Wednesday, December 7, 2011
UEZ Funds "Not a Piggy Bank."
A proposal for an “ecological park” raised too many questions Monday to get City Council endorsement and will be taken up again in the New Year.
A main sticking point was the use of $32,600 in Urban Enterprise Zone funds. According to background documents, the plan was first discussed in August. The resolution to award UEZ funds to a Parsippany firm was based on an April account balance, but since then, the state has revised the UEZ program and the city has placed its remaining funds into a locally managed account.
“There is no new money coming in,” Councilman Cory Storch said. “Once it’s spent, it’s gone.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Williams questioned the proposed contract with H2M Associates after the city only received one response from a list of qualified vendors that did not include the firm. In light of recent bidding reform legislation, Williams asked whether bidding for the services should be reopened. In answer to Council President Annie McWilliams, Economic Development Director Jacques Howard said the firm was qualified, but there was time to have bids resubmitted.
Among aspects of the proposal, a “Green Task Force” would be established to set sustainability goals, move the city toward a green economy and establish it as the “Queen Green City.” A city-owned lot near a school would become an ecological park where visitors could “learn about nature and the importance of respecting the natural environment.” A second phase of the plan would address 10 points on the city’s future as a “sustainable community.”
Councilman William Reid asked why the city needs a “comprehensive sustainability policy” and Howard said the city’s Environmental Commission, established 10 years ago, still has no members. The H2M proposal would yield a policy “so the city as a whole would be good environmental stewards,” Howard said.
“So what you’re really saying is that you need help,” Reid said.
But concerns about local management of the UEZ funds came to the fore. Councilman Adrian Mapp said the funds were “not to be used as a piggy bank by the administration.”
Previously, the city’s need to apply to the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for permission put a check on use of the funds and now, he said, “No UEZ funds should be spent unless the City Council approves.”
“Unless we put controls in place,” he said, “that $4.5 million would be spent in a heartbeat.” The council rescinded five applications to the UEZA in order to create the locally managed fund, among them one for $800,000 to acquire and install closed circuit television security cameras in the zone downtown and $275,043 for continued funding of downtown police.
In other fiscal glitches Monday, new City Administrator Eric Berry presented three “walk-on” items at the meeting, including budget transfers about which Finance Director Al Restaino said he knew nothing. Berry said they came from the city’s chief finance officer and treasurer, Ron Zilinski, but due to a family emergency, Zilinski was not on hand Monday night to explain the items.
In addition, Mapp, who is also a certified CFO, questioned a proposed contract for animal control services in 2012, saying funds could not be appropriated now for the coming year. The city is completing a six-month transitional budget year and will revert to a calendar budget year as of Jan. 1.