After scrapping plans to sell Roosevelt Stadium in order to generate funds for the now seven-month overdue fiscal year budget, the Union City Board of Commissioners is awaiting the state's consent to approve the city's $66 million spending plan. The city is currently banking on the approval of a controversial $13 million in bonds to be issued by the Hudson County Improvement Authority to bridge a $7 million city budget deficit. The issuing of bonds would allow the city to sell its interest in the Department of Public Works garage and also help the Union City Redevelopment Agency restore a garage at 2700-2820 Bergenline Ave. and 2701 New York Ave. The Redevelopment Agency can then seek bids from possible developers for the garage, which is owned by NJ Transit and leased to the city. Funds received from the developer will go both to NJ Transit and to the city, and the city can then use its share to repay the HCIA. The HCIA is willing to issue the bonds, but must first get authorization to do so from the state's Local Finance Board, which will make a decision on May 10. If the agency fails to approve the bond transaction then the city could be forced to raise taxes. The state's Department of Community Affairs must also review any bond agreement reached between the HCIA, the Redevelopment Agency and the city. At Tuesday's commissioners meeting, the commissioners introduced an ordinance to enter a bond deal with the HCIA by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Rafael Fraguela and Michael Leggiero voted against the agreement with the HCIA. At Tuesday's meeting, Leggiero said he had spoken with Al Steinberg, the director of the Local Finance Board of the Division of Local Government Services, who expressed concern about the bond issue. But Joseph Suliga, chief financial officer of Union City, contradicted Leggiero by saying that Steinberg supported the commission's entering into a bond agreement with the HCIA. Steinberg could not be reached for comment, but E. J. Miranda, a spokesperson for the DCA, said that the agency's approval of Union City's budget would only be considered after the Local Finance board gave its okay for the HCIA to issue bonds. "We'll see what the vote of the Local Finance Board is, and the issue will be addressed after that point," said Miranda. Leggiero said he is concerned because the city has not received formal approval from NJ Transit for the sale of its property and because the site had not yet been appraised. Suliga said no appraisal was needed because the sale is inter-governmental. Mayor Rudy Garcia said NJ Transit had granted its permission for sale of its property in a February letter. "It's contingent on too many different things. If we learned anything from the Roosevelt Stadium, we learned you don't rush into things," said Leggiero. Last Tuesday, Fraguela had hoped to introduce a resolution to have the DCA take over the city's budget, but the resolution never saw the light of day because the mayor tabled it. This is Fraguela's second unsuccessful attempt to have the Board of Commissioners formally ask the state to take over the Union City budget. Before the meeting, Fraguela said, "The mayor is relying on one-shot revenue to fill this gap. I urged the commissioners to look at this proposal and put politics aside." Garcia said that the city's budget is fine and has been reviewed numerous times by the Local Finance Board and that "the HCIA under the local redevelopment law has the ability to help the city." Second attempt
This is the second attempt by the city this year to raise funds for its budget shortfall. The first was its attempt to sell Roosevelt Stadium to the Board of Education. The $3.32 million stadium sale is being challenged in court by Jose Franco, a Union City restaurant owner who claims the city failed to gain necessary approvals from the proper agencies prior to deciding to sell the stadium. The suit also alleges that Commissioner Tina Yandolino has a conflict of interest because she is a paid employee of the Board of Education. Garcia said the sale of the stadium is far from dead, and that he expects to win the court battle. Nonetheless, proceeds from that sale will not be used for the city budget.