By Assata E. Wright
Days after North Arlington learned that it would not be receiving any extraordinary aid from the state, the news continued to ruffle the feathers of some public officials. The borough applied for $600,000 in extraordinary aid from the state’s Department of Community Affairs. But when the DCA released the list of municipalities that were to receive aid on Aug. 7, they weren’t one of the 39 towns included – even though the borough’s representatives in Trenton said the town was likely to receive some sort of funding.
This rankled a borough still reeling from the May 2008 EnCap bankruptcy and the closure of a revenue-generating trash baler several months later by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
The Commission said their top priority is the proper cleanup and closure of the four former landfills that make up the 785-acre Meadowlands Redevelopment Area, which mainly includes parts of Lyndhurst and Rutherford – as well as 85 acres in North Arlington – and that work is progressing.
“At the same time, at Governor Corzine’s request, the NJMC is reexamining land use options for the area, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors. This will be a very open process that involves local officials, including those from North Arlington, and public participation,” Brian Aberback, spokesman for the NJMC said.
The NJMC is forming a working group that will include the mayor of North Arlington and other borough officials to review appropriate land-uses for the site. The Commission will also be holding a series of public information sessions in September and October to solicit ideas and opinions from residents on future land -use options for the site.
“The future use of the Meadowlands Redevelopment Area will be determined in a transparent process in which local input is actively sought and encouraged,” he said
New Jersey awards extraordinary aid to municipalities that, due to extreme or unforeseen circumstances, would have to significantly raise property taxes to maintain essential services.
“Frankly, we were disappointed and shocked to see that North Arlington was left off of that list,” Chris Eilert said.
Eilert is chief of staff for State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood Ridge), who represents North Arlington in Trenton.
“We sat down in meetings with [Mayor Peter Massa] and Joe Doria, who at the time was chairman of the state DCA. We were told directly that North Arlington would be getting anywhere between $400,000 and $600,000 in extraordinary aid. To this day we still have not received a satisfactory answer as to why they received nothing,” Eilert added.
Eilert admitted it is unlikely that North Arlington will get extraordinary aid this year since that pot of money has already been awarded. But he said Sen. Sarlo and assemblymen Fred Scalera (D-Nutley) and Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), who also represent the town, are trying to identify other pools of money that the town could access for relief.
At the most recent Borough Council meeting Councilman Joe Bianchi said he thinks it’s time for North Arlington to make its own case for state aid, rather than leaving the work up to the state representatives.
“We got into this mess because of EnCap, and it was the state that gave us EnCap,” Bianchi said. “The state has a responsibility to help the residents and taxpayers of North Arlington. It’s time for us to speak for ourselves, not to rely on other people to do it for us.”
Bianchi further suggested that elected leaders from North Arlington lobby Trenton for aid along with representatives from Rutherford and Lyndhurst, two other municipalities hurt by EnCap’s failure.
Mayor Massa said he sees no need to lobby Trenton directly.
“You don’t always have to go to Trenton to lobby your case,” Massa said. “Right now our state representatives are working for us and I’m in constant communication with the three of them. If anything further can be done I’m sure they’ll do all they can to help us.”
For years North Arlington received an annual fee of $1 million from NJMC to “host” its trash baler, a fee that helped stave off property tax hikes even as the national economy slid into a recession. The baler also picked up trash in the borough for free.
“The problem is we need to transition out of the garbage business. We can’t just go cold turkey,” said town spokesman Thom Ammirato. “We were working toward that transition. Then EnCap kind of screwed everything up. As a consequence of their bankruptcy the baler was closed. We lost our tipping fee, and now we have to pay to have our garbage collected.”
The NJMC gave North Arlington about $800,000 to help compensate the borough for the closure, but Ammirato said that money was only expected to last about six months. The town had hoped extraordinary aid would make up for the shortfall.
“We don’t want to go, cup in hand, to Trenton every year,” Ammirato said. “All we’re looking for is something to help us with the transition from being this garbage hub in New Jersey to having some development so we can be self sufficient.”
The borough has asked that the trash baler be reopened so the town can again receive tipping fees from the facility.