Here are what we expect to be some of the top stories this year.
Proposed community center: The tiny town of Guttenberg will officially open its first-ever public park in 2007 on River Road at the Guttenberg/North Bergen border, but the Town Council has not yet decided where to put a new community center they have been proposing since 2001. The old one was torn down that year due to asbestos problems, and since then, they have been looking for funding and a location.
The center could very well be adjacent to the town's only school, the Anna L. Klein elementary school, and involve funding from the Board of Education.
Big council election; council president decides not to run: Six of Hoboken's current nine City Council members will be up for re-election in May, however, only five plan on running. Council President and longtime 2nd Ward Councilman Richard Del Boccio, a retired school principal, confirmed Tuesday that he will not be seeking another term, having spent his last 17 years on the council. "This is a good time," he said. "The city's in terrific shape and I'm very satisfied with the way things are going."
First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, 4th Ward Councilman Christopher Campos, 5th Ward Councilman Michael Cricco and 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi all plan to begin their campaigning early this coming year in preparation for the May 8 election.
In order to be a candidate, Hoboken residents must reside for at least one year in their ward and obtain signatures from 1 percent of the ward's registered voters. The petition will be available at the city clerk's office and should be returned to City Hall on or before March 15.
Elections for the city's councilman-at-large positions, which are currently held by Terry LaBruno, Peter Cammarano and Ruben Ramos Jr., will be held in May of 2008.
Takeover of the former St. Mary Hospital: On Wednesday, Jan. 3, Hoboken's City Council plans to vote on an ordinance that guarantees $52 million in bonds for St. Mary Hospital, which will be renamed the Hoboken University Medical Center when the city officially takes over operations early this coming year. On Thursday, Dec. 21, the local finance board for the state Department of Community Affairs unanimously approved the sale of $52 million in bonds. This allowed the city to guarantee the bonds, which will be used to finance initial working capital for the city's Municipal Hospital Authority, as well as construction of capital improvements among other things.
The proposed 2007 operating budget for the hospital will be approximately $129.8 million according to the Hospital Authority, the 11 member quasi-autonomous city agency that will be replacing the Bon Secours company in the beginning of next year. Ever since Bon Secours acquired the hospital more than six years ago, it has lost approximately $118 million in the investment. Recently, St. Mary Hospital has reported an increase of $6 million in revenue over the three-month period ending in November of 2006, compared with the same period in 2005.
Affordable housing and developer abatements: How will a city with million-dollar condos keep enough affordable housing within its borders for low-income residents? The city is scheduled to unveil an Affordable Housing Master Plan some time this year to outline how affordable housing will be built in the city.
The plan is being put together to comply with the New Jersey state mandate that requires municipalities to provide one affordable housing unit for every eight market-rate units built and for every 25 jobs created in the city.
City Council President Mariano Vega suggested last year that luxury housing developers should contribute more affordable housing per luxury unit built, or drastically increase the amount they must contribute to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The fund provides money for the city to distribute to various organizations for constructing affordable housing.
Also this year, Jersey City will be studying how abatements are approved for developers. Tax abatements are granted by the City Council in order to exempt a developer from regular, fluctuating property taxes. The deals are an incentive to help a developer build in a blighted area, but some believe that too many are given out. Usually, a developer gets a separate deal to make Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) to the city over 20 or 30 years.
PILOT money is controversial because it goes straight to the city rather than being shared among the city, the county, and the schools. The public feels that they sometimes must end up paying a higher share of county and school taxes to make up for the loss.
The city will also determine if they should ask developers to contribute more money to the Affordable Houing Trust Fund when they get abatements.
Mayor seeks sixth term: In May, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco will seek his sixth term as mayor of the township, more than likely running with his entire slate of commissioners, namely Theresa Ferraro, Frank Garguilo, Allen Pascual, and Hugo Cabrera, all seeking re-election as well.
Although there has yet to be a formal announcement of Sacco's re-election bid, the township already approved additional funding for the upcoming election. As of right now, there is no major opposition to the mighty Sacco political machine.
Big chain stores and new pool: Throughout the year, North Bergen will be among the busiest state municipalities for commercial and residential development.
There are three residential complexes currently under construction along the Hudson River waterfront, with another two in the planning stages. And off the waterfront is another, Insignia Gardens, which is under construction on the northern end of the township, on the North Bergen and Fairview border.
Also, the township will welcome the arrival of Home Depot in February, and will continue to monitor the commercial development of Vornado Plaza below Tonnelle Avenue, which will bring a host of nationally respected chain stores and restaurants to the area.
The township's new swimming pool facility off of 91st Street will open in June, 2007.
Combat within the council: The new Secaucus Town Council will be sworn in on Jan. 1, adding three members: attorney Gary Jeffas in the 1st Ward, former Department of Public Works Superintendent and volunteer fireman Michael Gonnelli in the 2nd Ward, and 3rd Ward Councilman John Shinnick.
