In a memo to the City Council, Mayor Ravi Bhalla provides an update on various issues including Union Dry Dock, the Northwest Park, Open Space Trust Fund, Southwest Park, and a purchasing ordinance. The memo, along with the referenced attachments, can also be viewed here.
June 19, 2019
Dear City Councilmembers,
I want to take this opportunity to update you on some important priorities my office is working on, that I hope the City Council can support.
Union Dry Dock
As you likely know, last week I made it known that the City would be moving forward to directly acquire the Union Dry Dock property from New York Waterway. The City’s appraiser is finalizing the appraisal amount, and when complete, I am respectfully requesting your support to move forward with acquisition through eminent domain of the property, potentially at the next council meeting.
The City is moving forward with the construction of our Northwest Resiliency Park so we can break ground on the park by the end of this year. On the agenda for tonight’s meeting is a resolution awarding a contract to Tomco Construction, Inc. for the park’s construction, as recommended by the City’s engineering and legal teams. The bid is within the $54.5 million bond ordinance authorizing the construction of the Northwest Resiliency Park approved by the Council in March.
So we do not lose the ability to close on a low-interest loan from the New Jersey i-Bank by June 30 which would result in a $4.5 million cost savings over the life of the project, it is extremely important to award the construction contract tonight. If the construction contract is not awarded, the City may not be able to begin construction on the park by the fall of 2019, as required by an ordinance passed by the Council in April, 2017, which would cause the City to default on its $31.5 million low interest loan for acquisition of the park.
Open Space Trust Fund
Over the past 12 years, Hoboken’s Open Space Trust Fund has been used to both directly acquire land for public open space, as well as develop City parks. For example, for our current Southwest Resiliency Park, the City utilized the Open Space Trust Fund for land acquisition and construction costs.
Given the City’s interest in acquiring Union Dry Dock for the purposes of a public park, there will be substantial costs involved to construct the park that go beyond the funding currently available in the Open Space Trust Fund. So taxpayers are not burdened with covering the costs of the buildout of Union Dry Dock and other park projects through the City’s traditional budgeting process, I believe we should ask voters to consider, by referendum, an increase of .01 cent per $100 of assessed value for our Open Space Trust Fund. Unfortunately, if we are unable to have this additional funding in our Open Space Trust Fund, the City will not be in the financial position to construct the Union Dry Dock waterfront park, in addition to our Northwest Park, in a fiscally responsible manner.
Additionally, as it stands in the current Open Space Trust Fund ordinance, the City must use 75% of the funding for the acquisition of land, with 25% allocated for the development of park space. So the City has ability to utilize this funding in a more flexible manner to develop Union Dry Dock into a public park and build out other park projects, along with identified historic preservation initiatives, I’m also asking for your support of an ordinance to put this question to the voters as a referendum question. This proposal is strongly supported by the Fund for a Better Waterfront, please see the attached memo from Director Jennifer Gonzalez expanding on this topic.
I remain committed to expanding our Southwest Park to include the adjacent vacant lot at Block 10. It remains my strong preference to acquire the property (currently owned by Academy Bus) through an amicable agreement that is fair to the City and taxpayers, and if that cannot be reached, through eminent domain. I have spoken to representatives from Academy and their legal team, and have a meeting scheduled this upcoming Monday to discuss the City’s acquisition of Block 10. I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.
For the Council’s consideration on second reading, is an ordinance that would lower the threshold of all City Departments, including Police and Fire, to purchase materials, equipment, and services. For example, critical equipment that can be purchased through current rules and regulations without Council approval for up to $17,5000 would now, under Councilman DeFusco’s ordinance, be required to go out to bid for purchasing services requiring Council authorization through two meetings and an additional 20 day waiting period. This would be a dangerous precedent that could cripple the ability of our Police and Fire Department to purchase critical equipment in a timely fashion, substantially slow down key projects due to the added red tape, and more. Given the public safety concerns raised by Police Chief Ken Ferrante, Fire Chief Brian Crimmins, and all of our City Directors in the enclosed memos, I strongly urge you to vote against this ordinance. If this passes, I will have no choice but to veto it.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and please don’t hesitate to contact my office should you have any questions regarding the topics above.
Ravi S. Bhalla