The Secaucus Town Council meeting was evacuated Tuesday for a bomb scare after a resident apparently left behind an unattended bag (see sidebar).
But before the mayhem, the council discussed a number of critical issues.
The mayor and Town Council officially swore in members of the Affordable Housing Board and talked about reducing the town’s debt.
Making the board official
“We had a whole issue with our Affordable Housing Board (AHB) that has been straightened out now,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli during the meeting. Basically, the newly-composed AHB is the governing body’s attempt to reestablish a local agency to monitor compliance with the state’s affordable housing laws.
Previously, the town’s land use ordinance stated that the Secaucus Leased Housing Corporation (LHC), an independent, non-profit private entity created in 1975, monitored whether developers comply with state law requiring them to provide housing for low and moderate-income families. The members of the LHC and the AHB were exactly the same. The AHB managed the fees developers paid toward affordable housing and developed programs. The two agencies worked in partnership to renovate old units and create affordable housing.
“We had a whole issue with our Affordable Housing Board (AHB) that has been straightened out now.” – Michael Gonnelli
In March, the mayor and council officially re-established a separate Affordable Housing Board in compliance with the state Fair Housing Act to transfer power over compliance with the affordable housing laws from the Leased Housing Corporation to the board.
The LHC continues to purchase old buildings to rehabilitate them and create affordable housing as well as provide ongoing maintenance.
The current AHB members and two new members – former mayor Richard Steffens and local teacher’s union president and guidance counselor Joan Cali – were sworn in at the start of the meeting.
William Carr, Margaret Cutola, Carmen Ross, Charles Voorhees, and Steffens will serve as regular members while Carleen Perricone and Cali will serve as alternate members.
Town debt decreasing
Councilman Robert Costantino gave a financial report on the town’s debt given “all the talk about the national debt.” He reported that the municipal debt has decreased on average by $2 million a year since 2009 when the debt was at $45.6 million.
This year the debt has been reduced to $41.7 million.
“We are trying to keep a handle on that, trying to be fiscally responsible,” said Costantino. He said the state statutes allow for a debt that is 3.5 percent of the total valuation of the property of the town, which is about $5 billion. The town’s debt is .82 percent of the total valuation.
“You’ve heard us talk on many occasion about going after old money,” said Gonnelli. He noted that the municipality is collecting $600,000 a year in special assessments that go directly to paying off the debt.
- A new position that has yet to be filled is now open on the Housing Authority after George Broemmer’s recent resignation.
- The council announced that of the 46 homeowners surveyed on whether to keep the Fifth Street Gate open during lunchtime eight homeowners favored keeping it open and 38 homeowners want it closed at all times unless there is an emergency. Truck traffic has caused complaints.
-The town has extended residential parking to Franklin and Poplar Streets, Fisher, Myrtle, and Arch Avenues.
-The Xchange development has donated $135,000 to provide a new radio system and 60 new radios to improve radio communications in their area for the Fire Department.
-The municipality will seek bids for Crosswalk Safety Upgrades at various intersections on Front Street and Centre Avenue, which is being paid for by a Community Development Block Grant of $165,000.
-The municipality is seeking applicants for the position of municipal prosecutor. Nicholas Mayer was hired as a part-time alternate court officer. Erika Pascale was hired as bilingual assistant violations clerk-typist.
-Meadowlands Hospital, which took over ambulance service for the town in September, reportedly had an average response time of 5 minutes and 4 seconds in the recent time period.
Awards and Presentations
The mayor and council presented Senior Director of IBX Operations Michael Poleshuk and Director of Facilities Operations Anthony Sclafani, from the local data company Equinox, with a Serving the Community Award for donating an infrared camera to the fire department.
The mayor and Town Council presented local company Concentra with a Community Service Award for their contributions to the municipality.
Meeting evacuated after man apparently leaves behind bag
The Secaucus Town Council meeting was evacuated Tuesday evening for a bomb scare after a resident apparently left behind an unattended bag.
The council meeting was near its end, during the citizens’ remarks portion, when Secaucus police officers asked everyone in the room to leave the building. Chief Dennis Corcoran said it appeared that someone who was a little disturbed had come to the council meeting. His behavior in leaving the council meeting abruptly, and leaving a bag behind, had caused alarm.
Several residents said that they saw the man leave and enter the room a few times and that at one point he left behind a bag. A fire official noticed the behavior and called the police.
The police had the building evacuated and called the Hudson County Sheriff’s K-9 unit. Wilbert Negron from the K-9 unit said that the dog sniffed the area and nothing suspicious was found.
The man was held in Secaucus on a warrant for his arrest from Bayonne, officials said. The man was also expected to undergo a psychological examination, officials said.
The meeting did not resume after the building was safe to reenter. Mayor Michael Gonnelli said that the man in question recently moved to town and had been emailing him asking for help because he had no food. Gonnelli said that the municipality has been delivering food to his home and arranged for him to receive meals through the Meals on Wheels program.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.