In a session rife with second thoughts and uncertainty that strongly resembled the “Who’s on First” Abbott & Costello sketch, the City Council last week pulled, repealed, or tabled several local ordinances pertaining to providing greater school funding, protecting small stores from competition from chain stores, providing a city- based I.D. card, and even selling cats and dogs in local pet stores.
The council pulled an ordinance on May 24 that would have allowed money from tax-abated properties to be used to help fund the local schools.
Mayor Steven Fulop last month issued an executive order that would allow 10 percent of city revenue from tax-abated properties to go to the schools. The council was to introduce an ordinance that would set up mechanisms to allow the funds to be distributed.
But in a May 22 caucus, council members struggled to understand how to implement the program and whether or not doing so would result in the city actually losing revenue from abated projects.
Councilman Michael Yun struggled to work out the mathematics, saying the proposal is unclear as to how the transfer of money would work.
Business Administrator Robert J. Kakoleski said the ordinance would have the city give ten percent of revenues obtained through tax abatements but also admitted that under the proposal the city could actually receive less in revenue than it would if a property was to pay normal taxes.
Tax abatements that are allowed under state law permit the city to offer developers a discount on traditional taxes. Under this, the developer would make payments in lieu of property taxes (PILOTs), but would pay only a small portion of county taxes and no school taxes at all.
Facing criticism about underfunding the schools, especially with the possibility of reduced state and federal school aid, Mayor Fulop said the city would start sharing the revenues it gets with the schools, similar to a program started in Bayonne earlier this year.
The ordinance would have required abatement revenue to be shared with the school district at the same rate local property taxes are. Currently less than 30 percent of Jersey City taxpayers pay the $114 million local share of school taxes.
The city estimates that it will collect just shy of $140 million from abated properties in 2017.
Fulop’s executive order would divert 10 percent of PILOTs to the school district.
Kakoleski said the funds would have to go into general revenue and then would be allocated to the school district through the municipal budget.
But Kakoleski admitted that it is possible the city would lose money in the process, making the concept of abatements less profitable to the city in the future.
Because there was so much confusion on how to implement this and what the final outcome would be, the council decided to withdraw the ordinance until it can conduct a more thorough review.
This, however, did not stop protestors from showing up at City Hall in support of the measure, saying that the schools face an imminent threat of losing state aid.
Mom and pop store restriction repealed
Saying that the city’s restriction on chain stores downtown may not be legal, the council voted to repeal a law it put in place in 2015.
“They may be covered under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.” – Matt Ward
Matt Ward of the Department of Planning told the council the restriction may not comply with federal laws.
“We need to do more study on case law,” he said, noting that the law might be seen as a violation of state and federal laws, in particular federal regulations governing interstate trade. “They may be covered under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.”
Ward said the city would look to propose a revised ordinance that would not be in violation. The council repeal would allow building owners to rent to chain stores.
The repealed law restricts chain stores from taking up more than 30 percent of ground-floor commercial space in any one lot in several noncontiguous areas downtown.
Council member Candice Osborne, who was a proponent of the restriction, said the council needs to have its own attorney in order to be able to evaluate such measures prior to implementation.
City identification ordinance on hold again
Saying they are still concerned about some of the provisions in the newly-proposed city identification program, the council has voted to table the ordinance.
Council President Rolando Lavarro said there are things that still need to be worked out and some changes made to the ordinance before the council can introduce it again.
One area of concern is over what documentation would be needed for residents to obtain the identification.
The ordinance would provide identification that could be used within the city limits as a proof of residency and possibly enable people to open bank accounts and cash checks at local banks. This would also serve as a kind of discount card for some city programs and access to recreational facilities.
b>Pet store restriction axed
A law that would have made it illegal for pet stores to sell cats and dogs was defeated by the council.
Although the purpose of the ordinance was to restrict the sale of cats and dogs raised in substandard puppy mills, as presented the ordinance would also ban the sale of these pets even if they are obtained by reputable breeders.
“This would make it impossible for a store to sell cats and dogs in our city,” said Councilman Frank Gajewski. “That’s not what we want to do.”
A revised ordinance will likely be presented to the council next month, but Gajewski and other council members said they would not pass a blanket restriction.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.