Tuesday, representatives from the 27 municipalities in the program met in West New York to discuss proposed legislation that would make the 20-year Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program permanent in all towns.
The North Hudson towns with UEZs are West New York, Union City, North Bergen and Guttenberg. These cities were introduced to the program only five years ago, so they still have 15 years left in it. But the state's original five UEZ cities, Newark, Camden, Trenton, Bridgeton and Plainfield, are only six months away from losing the benefits that the zone provides.
These benefits include charging a 3 percent sales tax, a 50 percent savings from the state's 6 percent sales tax. In addition, the sales tax money that is collected can go toward refurbishing the zones.
From streetscape projects to new parking lots and added lighting, North Hudson towns have been benefiting from the perks that being an Urban Enterprise Zone has to offer.
"If you walk [along Bergenline Avenue] from North Bergen to Union City you will see a completely revitalized community," said West New York Business Administrator Richard Turner. "We have given competition back to the malls."
"It was important that we all [banded] together," said North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who is one of the assemblymen who helped introduce the legislation.
West New York UEZ Coordinator Oscar Miqueli said that it's important to try "to make the UEZ permanent in the municipalities that already have it."
West New York Mayor Albio Sires, who is also an assemblyman, was unable to attend the meeting because he was called to Trenton for Gov. Christine Whitman's budget address. Sires sits on the state's budget committee.
Longevity is key
"We have 15 more years to go," said Union City UEZ Coordinator Amada Avila of the involved North Hudson towns, adding that Union City is behind the movement to lengthen the life of the UEZ. "At the blink of an eye we will be looking at 20 years. It would be devastating to go from 3 percent sales tax back to 6 percent sales tax and no benefits."
"Our primary goal is to extend the life of the UEZ," said Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage.
Urban Enterprise Zones are set up on a 20-year scale. For the first five years, all of the money collected from the 3 percent sales tax is added to the municipality's individual zone assistance fund. In the second five years, one percent of that money is transferred to the state's general zone assistance fund. For the third five years, two percent of that money is added to the general fund, and in the last five years, the zone is still able to collect 3 percent sales tax; however, all of that money is added to the general fund. Bill A-1008, which is in the legislature right now, directs the New Jersey Enterprise Zone Authority to designate zones meeting certain criteria as permanent enterprise zones.
"[These zones] are still in need of assistance," said Michael Parkes, who has been a business owner in West New York for more than 30 years. "Especially the type of assistance that the UEZ gives."
Parkes added, "Many urban businesses might cease to be [without the benefits of the UEZ]. Especially small businesses."
In July the original five designated zones will loose their benefits and zone status.
"It is clear we will have to make our move within the next couple of months," said Bollwage.
There are more than 20 bills in the legislature dealing with the UEZ. However, most bills are dealing with either increasing the number of zones or enlarging the zones that already exist. Bill A-2446, introduced by West New York Mayor and Assemblyman Albio Sires (D-33rd Dist.) among others, would amend the UEZ enabling statute to allow marketing, public relations and special events and other managerial and professional services to be defined as projects eligible for UEZ funding assistance.
Benefiting North Hudson
One of the biggest perks of the program is having the money come back to benefit the town.
"The turnaround has been positive for West New York," said Miqueli. "The money always comes back to the community. It is a win win program."
The four North Hudson municipalities involved in this program have been able to use the money made by the towns' 3 percent sales tax to help refurbish the business districts.
West New York has already completed a streetscape of its Bergenline Avenue shopping district, which houses more than 300 stores and spans about one mile, which included adding new sidewalks, new light fixtures and colorful banners. A similar project is planned for its Park Avenue business district this year. The town has also began a UEZ Police Hire Program. This program funds 10 police officers hired to patrol within the zone.
"These officers patrol the areas within the zone," said Miqueli, who said this program has been in place for the past three years. "In the case of an emergency, they will go somewhere else, but they usually patrol with in the zone."
North Bergen has also completed streetscape projects.
"We were able to utilize the UEZ money to do streetscape of both of our business districts," said Sacco, referring to Bergenline Avenue and Broadway. "Our business districts have been completely refurbished."
North Bergen has also used UEZ funds to provide seed money for other projects, such as the Columbia Park Mall on 32nd Street and Kennedy Boulevard.
"We are able to redevelop our business districts and modernize them," said Sacco.
Union City has also began working on their fa