Union City Mayor Brian Stack responded last week to controversy over a $2.875 million grant given to the city by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that was included in the $104.8 million 2013 fiscal year city budget.
The money was to be given by the transit agency for the purpose of renovating New York Avenue from 19th Street to 48th Street. Controversy arose over the grant in recent weeks after the Union City Concerned Citizens Group (UCCCG) made allegations that the grant didn’t really exist.
“This grant absolutely exists,” said Stack in an interview on Wednesday morning. “We applied for it over a year ago and included it in the budget as anticipated revenue.”
The rationale for the Port Authority awarding such a grant is that the roads in question are leading to and from the Lincoln Tunnel area. The agency gave Union City two $500,000 grants in 2010 to rehabilitate other sections of the same street.
There have been various concerns about the grant. Stack’s critics have questioned the fact that the Port Authority and the city failed to provide documentation to citizens and journalists when they asked for it, but last week The Jersey Journal reported that an unnamed source at the Port Authority confirmed its existence. Multiple calls to the Port Authority’s press office were not returned by press time last week.
“Union City suffers the overflow from the Lincoln Tunnel, which the Port Authority manages, so why shouldn’t we get help?” – Union City Mayor Brian Stack
“Union City suffers the overflow from the Lincoln Tunnel, which the Port Authority manages,” Stack said, “so why shouldn’t we get aid?”
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said it is not uncommon for Hudson County municipalities to receive grants to combat damage to roads and streets caused by traffic overflow.
In a press release, Dixon charged that if the grant is not received, the city will fail to balance its budget. However, Rich Cahill, Union City’s chief financial officer, disagreed. He said the grant appears on both sides of the budget (revenue and appropriations). It can only be used for the project for which it is earmarked; it cannot be used to cover any other expenses in the budget.
“These grants are not meant to balance the budget,” said Cahill. “If they were, they would only appear on one side of it. Clearly, they do not.”
Stack explained that the grant is anything but unrestricted, as critics have suggested, pointing out that the city actually only receives the money through reimbursement from the Port Authority upon completion of the project.
“If we don’t spend as much as the grant is for, then we don’t get to keep the rest of that money,” he said. “And [New York Avenue] is the only thing we can use the money for.”
Stack’s critics have suggested that the grant’s size is connected to his support of New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie. Christie urged the Port Authority in a June 2012 letter to award the grant to Union City “to rehabilitate New York Avenue, which serves as an approach roadway for the Lincoln Tunnel” and last week he and Stack praised each other at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new state-funded Colin Powell Elementary School.
However, Stack said this week he has not spoken to the governor regarding the Port Authority’s grant.
According to Christie’s letter, the funds will be broken between two projects, one rehabilitating New York Avenue from 19th Street to 30th Street ($1.6 million) and another from 31st to 48th Street ($1.275 million).
Stack confirmed that the project will be done in the two phases, citing timing as a reason. Both projects are expected to get underway in April and will hopefully be completed by October. The city will award two separate bids to construction companies, one for each phase of the project.
“If we were doing the project with just one company, it would take much longer,” he said.
He added that splitting the project between two firms will have a positive effect on the local economy.
“Companies are hungry for business right now,” he said.
The project, which City Engineer Ralph Tango described as “keeping with the city government’s aesthetic vision” of Union City, is part of a larger plan to improve New York Avenue, which has been underway since 2010. The first phase of the project, completed in 2010, improved sections of 30th and 31st streets, parts of which run parallel to Route 495, while the second phase, which stretched from 19th to 30th Street, was completed last September.
The major components of the project include newly paved roads and sidewalks, the installation of a decorative street light approximately every 35 feet, and the planting of hundreds of trees.
“I love trees, and I want to be able to provide some shade along the street,” Stack said. “We’re looking at around 600 or 700 trees.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com