BOE Expresses ‘Extreme Concern’ Over PILOT But Rejects Joint Public Meeting

A formal resolution from the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) to the municipal governing body expressing what it called “extreme concern for the approval of PILOT programs for all or some of these multifamily redevelopment properties” was passed unanimously by the school board at its October 2nd BOE meeting.

The resolution indirectly addresses current negotiations regarding the properties commonly known as the Sullivan property at the intersection of Westfield Avenue and Chestnut Street. The redevelopment plan was approved by the municipality last month and currently work is being done to have a redeveloper’s agreement for a proposed six-story 370 to 380 residential apartment complex with the first floor dedicated to commercial and/or retail space. It is believed that the developer – who is currently constructing another development on Westfield Avenue – will ask for PILOT for this project. The six-story 213-unit development being built on the former Domani’s/Yesterday’s site on West Westfield Avenue has already been approved for PILOT.

PILOT stands for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes and is an incentive for developers to build on otherwise vacant or underutilized areas of a municipality by offering to have the property owner make payments over a period – up to 30 years – that end up being less than if they paid property taxes straight out. The payment is based on revenues every year which is based on occupancy. This program is a benefit to a town government because 95% of the improvements part of property taxes goes to the municipality while 5% goes to the county. None of that money goes to a school district. While the school board does receive funds from the land portion of property taxes, it is significantly less than it would receive if it collected what averages out to be around 55% of property taxes.

There are those who are concerned that children who attend public schools from an apartment complex will impact the population and cost of education for all with no adequate recompense for that increase. Those who favor PILOT state that school-age children from apartment complexes are not significant and that in reality, any additional students into a school district do not necessarily mean a ‘per student cost’ for each child that enters a public school.

At Tuesday night’s BOE meeting, the resolution which will be formally submitted to Mayor & Council stated that the BOE believes that “PILOT programs may adversely impact the Roselle Park Public School District and create a hardship that the District is not equipped to support”.

Additionally, the school board requested that if PILOT programs are agreed upon by the municipal governing body, that “the Borough appropriate some monies from such programs for the Roselle Park Public School District” because it might have to construct “additional school buildings and/or additional classrooms in existing school buildings to accommodate any increased student enrollment stemming from such redevelopment”.

During the vote for the resolution, BOE President Loren Harms – who is also Chair of the Roselle Park Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) – stated, “This resolution, I think, [is] well-drafted. It states what the board would like council to look at in [regard] with any building going on in the community so I think it’s a good resolution. We are still trying to get that meeting.”

Mr. Harms referred to a meeting between members of the school board and employees of the borough through a private committee meeting.

“I would like to agree with you, Mr. President,” said school board member Joseph Signorello Jr.,” It’s something we need to let the residents know. With enrollment up from September of ’17 to ’18 close to up to 98 extra students, we need to look at concerns of all the construction.”

It was not stated if the increase in school population was due in part to moving the pre-k program from the Early Childhood Center on the corner of West Webster and Laurel Avenues to the school buildings. It was not also mentioned that there will be – at least – a 40 student population increase in January of next year due to a program that the school board applied for to provide free pre-k to four-year-old children through a grant from the state.

During the second public comment portion of the meeting, Councilman Jayme Lynn Negron, who is the liaison from council to the school board, addressed the issue, “In regards to the PILOT meeting. Our town clerk had reached out to Mrs. Guercio on the 10th of September. We wanted to have a joint meeting with both parties. The borough would pull in all of our professionals to explain in detail everything related to PILOT. It was responded back that wouldn’t be in the best interest to have a joint meeting of both boards.”

She continued, “However, we are still willing to provide for the public a very in-depth discussion about PILOT with all our professionals present. So seeing as it would be a drain to our cost to then hold separate committee-style meetings with our professionals as well as a public meeting, you are all free to attend that public meeting once we plan it as citizens of Roselle Park and not as board people and ask any questions you have and utilize our professionals to explain it to you.”

BOE President Harms remarked, “Just a question, and board members please stop me if I’m going off, all the board wants to have [is] one meeting with four members from here, somebody from council to explain the PILOT process, not a whole thing . . . because in reality the board really has nothing to say about what the council does in the PILOT program or what they allow them to build or whatever it might be. So again, I’m not sure why I mean you can have your public meeting and all but why wouldn’t it be for your CFO and your clerk and one councilmember and our four members just sitting down and just kind of giving us a little, giving them, the members that attend, just kind of the gist of how a PILOT program works. It’s not the professionals, because the professionals are coming in and saying how great the program is. I’ve been there.”

“We have a wide array of professionals,” responded Councilwoman Negron.

Mr. Harms added, “We’re not looking for the council to spend that kind of money. . . So what I’m asking, other than that is that [we want] to have a meeting of four board members, the superintendent, and some people just to explain how it works.”

“We are planning a meeting to address everything anybody can know about PILOT so [that] you are informed,” replied the councilwoman.

“So I guess the answer to us is ‘No we will not be able to have a [separate committee] meeting’,” stated Mr. Harms.

Councilwoman Negron explained, “What I’m saying is we are planning that meeting so let’s get through that meeting and if nobody shows up to that meeting or you still have questions we can always plan a small one.”

Later the board was asked to explain the comment that it had ‘nothing to say about what the council does in the PILOT program’ while drafting and approving a resolution which is making a statement on PILOT and asking for a private committee meeting to have it explained to them.

Mr. Harms responded by saying, “The resolution was to have them consider anything that they do there to help the district out because we’re concerned about the number of students coming into the district and all that. That’s all we’re saying. It’s the resolution going in to put them on notice, if you want to call it, of how we feel what might happen in the town.”

As it stands, it appears that the school board does not  want to hold a joint meeting to ask questions and inform themselves – along with the public – regarding concerns with PILOT. Instead, the BOE prefers to have four school members have a private committee meeting with one council representative, the CFO, and the borough clerk to talk about PILOT and then have those four members go back and explain what they discussed to the full board.

A copy of the resolution is available below:

Download RP BOE PILOT Resolution (October 2, 2018)