City's Failure to Use County Open Space Money Could Scuttle New Park Projects
Thursday, June 21, 2012 • 9:04pm
PATERSON, NJ – Paterson ‘s backlog of $1.3 million in unspent Passaic County park funding may derail the city’s efforts this year to get more money from the freeholders for seven projects.
“Before the county can justify giving them any more open space money, they have to demonstrate the ability to execute the current projects they have,’’ said Freeholder Theodore Best, the lone Patersonian on the county board, who oversees the open space program.
Nevertheless, the City Council on June 26 is scheduled to approve Paterson’s 2012 application for more funding from the Passaic County Open Space Trust Fund. The council’s resolution lists projects, but it does not say how much money the city is requesting. The projects on the list are:
- Eastside Park’s concession stand
- Totowa Oval
- The park at School 18
- The restoration of the Van Houten House at Westside Park
- The restoration of the Eastside Park tennis courts
- The renovation of Buckley Park
- The city’s historic park walking tour project
“The open space program is a great opportunity to improve our leisure spaces,’’ said Paterson Public Works Director Christopher Coke. “It’s part of the mayor’s vision to improve the viability of our parks and to ensure their role as a refuge and haven for the citizens, especially during the summer.’’
But back in March, county officials sent Paterson a letter asking the city for an explanation of its $1.3 million in unspent grants from the open space program. Some of the unused grants date back to 2004 and including projects at Mary Ellen Kramer, Overlook and Westside parks.
Paterson’s Community Development Director Lanisha Makle responded in May with a letter that provided a project-by-project breakdown on the unspent funds. About $900,000 of the money required the city to enter a contract with the Passaic River Coalition, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, for getting the work done.
That contract remains unresolved, Best said. Paterson said the city needed to complete that contract and begin spending some of the money on those projects before the county would consider allocating any new funds to Paterson.
“They don’t have to complete them, they just have to start,’’ said Best.
In her May letter to the county, Makle said staffing problems in the city’s legal department had delayed work on the contract with the river coalition. Makle said in the letter that the city’s goal was to complete the contract by June 30. It was not clear whether Paterson is in position to meet that goal.
If the city misses that goal, things could become more complicated. The City Council has imposed a 90-day suspension on Makle stemming from last year’s flood overtime scandal that is scheduled to take effect July 2. Her supervisor, Business Administrator Charles Thomas, is scheduled to begin his own 60-day suspension on July 2 as well.
Best said municipalities’ applications for the county open space program, which is funded through a surcharge on property taxes, are due by the end of June. The county open space committee will begin reviewing the requests from various municipalities in July and make the awards by September, he said.
Councilman Kenneth Morris, the finance chairman, said he was disappointed the city had failed to spend previous grants, but he said he still believed Paterson deserved to keep getting funding from the open space program.
“The City of Paterson is one of the mayor contributors and we never get back what we put in,’’ Morris said. “I don’t think we should be subsidizing open space for the rest of the county, particularly when we don’t have enough open space of our own.’’