Council: Oval cash, hotel tax, water issue



The Town of Kearny has snagged a lot of state cash to help pay for a makeover of its Gunnell Oval Sports Complex, but it’s just a drop in the bucket, given the projected overall cost.

Kearny will be getting a $1.1 million grant from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program for what Mayor Alberto Santos described as “field improvements.”

Town CFO Shuaib Firozvi said the grant agreement calls for the town to provide a “matching share” of $2,465,150 – unless it can find additional outside-funding sources to absorb that expense.

Earlier this year, the town was also awarded a $500,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund which, Santos said, is earmarked specifically for “playground improvements.”

Both cash infusions are certainly welcome but it will take a great deal more money to do an environmental cleanup of sub-surface hydrocarbons at the site, re-design the playing areas and parking and then replace the natural grass with synthetic turf.

The town’s consulting engineers figure it will cost nearly $16 million to achieve those goals, including $3 million alone to raise the low-lying land east of Schuyler Ave. out of a flood plain and install a storm-water drainage system.

Santos said the town is actively pursuing possible grant funding from the DEP’s Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund program and loan financing from the N.J. Environmental Infrastructure Trust.

“We’re hoping we can go out to bid this winter,” Santos said during last week’s meeting of the Town Council which voted to execute the grant agreement with Green Acres.

Whatever money cannot be acquired through outside sources would be raised through local bonding, he told The Observer.

The athletic facility accommodates Little League/Pony League baseball and Town Recreation softball and soccer. It also has a basketball court, playground and perimeter walkway.

In other business conducted at the meeting, the mayor and council:

  • Authorized going out for bids to repair the Davis Ave. Firehouse. The firefighters and engine stationed there were reassigned to other quarters at the end of May after it was discovered that the roof of the building, which dates from 1901, was slowly collapsing.
  • Introduced an ordinance to enact a 3% hotel room occupancy tax. Kearny currently has no hotels but the proposed law would apply to any new hotels and any “apartment hotel, bed and breakfast, motel, inn, boarding house, rooming house, condotel, a home, apartment, house, condo or dwelling irrespective of whether there is a permanent resident residing in the building, and any other sleeping accommodations that are available to the public on a transient basis.” Town officials said the law is intended also to cover local accommodations rented via Airbnb.
  • Reappointed Thomas D. McKeon as municipal court judge for a three-year term, retroactive to April 23, 2016. Santos told The Observer that the town saw no need to post for the position because, “The council and I are confident in Judge McKeon’s judicial skills based on his experience as a judge and private practitioner.”
  • During the public portion of the meeting, Chestnut St. resident Tadeusz Koscien objected to the recent increase in the annual fee for overnight resident permit parking, from $25 to $125 as “too high, insane.” He also alleged that the town was lax on enforcing regulations governing the parking of commercial vans. Santos acknowledged that parking space is at a premium in town and said that a resident parking permit program would, ideally, be the best approach but he said Kearny “doesn’t have the money” to pay for the staffing it would require.
  • The governing body also heard from Steven Houst, a spokesman for Suez Water, respond to a published report attributed to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, that the water supplies throughout New Jersey, including Kearny, contain toxic hexavalent chromium.

Houst, who was invited to the meeting by the mayor, said that the chemical is an “unregulated contaminant in New Jersey.” He said the federal standard for its presence in potable water is 100 parts per billion and, as of 2013, when the town’s water supply was last checked for that metal, “Kearny’s levels were well below that.”

California, which reportedly is the only state with a drinking water tolerance standard for the metal, requires no more than 10 parts per billion and scientists with the N.J. Drinking Water Quality Institute had recommended in 2010 a standard of 0.07 ppb for the Garden State but its board has remained inactive as a result of Gov. Christie failing to appoint new members.

The Environmental Working Group said its findings were based on thousands of samples taken nationwide from 2013 to 2015 in which 90% of the municipal water supplies checked had hexavalent chromium in varying levels.

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