With only four City Council members in favor, the council on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing a project development agreement for construction of SciTech Scity, the STEM-focused high school to be built adjacent to Liberty Science Center and run by the Hudson County School of Technology.
Parties to the agreement include the city, Hudson County, the Hudson County Improvement Authority, the Hudson County School of Technology, and the new school to be built — SciTech Scity — which is a subsidiary of Liberty Science Center.
Under the proposed project agreement, Jersey City would be on the hook for $2 million a year to help pay for the school’s annual operating budget and the city’s contribution would escalate on an annual basis at the rate of 2% per year.
Plans call for the Hudson County Improvement Authority to issue bonds to clear the site of PCBs and any other environmental toxins found on the site, build the facility, then lease it back to the county and the vocational School, which anticipates a state reimbursement rate of 59% of bond debt service.
Voting in favor of the resolution were President Joyce Watterman, Ward B member Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C member Richard Boggiano and Ward D member Yousef Saleh. Voting against it was Ward F member Frank Gilmore.
At-large representative Amy DeGise and Ward A member Denise Ridley were absent; and Ward E member James Solomon and at-large member Daniel Rivera abstained.
For passage, resolutions require a majority of only those present, not a majority of all nine council members.
While Mayor Steven Fulop has been a vocal proponent for the new school, Gilmore said he didn’t “feel comfortable” with the idea of the city having to commit “that much money” to the project in the absence of guarantees that Jersey City students would be allotted a specified number of slots at the new school.
Solomon echoed that concern, adding that the city was already facing mushrooming financial pressures from its own public school system pushing up residents’ taxes, not to mention all the other mounting costs of running municipal government.
John Metro, the city business administrator, said the city probably won’t know the full financial picture for the school until it opens its doors which, he added, is projected for January 2023 or 2024. Metro said the city can’t legally address admissions standards—something that lies within the province of school authorities.
In other business, the council agreed to introduce an ordinance that will allow the transfer of the Loew’s Jersey Theater in Journal Square to the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency and agreeing to pay the JCRA $15 million “to address contingencies” that may force up the price of renovations of the facility which is being restored by an entity related to the N.J. Devils with the intent of making the Loew’s a world-class entertainment center. Boggiano, who claimed the Friends of the Loew’s, an advocacy group for the theater and a partner in its restoration, hadn’t been kept in the loop on the proposed transfer deal, said he’d go along with the transfer plan “for now.”
City resident Oliver Kirby spoke in defense of the nonprofit Friends group, saying that during the decade or so they were the theater’s exclusive caretakers, the Loew’s attractions made it “one of the last affordable” entertainment opportunities for the average person by offering shows and programs at $5 a head. Kirby worried that the new primary operator would focus on bringing in acts at “Ticketmaster” prices.
During the public portion of the meeting, the council heard a plea by Tom Horan, board chairman of The Kennedy Dancers, to challenge the city assessor’s decision two and a half years ago to begin sending the organization a municipal tax bill.
That action, Horan said, flies in the face of the group’s history of having operated as a “certified non-profit since 1976.” This change in status, he added, also ignores the fact that the company have made a habit of providing reduced-rate dance lessons to “inner-city” kids and free classes for seniors.
Meanwhile, a delegation of about 15 members of the Portside Towers Tenants Association, representing tenants from more than 500 apartments spread between Tower East at 155 Washington St. and Tower West at 100 Warren St., again appealed to the council to investigate why their landlord has imposed annual rent increases which, they said, exceed the limits set by municipal rent control law. Some of the hikes approach 20 to 25%, they said.
Pleas for help made to the city’s rent control administrator have gone unheeded, they said. The tenants have also complained about health and safety issues ranging from inoperable elevators to lack of heat. And they’ve maintained that there is no record on file with the city of the original owners having filed for an exemption from rent control.
Saleh said he feared there was “going to be irreparable harm done” to more than 1,000 tenants and that he was “scared Jersey City is going to get it wrong. If there’s been no filing, there should be no exemption (from rent control provisions). I really think we need to act to get clarity.”
Rivera added that there were “safety issues going on with these buildings that we have to highlight.”
After an assistant city attorney cautioned the council that because there was litigation involving these properties, the council should be careful about proceeding without having all the facts before them. That, in turn, led Watterman to call for a closed session discussion to get all the facts.
And, with that in mind, the council agreed to convene an executive meeting for January 10 at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The council voted 5-2, with Gilmore and Prinz-Arey dissenting, to award a $280,700 contract Suburban Consulting Engineers, of Flanders, N.J., to develop plans for a City Hall park, whose layout has yet to be determined. If the park were to wrap around the back of the building, it could dislodge about 40 parking spaces for city employees and officials.
Contracts for furnishing and delivering new office furniture for municipal offices and for a municipal seniors facility were approved. The council voted 5-2, with Solomon and Gilmore opposed, to pay Indiana Furniture Industries, of Jasper, Ind., $96,247 for new chairs, desks, filing and storage cabinets and credenzas, among other things, for the Linden Avenue compound housing the newly-formed Department of Infrastructure. And in a 6-1 tally, with Gilmore dissenting, it agreed to pay Business Furniture Inc., of Elizabeth, $197,246 to outfit offices at the Joseph Connors Senior Center, 394 Central Ave.
The council, without comment, agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit by Joanna Sanchez who sustained “various physical injuries while using a swing at Hamilton Park on June 22, 2018.” The suit alleged that the seat in which Sanchez was sitting detached from the line linked to the swing, causing her to break her leg and leading to treatment of related injuries.
Over Boggiano’s objection, the council voted to authorize a lease agreement with Jersey City Housing Authority and Garden State Community Development for alterations at Hudson Gardens, 514 Newark Ave., that will enable Garden State to expand services for the homeless.
The assessor has taken the position that the dancing school should be taxed because they have a caretaker on the premises and because they charge market rates for those families whose income exists above a certain level, according to artistic director Diane Dragone.
Now, she says, the dance company faces a tax sale notice with the city’s demand for payment of municipal taxes totaling $79,000 payable by December 22. She said the company has spent $25,000 in lawyers’ fees to fight the group’s tax status classification.