Vidal, who serves as an electrical inspector for several North Hudson towns, was charged with seven counts of extortion and seven counts of filing false tax returns in June by the U.S. Attorney's Office. According to federal officials, Vidal is accused of using his position as a construction code official or electrical inspector to extort money from individuals and businesses seeking permits to do construction or electrical work.
Although Vidal has been suspended from duty in Secaucus pending the outcome of the indictments, Mayor Dennis Elwell and others said they believed no wrongdoing had occurred in the town.
Frank Leanza, the town attorney, said he had checked the indictment, which showed only Union City activities in question.
Bueckner asked if anyone in Secaucus had checked specifically to determine if something of a similar nature had gone on there.
"I just want to be certain that nothing went on in Secaucus," Bueckner said.
Elwell, however, said with Secaucus so small, it was unlikely that anyone could shake down residents or businesses without town officials hearing about it.
"Someone would complain to us," Elwell said.
"I'm not sure I agree," Bueckner said. "I would feel more comfortable if I knew someone actually checked to make sure it didn't happen here."
Elwell, however, said it was not the job of the Town Council to conduct an investigation.
Town Administrator Anthony Iacono said he had appeared before the attorney general and had supplied authorities in the case with documentation out of Secaucus going back eight years.
Bueckner said he would push to have an inquiry done into the matter in order to make "absolutely certain" no problems occurred in the Secaucus inspection process.
What about the assisted living facility?
Citing rumors that a deal between the landowner and the head of an elderly project has fallen through, Bueckner also asked what the fate of the financing package would be.
Earlier, Dr. George Peck, who wants to build the assisted living complex on the site of a former truck terminal on Flanagan Way, received approval for the five-story facility from the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission's Planning Board. In order to allow the project to meet criteria set by the New Jersey State Housing Mortgage Finance Agency, which is funding the project, the Town Council authorized payment in lieu of taxes. The tax break will allow Peck to pay a certain amount to the town each year, and he won't have to pay county or school taxes.
The Assisted Living Center at Secaucus, Inc. will construct 100 units of housing for the elderly on Flanagan Way. As envisioned, the structure will be a 14,000 square foot, five-story building constructed on a one-acre site near Fourth Street and Flanagan Way. The facility would have 41 parking spaces.
The original five-acre tract owned by Donald Aronson was broken up last year, when the town of Secaucus purchased 1.5 acres for a proposed firehouse. In proposing a $10.5 million project, Aronson, the former mayor of Englewood, is seeking to subdivide the remaining property.
Under the PILOT agreement reached with the builder, Secaucus will receive payments of $70,000 in the first two years, $80,000 in the third year and $90,000 in the fourth year. Beginning in the fifth year, the facility will pay the town 6.628 percent of its revenue. This figure will be based on an audit by the state government and could mean up to $250,000 a year.
The town currently receives under $6,000 a year for the property in taxes, Councilman John Bueckner, the lone vote against the project, saying he had some questions about Peck's ability to make the project a success, and claimed the town should seek a group of people who might be better able to provide the service.
"If Dr. Peck has pulled out, how will that affect our agreement with the state?" Bueckner asked.
Mayor Dennis Elwell, however, said he could not comment on a private deal between Peck and Aronson, but said the tax breaks were with the project, not the person, and that if Aronson found someone equally qualified, the project could still move ahead even if this particular deal falls through.
"I don't know if Dr. Peck is out or not," Elwell said. "The PILOT is with the project only, and if Mr. Aronson cannot come up with another person to take over the project, then the PILOT is dead."