Ever since the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission established the tax-sharing pool for the communities that make up the Hackensack Meadowlands, people have complained. The municipalities that paid into the tax-sharing pool claimed they paid too much; those that received money sometimes claimed they did not enough. Yet by far the biggest complaint from communities revolved around the lack of predictability of the tax formula. The amount that Secaucus pays year in and year out often varies so much that when officials seek to do their yearly budget, they have little or no way to figure ahead of time what they might have to pay in the upcoming year. On Jan. 27, the HMDC voted to revise the tax-sharing formula, giving municipalities not only the ability to better predict if they will receive or pay into the formula, but a figure they can count on for their yearly budgets. The changes - allowed under recent state legislation - would create a system of averaging that will allow towns to know what their tax status will be a year in advance, and will restrict changes to no more than 5 percent in a given year. "This will allow towns like ours to know it advance what we will have to pay into the tax pool so we can budget it," said Mayor Dennis Elwell, noting that while he wasn't completely happy with the tax-sharing program, he found this a good change. In 1972, those municipalities benefiting from development allowed in the Hackensack district began contributing to the tax pool monitored by the HMDC. Money accumulated in this pool went toward supplementing municipalities that were not allowed to develop due to environmental and other restrictions. Secaucus, which has been one of the largest benefactors of development, has fought its contribution in court several times and lost. A committee to look into the problems with the tax-sharing formula was formed in early 1995 when several members met with HMDC officials, but resulted in an emotional tug-of-war between those districts paying into the tax pool and those districts receiving its benefits. The complicated formula is based on 25 economic factors including municipal tax rates, assessed property values and equalization ratios. Under this model which was originally worked out by the mayors of the 13 towns, costs and revenues would be divided among all the municipalities, based on specific criteria. The HMDC regulates growth within a 32-square mile area that incorporates parts of 13 communities. Some of these communities are allowed to develop, others are not. The tax-sharing plan compensates those communities with development restrictions by sharing revenues from the other communities. Fluctuations in payments have been a problem for Secaucus in the past, though the town has received funds from the HMDC out of the Tax-sharing Stabilization Fund to help compensate. Secaucus, which pays the most into the tax sharing formula each year, has seen an increase in its payments this year, and will receive additional money from the fund to help offset the impact. "The revised formula will provide predictability to the district communities as they prepare their municipal budgets," said Irfan Bora, Chief Financial Officer for the HMDC. Protest over the fairness of the tax formula have gone on for years and resulted in Secaucus taking the matter to the state Supreme Court. Two years ago, the HMDC agreed to seek experts to review the process, including providing some help to mayors who demanded some way to predict the rise or fall of payments from year to year. In other business, the HMDC voted to purchase a former 500-acre landfill in Lyndhurst as part of a program to reclaim and redevelop under-utilized portions of the district as part of its open space program. The HMDC - at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - will participate in a major study to prepare for the future of the Port of New York and New Jersey over the next 60 years. In this study, the HMDC will evaluate issues of transportation and environmental impacts related to terminal freight volume growth in the area. "The port plays a vital part in the economy of the region and the HMDC is an important component in the region's growth for port-related industry, " said Executive Director Alan Steinberg, noting that the Meadowlands contains many of the warehouses, truck and train terminals that handle goods in and out of the ports. The HMDC has also announced plans to established a "Speakers' Bureau" program in order to do away with "misinformation or misunderstandings" that cloud many issues concerning the Meadowlands. The program would offer area organizations an opportunity to hear HMDC experts discuss topics including land use, wetlands acquisitions and enhancement, landfill remediation, solid waste disposal and the human and natural history of the Meadowlands region. "Familiarity with these topics on the part of the public an be an important tool in acquiring a better understanding of Meadowlands issues," said Bernie Nagle, HMDC Director of External Affairs and coordinator of the Speaker's Bureau public outreach program. The Speakers' Bureau presenters include members of the HMDC's Environment Center staff and the commission staff, authorities on land use management, legal affairs and other subject areas. For more information, call Nagle at 460-4609.