The town agreed to hire Daniel Becht, an attorney who previously served as Assistant Prosecutor for the City of Orange, as Chairman of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, and as attorney for the Rent Leveling Board for the City of Jersey City.
"He's been lobbying for Jersey City," Town Administrator Anthony Iacono said.
"He is well-connected with the Republican Party," Mayor Dennis Elwell said before the council meeting. "That's the kind of person we need to help push this through. We spoken with Assemblyman [Anthony] Impreveduto (D-32nd Dist.), state Senator [Nicholas] Sacco (D-32nd) and State senator [John] Kelly (R-36th Dist.) about the matter. We're looking to get all the support we can."
"Secaucus won't get a hotel tax without help from the Republicans," Iacono said, noting that a meeting has already taken place between Becht and Kelly, and it seems that the Republican state senator is interested in looking further into the matter. Although Secaucus has been seeking to get a hotel tax for a number of years, Iacono said, hiring Becht was prompted by the announcement that a new hotel will likely be approved for a property on Meadowlands Parkway, where the former Aratusa restaurant was located in the 1980s. This pushes the number of hotels in Secaucus to over 15 and the number of rooms to more than 2,000.
Under current state law, only cities of a certain density can initiate a 6 percent tax on hotel rooms. Smaller towns hosting an international airport could also impose a tax. Currently, Atlantic City and Newark have such taxes. Under legislation authored by Impreveduto in the early 1990s, smaller towns would be able to impose a 2 percent tax. This legislation, however, has run into opposition from a Republican-dominated state legislature that is philosophically opposed to initiating a tax.
Secaucus is also seeking to increase the percentage under the original proposal from 2 percent to 6 percent, hoping to generate even more revenues.
At the public portion of the Feb. 13 meeting, George Brommer, who ran for Town Council last year with the tax as one of his issues, urged the council not to push the percentage up, saying that it should seek to move the legislation that already exists. "By promoting the bill that is there now, it may be possible to shorten the approval process," he said. "As it is, we're losing $125,000 per month."
Brommer has previously estimated the annual income to Secaucus at 2 percent about $2 million.
Elwell, however, said the council felt it could seek the higher percentage, helping to cover the costs of services hotels require, such as fire, police and ambulance services currently paid for by taxpayers.
But Don Roberts, a resident, came out in opposition to the measure, claiming that he resented the imposition of the tax when he traveled elsewhere and did not want to be guilty of imposing it on travelers coming into Secaucus.
"I think it is unfair and unjust and see that it takes advantage of people visiting Secaucus hotels," he said.
In his arguments against the tax, Roberts said hotels do not seem to use services more often than other tax-paying entities, but do bring in people who add to the local economy by making purchases in local stores, and help generate jobs for local residents, and that should be enough for Secaucus.
"People come into the hotels spend a large amount of money and that money helps create jobs and income," Roberts said. "The people are not voters, so it seems easy to tax them. I see them as being disenfranchised and that we're going after people who cannot defend themselves."
When contacted for comment on the hotel tax issue, Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons, who was recently named president of the New Jersey Association of Counties - a lobbying organization looking out for the interest of counties throughout the state - said the hotel tax will not likely pass the state legislator as proposed by Impreveduto.
"It is likely that it will have to be something that benefits the region," he said. "Which means that we should be pushing to establish an office for economic development for the Gateway region, and the tax would go to that."
In routine matters, the Town Council approved salary ranges with union and non-union employees as the result of contract agreements made over the last two months. Covered under these would be annual salaries for administrative employees in the clerical union, such as the municipal court director, director of the Office of Inspections, foreman for the Department of Public Works, as well as non-union administrative and part time clerical employees including such positions at the mayor's secretary, the town administrator, the municipal court judge and others.
The council also rehired The Funding Group of Upper Montclair at $43,000 a year to help investigate, research, plan, prepare, and pursue various county, state, federal and private grants.
The council also agreed to hire a professional tree specialist to do a shade tree study of Schmidt's Woods and established a grant agreement between the town and the state, approved a professional services contract with Intervention Strategies International, to provide an employee assistance counseling program. The council also voted to approve a $12,000 contract with Strategic Message Management to do the town's newsletter and produce pro-Secaucus videos.