HUD Letter questions investigation of Housing Authority Director Garcia
The ongoing investigation into Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA)
Executive Director Carmelo Garcia’s administrative and financial practices by the agency’s own board hit a snag this week. At a special meeting on Wednesday, the HHA Board of Commissioners tabled a resolution that would have expanded the scope of its contract with a lawyer investigating Garcia after receiving a letter from a local director at the federal agency that oversees HHA questioning the investigation.
The contract currently authorizes a special counsel, Joseph Manfredi of Joseph Manfredi & Associates, to look into $3.5 million in no-bid contracts awarded by the Authority since 2010. Some of the companies awarded contracts later made contributions to Garcia’s state assembly campaign fund.
The resolution tabled Wednesday would have allowed the board’s lawyer to look into the Authority’s administrative processes in light of a recent mix-up in which HHA checks to employees, credit unions and vendors were not valid due to a signatory issue.
The letter from Sonia Burgos, a director at the New Jersey public housing office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, focused on the manner in which the special counsel had been procured. Because it is a federally-funded agency, HHA must secure all legal representation through a competitive bidding process or else justify why such a process was not feasible.
Burgos wrote that the HHA had not provided the necessary documentation to justify retaining Manfredi’s services through a non-competitive process. As a result, she said the contract with Manfredi was "not justified."
Burgos also detailed the rules governing how much can be allotted to special counsels by public housing agencies. “Based on the limited facts with which we have been provided,” wrote Burgos, “our office in unable to ascertain the validity of the allegations [against Garcia] or support the justifications of Hoboken HA Board to procure Special Counsel.”
In response to the questions raised by the letter, Wefer proposed a motion to table the resolution for the time being, which was passed.
However, she stated that some of the documents Burgos said were not received had already been sent.
Lower county budget still stings Jersey City and Hoboken
On June 26, the Hudson County Freeholders passed the $512 million county budget, with three of the freeholders that represent portions of Jersey City voting against it.
Residents of Hudson County pay an overall tax amount that is comprised of county, local, and school taxes. The county budget only affects the county portion.
Although not as bad as first anticipated, Hoboken still got hit hardest in its percent of the county taxes this year. Jersey City also got hit with a hefty increase. Weehawken also saw a moderate increase.
Freeholders Bill O’Dea, Junior Maldonado, and Anthony Romano (who also represented Hoboken) voted against the budget.
“This is not an attack on the county executive or the freeholders,” Romano said. “Basically I’m angry at the state formula that is used to calculate the tax increases.”
The state formula requires those towns that see the most increase in new ratables (taxpaying properties) during the prior year to pay a larger portion of the county tax. New development often means a municipality will see a higher tax on the county level. This accounts for the moderate increase in Weehawken, which saw a number of new projects. Jersey City is leading the state in new development – much of which is tax abated, leaving a larger impact on unabated taxpayers.
Even more significantly is that county taxes are based on full assessed value, and not a percentage of value as it is sometimes calculated for municipal and school taxes.
What taxes a town pay or not can vary sharply from year to year. For instance, last year, Secaucus’ share of county taxes rose, this year, Secaucus will see a 4 percent reduction in its share of county taxes.
Freeholders, however, made a number of cuts that reduced Hoboken’s increase from originally proposed 18 percent (about $61 million) to 14.9 percent. This means that a home assessed at $552,340 will see an increase of $378.
Jersey City meanwhile saw only a moderate cut in the increase from a proposed $102.3 million to $101.6 million, which means taxes will go up about $100 on a home assessed at $93,000.
Hoboken Health Center reopens
Twenty-two months after being forced to close due to Super Storm Sandy, the Hoboken Health Center reopened this week with upgraded services.
Operated by the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, the offices on the second floor of the Grand Street building did not get water damage, said NHCAP Director Joan Quigley. But streets around the building and the ground floor of the building were flooded.
“We had to wait for them to rebuild downstairs,” she said.
During the interim, patients who normally used the Hoboken facility were diverted to offices in Jersey City, Union City and North Bergen.
Located at 124 Grand Street, the facility offers internal medicine, pediatrics and gynecology, as well as nutritional and psychological counseling, and a children's consultation service.
"We hand-picked our staff that embodies a mission we have here which is to provide the best care," said Carmen Mallamaci, chief medical officer.
The center originally opened in 2005 as one of a several satellite offices for services provided by NHCAP which also operates in West New York, Union City, North Bergen and Jersey City. Offices will shortly be opened in Harrison, Quigley said.
Monday ceremony will celebrate 14th Street Viaduct completion
On Monday, July 7, there will be a ceremony to mark the completion of work on the Fourteenth Street Viaduct connecting Hoboken to Union City and Jersey City Heights. Mayor Zimmer and several other dignitaries will be on hand to celebrate the finished renovation. Hudson County is not sure when the road will be open permanently, but the ceremony suggests that the full opening is coming soon.
The Viaduct has been in use since 1908, and was seen as badly in need of renovation after years of wear, tear, and New Jersey winters. The restoration project has been going on for the past two years.