By Ron Leir
It now appears all but certain that the campaign to block a $3.45 million capital bond ordinance previously adopted by a majority vote of the Township Council is a success.
Even the mayor is ready to throw in the towel.
As of last week, documents on file at the Township Clerk’s Office show that petitioners had collected the signatures of 1,850 Belleville residents opposed to the bond – nearly twice the 991 required by law to place the issue before the voters.
“And we still have more (signatures) coming,” asserted Dep. Mayor/Second Ward Councilman Steve Rovell, the mastermind of the petition drive.
It’s up to the Township Clerk to determine if the signatures are valid and whether those that are deemed legitimate are enough to get the matter on the ballot at some point.
Ultimately, Rovell – like his council ally Michael Nicosia – are hoping that instead of going to the expense of a public referendum, that they can persuade their fellow council members to reconsider their original vote and put the bond behind them – at least for now.
“I plan to keep talking to the council, to remind them we’ve sent a very clear message to control our spending,” Rovell said.
Rovell – and, clearly, many others like him – felt that several of the big ticket items that the bond would have funded – such as the new Silver Lake firehouse and the new Friendly House recreation center – were either not needed now or ill-planned.
Among the advocates for quashing the bond is Peter Zangari, president of the Belleville Board of Education, who says he participated in the campaign “in the role of (First Ward) resident, as someone who votes on a large (school) budget in town.”
“For me to ignore residents’ cries of not being able to afford a tax increase would be arrogant,” Zangari said. “Those in elective office should be cognizant of the struggles that families here are facing. Senior citizens were saying to me that, after they pay their tax bills, they’re left with $300 a month to live on.”
The township had estimated that it would have cost the owner of a home with an average assessment of $249,400 an extra $46 a year in taxes to pay off the proposed bond but Rovell and Nicosia said that residents were facing additional taxes for other debt incurred by the township.
For Nicosia, the plan to replace the 8-decade-old Silver Lake firehouse with a new one on land that NJ Transit would lease to the township just doesn’t make sense.
“We can renovate the existing firehouse for one-quarter of the cost of a new one,” he said.
Moreover, Nicosia said, the proposed new firehouse would be located away from the main road (Franklin St.), in the rear of a self-storage building, and the township would have to build an access road to the facility.
Rovell and Nicosia felt that the proposed new recreation center would be too small to accommodate programs for young and old residents. People would be turned away, they said.
The bond would also fund the purchase of a building across from Township Hall to store municipal archives; installation of a turf soccer field on School 9 property; and upgrading of the municipal senior center; and repaving of Garden Ave.
But all of this planning may be for naught if the bond is overturned.
When asked about the situation, Mayor Ray Kimble said that if the petitions pass muster, “I’ll put a resolution on the table to rescind the bond issue because the people spoke. If there’s something in that bond issue they don’t want, then why should I go against the people?”
Putting the matter to a public vote isn’t practical, Kimble said. “There’s no sense having an election,” he said. “It would cost $60,000 to $70,000.”