Jeffas and Gonnelli could dramatically alter the dynamic of town politics. They ran as members of the reform "Take Back Secaucus" slate, which stood in opposition to Mayor Dennis Elwell's team. The reform slate will now create a solid voting opposition bloc along with independent 2nd Ward Councilman John Bueckner.
Lining up against them will be deputy mayor and 3rd Ward Councilman John Reilly, 1st Ward Councilman Richard Kane, and Shinnick. Elwell could be the tie-breaker in council votes between the two opposing groups.
The council will tackle major town issues, such as the Secaucus Transit Village development project and further funding for the new recreation center. And there may be great theater due to the presence of bitter political rivals Elwell and Gonnelli, the latter of whom is rumored to be considering a mayoral bid in 2009.
Development in the Meadowlands: Several development projects in and around Secaucus will go forward in 2007. The residential Secaucus Transit Village project near the train station is looking to complete construction on the first few hundred housing units by the summer of 2007. According to the Secaucus Transit Village Redevelopment Plan, the combined number of market rate and affordable housing units permitted to be built there currently stands at 2,035.
Just over the Secaucus border in the Meadowlands, the massive Xanadu retail and entertainment project will continue construction in 2007. The transfer of the project management from the Mills Corp. this past fall to Colony Capital Acquisitions means the pace of construction will accelerate, partly due to a $900 million construction loan secured by Colony. The 2.2 million-square-foot project in East Rutherford is scheduled to be completed in 2008.
Other Meadowlands projects will advance in 2007. The new $1.2 billion Giants and Jets football stadium to be built in the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford should break ground in June after the teams secure additional financing and plans pass the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission's environmental review. The stadium should be completed in 2010.
Construction also continues on a $150 million rail link to the Meadowlands to augment public transportation access to these projects. The 2.5-mile rail link, which will be part of New Jersey Transit's Pascack Valley line and connect the Meadowlands by rail to the rest of the state, is scheduled to be finished in 2008.
Preliminary engineering work on the Trans-Hudson Express, or THE Tunnel, will also continue. The $6 billion rail project, to receive funding from the state and federal governments, as well as the Port Authority, is designed to double the rail capacity between New Jersey and New York. Completion of the project is expected in 2016.
Seeking the state Senate seat: All eyes will be on the upcoming June primaries with the anticipated candidacy of Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who would be running against incumbent Bernard Kenny Jr. for the seat in the 33rd Legislative District of the New Jersey State Senate.
Although there has been no official announcement, members of the Stack camp have stated that he is "considering all options" but has not made any decisions.
Kenny has served on the New Jersey State Senate since 1993, after the resignation of Robert Menendez, who was elected to the 13th Congressional District. Previously Kenny had served as in the state General Assembly.
Stack is currently a State Assemblyman in the 33rd District, which represents Guttenberg, Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken, West New York and part of Jersey City. For more information on the upcoming elections, read Al Sullivan's column.
Mayor vs. police chief,: After months public strife, Union City Mayor Brian Stack and Chief of Police Charles Everett are in the midst of negotiations on the disciplinary charges brought against the chief, which will be finalized early this year.
Last April, Everett made a public testimonial on the local cable network citing a growing problem between him and the mayor, who allegedly asked him to resign. Stack made a public statement in those following days stating he had never asked the chief to resign and that it was Everett who originally approached him about it but then changed his mind due to Everett's request that his compensation be paid in two lump sums. Everett maintains he never made such a request.
In the following months, Everett had 67 disciplinary charges brought against him by the mayor, some which asked for his dismissal. In turn, Everett brought Stack and the city to Hudson County Superior Court, challenging the legality of the charges. The ultimate decision was that in-house disciplinary hearings would proceed. The hearings were postponed twice, and will no longer be taking place, as Everett and the city's attorneys are trying to reach an agreement that will please both parties.
Waterfront park: Weehawken will continue to monitor the progress of the major 18-acre recreational waterfront park under construction at Port Imperial Blvd. The original date for the park's opening was around September, 2007, but it doesn't appear likely that the park will be ready by then.
The park promises to be a boon to the community, giving residents a place to enjoy leisure time and give the township's recreation and school athletic teams another place to play and practice.
There will also be development to watch in Weehawken in 2007. Port Imperial's commercial and residential project on the waterfront is ready to begin its massive second construction phase at any time. And Hartz Mountain Industries is looking to begin development on a commercial and residential extension to its existing facility in Lincoln Harbor.
West New York
Board of Commissioners up for re-election: West New York will be holding municipal elections in May, where newly appointed Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega and the rest of the five-member West New York Board of Commissioners will be running for re-election.
Vega was only appointed as mayor two months ago, in November, after the resignation of Albio Sires, who was elected as representative of the 13th Congressional District. Vega had been a commissioner since 1991. The other four commissioners appointed him mayor.
He was also recently appointed to the Assembly seat representing the 33rd District, also vacated by Sires.
Another person who will have to run for a seat to which she was recently appointed is Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez. She was appointed to the board in November to fill the seat Vega vacated.
Rodriguez is the first female commissioner in West New York history.
The presence of bitter political rivals Elwell and Gonnelli might make for great Secaucus theater.