP et. al. v. Occidental Chemical Corporation, for pollution in Newark Bay, was also passed 4-0, with Attorney Kayser noting that the litigation, going on since 2009, would probably be accepted by the State of NJ and payment would be rendered in 2014, either by an Escrow account or a reduction in state aid. He did say that it was unknown whether the federal government would continue with its own litigation. It was the hope of the townships involved that this resolution would bring ongoing litigation and fees to an end.