NORTH JERSEY - Putting his money where his mouth is, Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos announced Thursday that the town has filed a complaint against Secaucus and four other municipalities for failing to make state-mandated payments into a controversial Meadowlands District tax fund.
Kearny filed a complaint June 2 in Hudson County Superior Court against Secaucus, Carlstadt, Little Ferry, Moonachie, and South Hackensack to compel them to pay into the Meadowlands District tax-sharing pool.
Santos threatened to take legal action last month after these five municipalities and two others, North Bergen and Lyndhurst, refused to pay into pay into the Meadowlands tax sharing fund in a protest gesture.
Collectively, the seven towns are expected to pay more than $7.4 million into the Meadowlands tax sharing pool this year. The first installments of those payments were due in May.
Regional tax-sharing was established to compensate municipalities that were barred by the state from developing environmentally sensitive parts of the Meadowlands. District towns that were allowed to develop were required to contribute to a fund to compensate municipalities that were prohibited from development.
Seven municipalities - Secaucus, North Bergen, Lyndhurst, Carlstadt, Little Ferry, Moonachie, and South Hackensack - pay into this fund. Six municipalities - Kearny, Jersey City, East Rutherford, Rutherford, North Arlington, and Ridgefield - receive money from the fund.
For more than a decade, elected officials from the contributing Meadowlands towns have lobbied for the tax-sharing concept to be abolished, arguing that it unfairly penalizes taxpayers in their municipalities.
After trying in vain for years to have tax-sharing abolished, the seven towns agreed last month to withhold their payments in protest until the state took action to either eliminate or restructure the tax-sharing concept.
The show of unity among the paying municipalities was short-lived, however.
In late May North Bergen agreed to make its Meadowlands payment after the state Department of Community Affairs refused to consider the city's application to change from a fiscal year to a calendar year unless it paid up. Lyndhurst also agreed to make its payment in late May. Kearny, which stands to receive $4 million this year from the tax sharing
fund, last month threatened to file a suit against the nonpaying municipalities - a threat Santos has now backed up.
"Filing this complaint is a step we hoped to avoid," he said in a statement Thursday. "We notified the nonpaying districts of Kearny's intention to file suit and North Bergen and Lyndhurst have made their required payments to the NJMC. The tax sharing fund payments are critically important to the town and its financial stability. I am still willing to work with the Department of Community Affairs, our legislators, and all the Meadowlands District municipalities to look for a better option for funding."
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli responded to the suit Thursday evening by saying he was "very disappointed in this action by Kearny. We're sick of paying Kearny's bills. State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36th Dist.) has introduced legislation that is now before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and several mayors are meeting with him on [June 6] to discuss the status of the legislation. There's also [an upcoming policy group meeting] of the Meadowlands mayors' committee. I wish Kearny had waited until after these meetings took place to decide whether or not to file a complaint."
Secaucus is the largest contributor to the tax pool and is expected to pay $2.6 million to the Meadowlands fund this year. - E. Assata Wright