SECAUCUS - Now that the New Jersey Meadowlands has the governor's attention, at least one local mayor is doing his best to keep it. Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli has sent Gov. Christopher Christie a letter explaining why his town is withholding $2.6 million in taxes owed to the state.
In a two-page letter dated May 31, Gonnelli told Christie, "I want to provide you with some significant historical information that I feel is necessary for you to have a better perspective and clearer understanding of our situation.The [New Jersey Meadowlands Commission] controls 88 percent of the Town of Secaucus. When the Meadowlands District was created, lawmakers created the Meadowlands tax sharing formula to compensate towns that gave up developable land, and the ratables that go with it, to help preserve a natural resource that spans Bergen and Hudson counties. This is the same preservation concept employed by both the Highlands and Pinelands, except, rather than being funded by local taxpayers, the state provides this compensation. Year after year, payment hikes as high as 13 percent have made the program unaffordable for the towns that pay into it."
The mayor goes on no note that Secaucus has paid $71.8 million to the Meadowlands District tax sharing formula since 1973, the year the formula went into effect.
Secaucus and six other municipalities that pay into the tax pool were expected to contribute more than $7.4 million, collectively, this year.
Secaucus, the largest contributor to the tax sharing pool, was expected to pay $2.6 million alone.
North Bergen, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Little Ferry, Lyndhurst, and South Hackensack are the other municipalities that also contribute.
Last month, however, these towns agreed to withhold the first installments of their payments to pressure the state to abolish the Meadowlands tax sharing program. The seven municipalities that pay into the tax sharing fund want the receiving towns - which include Jersey City, Kearny, East Rutherford, Rutherford, North Arlington, and Ridgefield - to be compensated by the state, as is done in the Pinelands and Highlands regions.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36th Dist.) last week introduced legislation (S-2908) that would shift the payment burden from the seven paying towns to the state. Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32nd Dist.) said he would introduce companion legislation in the Assembly this week.
Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos has threatened legal action if the contributing towns don't pay up soon; Kearny, the largest recipient of money from the Meadowlands tax pool, is owed $4 million this year.
Gov. Christie has expressed a willingness to negotiate a compromise between paying and receiving municipalities. - E. Assata Wright