Money and other local financial concerns have taken center stage at recent Town Council meetings as the governing body has discussed how to continue offering municipal services with less state aid and other resources.
Membership slips at Rec Center
According to Town Councilman John Bueckner, membership at the Secaucus Recreation Center is down slightly from last year. This could be bad news for the council, which has been exploring ways to make the facility financially self sufficient.
The newly-built center opened its doors in December 2008 and had a grand opening to attract members a few months later. However, it looks as though several people who signed up for one-year memberships in early 2009 have been slow to renew, which Bueckner said, “was not expected.”
“The Rec Center is a problem.” – Michael Gonnelli
Last December, when membership was at its peak, there were about 2,300 members, according to Town Administrator David Drumeler. Today there are 1,928 members.
“The Rec Center is a problem,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli at the March 23 Town Council meeting. “Not only do we have competition from the new LA Fitness, but there’s another one opening shortly on Wood Avenue. It’s a big nut to crack and we’re working toward that goal.”
LA Fitness opened a brand new 45,000-square-foot health club on Harmon Meadow Blvd., located in the renovated Harmon Meadow Mall, earlier this year.
“We knew that [LA Fitness] would have an impact on us,” said Bueckner, who chairs the council’s Recreation Committee. “We knew those problems were out there. We have to work harder and try to get more people into that Rec Center to keep it going.”
In an attempt to boost membership, in February, the council opened the facility up to people who work in Secaucus and who live elsewhere, but only from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Previously membership had only been available for town residents. But since nonresidents can’t use the facility during peak days and hours, this membership may not be attractive to them.
Bueckner said the governing body is now considering the possibility of using the center for municipal programs and activities “to make the center more efficient than it is today.”
The Recreation Center was controversial from the beginning, as several taxpayers questioned whether it would make enough money to support its operating costs. The administration of former Mayor Dennis Elwell was also slow to give the public actual financial details of the project.
Nonprofit health provider to expand presence
In another attempt to save taxpayer money, Mayor Gonnelli in January scaled back the town’s relationship with Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, located in Secaucus. Instead, he decided to make use of services offered by the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC), at a significant cost savings to taxpayers. The nonprofit organization offers medical services on a sliding scale to the county’s residents, and also provides free health screenings.
The agency began offering health services to residents in February. NHCAC will now expand its presence in Secaucus by offering some social services as well.
“Every other Wednesday…we’re going to have a [NHCAC] case worker in town who’s going to be able to assist people with [various] problems,” Gonnelli said. “They’ll be able to assist people who can’t pay their rent, older people who can’t maintain their homes, and offer domestic violence counseling.”
Secaucus has for years contributed $10,000 annually to NHCAC. The town has been eligible to receive health and social services in exchange for this payment, but Secaucus has never accessed the services offered by NHCAC, essentially letting the $10,000 contribution go to waste.
Meadowlands Hospital was, instead, paid nearly $70,000 to offer screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and other health problems. NHCAC now does these screenings at no cost to residents. The town will continue to pay NHCAC $10,000 a year.
Although Meadowlands Hospital continues to offer a few specialized screenings, the town’s contract with the facility has been all but eliminated, saving thousands of dollars.
Xchange residents put up $29K for truck
Councilman Jim Clancy, who serves as the governing body’s liaison to the Volunteer Fire Department, recently announced that the residents of Xchange at Secaucus Junction have donated $29,000 for the purchase of a new fire truck.
Residents there have been concerned that the Fire Department’s current fleet of trucks might have difficulty navigating the small streets within the development in the event of an emergency at the large-scale housing development.
The new vehicle, Clancy said, “will be able to get into the [Xchange courtyard]. It will be purchased within the next few weeks.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.