[Editorial] $257.18 – Give Or Take

[Editorial] $257.18 – Give Or Takethumbnail
Published: October 31, 2010 @ 2:00 PM EDT


At the October 21st Mayor & Council meeting, Mayor Joe DeIorio took issue with criticism that Roselle Park was not business friendly. This was after ordinances, the code enforcement officer, and some businesses were criticized as examples of Roselle Park’s atmosphere against the business community and what it means to residents and taxpayers.

He called it giving his two cents. It looks like it is going to take more than that.

“As far as Roselle Park is concerned, I think we’re doing everything we can to try and attract businesses and acknowledge the businesses that we do have here are well invested, that did spend their money properly in the borough and that we encourage them to stay in business,” the mayor was quoted as saying, closing out his comments that the Borough is business friendly.

In 1999, property taxes accounted for 60% of revenues in fiscal 1999. Ten years later, property taxes accounted for 77% of the borough’s revenues – a 28% increase – while other revenues – fees, licenses, permits, court fines – decreased. Having that amount of money become a burden for both resident and business takes its toll. The decline in other revenue is due, in part, to the decrease in construction permits and fees for businesses coming in and setting up shop.

The Special Improvement District (SID), which started in 2005 covers only the T-district. It does not include all businesses and it has not much to show for itself in the five (5) years other than paying an evaluation team that had nothing new to add since what was reported was already known.

Tax assessor Paul Endler, former councilman (and current MLUB member) Loren Harms, and other MLUB members have all stated, on the record, that Roselle Park is not business-friendly. The former councilman even stated that up until recently he had not believed such was the case but has come to understand the position of the Borough in its ordinances and enforcement.

A plan of action was started by having a “Business Of The Month” recognized every month during a Mayor & Council meeting. Those certificates of recognition have all but ceased.

One of the issues regarding the mayor’s statement had to do with existing and long-time businesses and how residents should not forget them. The very fact they are still around shows that residents and, more importantly, customers and clients have not forgotten them. And even some of those businesses have closed without council or the mayor being aware until they read the FOR RENT sign on the closed doors.

There have been steps that have been taken to address the problem with the business community: SID, streamlining the “Change Of Use” process for businesses to open, ordinances, and MLUB resolutions but, for the most part, they have been reactionary in nature, instead of proactive. The municipality is finding itself having to play catch-up to the problems with the business community instead of actively creating a plan and staying with it long-term.

Some examples are:

  • Business Openings by the mayor or even council members would be a great gesture to show both residents and business that the municipality is aware and proud of commerce and welcomes business into Roselle Park.
  • Visiting other towns, perhaps in different counties, that have turned their downtown around to find out what they did to revitalize their business district. Cranford is a nice town but it is not the only one. If Roselle Park tries to emulate its neighbor, it will become simply that, an imitator; and why would anyone want to go to the facsimile when they can go to the real thing a town away?
  • Contacting businesses in other towns to ask them what they look for when deciding on where to set up shop and what do they find lacking in Roselle Park that removes the borough as a possibility. Learning how to become attractive to not only businesses, but a certain type of business will give a long term outlook that will pay off at the end as opposed to leaving it to landlords will not care who pays their rent.
  • Bring back neighborhood policing by having an officer, preferably a rookie, walk up and down the business district. This would not only give businesses the sense of importance but give a safe and secure feeling to residents and customers who know that a patrolled area has less speeders and a more secure environment. The officer could even walk the downtown at night and simply check that all business doors are locked and secure. In Somerset, the neighborhood cop was instituted and it not only helped in making drivers slow down and follow pedestrian crossing laws, but the officer, who became familiar with businesses, acted as an ambassador  for the town by answering simple questions as to where certain shops or restaurants were for people visiting.
  • Establishing a line of communication with AvalonBay or review their complexes in other towns to see what businesses best fit their targeted clientele so that, when ever the apartment complex opens its doors, there will be an existing neighborhood of shops around the area which will create a connection between the T-district and the Westfield corridor.
  • Find the most efficient and legal manner to use tax incentives and abates from towns that have applied them to businesses that bring their storefronts up-to-date and have a uniformed environment in the business district.

These ideas are not of only one person but from residents who feel their suggestions would not be given any attention to. The reason for the column’s title – $257.18 – is the amount that would result in if every resident gave their two cents.

To be sure, Roselle Park is not alone in its downturn with with regard business district but our problem was there before the nationwide recession. Perhaps Roselle Park can be one of the first to use the empty storefronts as an opportunity to get a plan in order to give direction to the types of businesses and, by default, the type of town Roselle Park can become.