The death knell for the Urban Enterprise Zone began tolling way back in 2011, when a state report revealed the program's shortcomings. In Plainfield, only 105 of 731 eligible retail businesses had registered with the program and it was costing the state $1 in administrative expenses for every eight cents of new revenue. Sales tax was held by the state and cities had to apply to a state authority to draw money down for specific projects.
The state decided to turn UEZ accounts back to cities for local management, but still permitted registered retailers to charge 3.5 percent sales tax instead of 7 percent. Cities kept a few other perks, In 2012 city budget talks, then-Councilman Adrian O. Mapp pressed for information on the UEZ account, but could get no response from the prior administration.
Over the years, Plainfield lost major UEZ sales tax generators including Macy's and Appliance-Arama, Now that Gov. Chris Christie wants to shut the program down altogether at the end of the year, Mayor Mapp is doing the right thing in objecting, as there are still some benefits for business owners and with a surge in development, the designation might attract new retailers.
However, the expiration has been looming for some time. The city may need a new approach to attracting and retaining businesses if the UEZ program cannot be salvaged. The Plainfield website already has information and outreach for businesses under the Economic Development link. There are merchant associations and a Special Improvement District association. All may not be lost if the UEZ program expires.