Paterson Getting More Flood Buyout Money, But Some Officials Say City Getting Shortchanged
Sunday, September 2, 2012 • 10:12am
PATERSON, NJ – Paterson is getting an extra $2.1 million in funding from the federal housing department to buy out flood-prone properties in the 1st Ward, but some local officials say the Silk City deserved a larger share of the $12.5 million in disaster relief earmarked for Passaic County.
The city plans to use the $2.1 million to acquire nine properties that were hit hard during last year’s historic flooding and to demolish any buildings that remain standing on them, according to county officials. That money comes in addition to the $5.7 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support that the city plans to use to buy and demolish 33 properties.
The housing and FEMA aid combined will allow Paterson to buy 42 of the 141 properties that city officials have picked for flood buyouts. But that leaves out about 70 percent of the targeted properties in Paterson. It’s not clear whether there will be additional funding for buyouts for the remaining properties.
In April, Congress passed legislation that allocated $15.6 million from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department’s Community Development Block Grant program for disaster relief for New Jersey. The law set aside almost $12.5 million of that money for Passaic County, according to state and county officials.
Paterson, Little Falls, Passaic and Wayne all will be getting about $2.1 million under the program, while five other towns will be getting allotments ranging from $947,970 to $210,662, according to Deborah Hoffman, Passaic County’s director of economic development.
That breakdown has some officials from Paterson scratching their heads.
“It doesn’t make sense that the county’s largest city is getting the same amount as Little Falls,’’ said Freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best, the lone member of the freeholder board from Paterson. “You can’t tell me that Little Falls was hit harder than Paterson. You can’t tell me that Passaic was hit harder than Paterson.’’
“We’re the county seat, but it appears we keep getting shortchanged,’’ said Mayor Jeffrey Jones. “This is not to say that Little Falls doesn’t deserve it, but I don’t recall their impact being as severe as ours.’’
Who decided how much each municipality should get?
Hoffman said that decision was made by a committee that included representatives from every municipality. Paterson’s representative was the city’s community development director, Lanisha Makle, according to Hoffman.
“The decision was not made by the county, it was a group effort,’’ said Hoffman. “It’s hard when you have 100 percent more requests than you have money to spend. Everyone had to compromise. They did the best they could.’’
Makle, who is on suspension for her role in the city’s flood overtime scandal, could not be reached for comment. Her cell phone went right to voicemail, but was not taking messages when PatersonPress.com tried to contact her several times last week.
When told that Makle was part of the group that agreed to the way the federal funding was being distributed, Jones said, “That’s not possible. I don’t believe there was any discussion that we would accept an insufficient share. There is no way we would have taken less than we deserve.’’
Hoffman said the committee held meetings in April, May and June to weigh the applications from the various municipalities to decide how to distribute the money. Hoffman said the decision was not based on a formula but on the merits of the various applications submitted by municipalities. Not all the towns wanted to use the money for buyouts. In some cases, they were looking to repair damage from last year’s floods. About $600,000 was kept by the state for administrative costs, officials said
Here’s the breakdown Hoffman provided on how much each municipalities applied for and received:
Wayne asked for $6 million and got $2.1 million
Paterson asked for $5 million and got $2.1 million
Passaic asked for $4 million and got $2.1 million
Little Falls asked for $3.6 million and got $2.1 million
Totowa asked for $1 million and got $947,979
Woodland Park asked for $875,000 and got $867,151
Hawthorne asked for $873,000 and got $865,402
Pompton Lakes asked for $510,000 and got $537,188
Bloomingdale asked for $200,000 and got $210,662.
Best and Jones said they found it odd that Paterson could only acquire nine properties with the $2.1 million.
“The math isn’t working for me,’’ said Jones, who is serving as the city’s interim community development director during Makle’s suspension.
“It doesn’t sound like we’re getting much bang for our buck,’’ said Best. “Not in this economy. A lot of the properties in that area are going for $60,000.’’
But Hoffman said the city itself – and not the county nor the committee of municipal representatives – decided how many properties to acquire with the funds.
The city’s plan to acquire nine properties with the $2.1 million works out to be about $233,000 per parcel. That’s about 34 percent more than the average of $173,000 per parcel that the city plans to spend using the $5.7 million in FEMA money earmarked for 33 properties. But the list for FEMA funding included 12 parcels of vacant land. It’s not clear whether the nine properties targeted with the CDBG money have houses on them or not.
The city remains in negotiations to acquire properties using the FEMA money. After the city buys those tracts, officials plan to demolish any standing buildings and to leave the land as open space. The cost of demolition is supposed to be covered with the FEMA and CDBG funds.
The legislation that earmarked the CDBG money to Passaic County included a provision that half the funds be spent in low- and moderate-income areas, officials said.
Best pointed out that if individual municipalities submitted their own applications, only Paterson, Passaic and Wayne would have had qualified for the funding under the income provision. Surrounding suburban towns, he said, were only able to get funding through the program by packaging their application with those of the urban areas.
In addition to the money targeted for Passaic County, New Jersey still has about $3 million from the CDBG disaster relief program. That money will be distributed through competitive grants for which the state will begin taking applications in the early fall, officials said.