“Like me, I know you love this town,” said Mayor Mark Smith at an appearance at the April 1 annual Knights of Columbus Palm Sunday Communion Breakfast. “There are some tough choices that lie ahead of us, but I promise that if you travel the road with me, we will emerge together as a stronger and better community.”
Although traditionally, the mayor of Bayonne gives his State of the City address at a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast later in the year, Mayor Smith gave a brief glimpse of what residents might expect to hear when he appears before the chamber.
Last June, at the 2011 State of the City, Smith said Bayonne was already showing signs of recovery from one of the worst economic situations in modern times, and that city government was getting back to basics, providing essential services with fewer people.
The idea is to make government smaller and toward this goal, the city has reduced the number of departments and is working towards making the city more inviting and attractive to business, developers and development.
In his Palm Sunday address, Smith updated the community on a number of projects that showed continued recovery.
“For the first time in quite a while, I believe we have cause to be optimistic about our economic future,” he told the April 1 gathering. “We have seen an increasing stream of developers interested in taking a look at what Bayonne has to offer.”
Development is coming again
Smith said a significant number of projects are in the pipeline, including the new affordable housing project next to the 45th Street station of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail on Avenue E, which broke ground in early April.
“The Bayonne Energy Center, which is nearing completion, and still others like the conversion of Maidenform to a loft-style apartment building, which is working its way through the development process with an eye towards beginning later this spring,” Smith said, referring to a new power-generating station near the southeast corner of the city, and the former industrial building on Avenue E near 19th Street which is being developed into residences. “The Kaplan organization’s Waterford Project on West Third Street and Kennedy Boulevard are nearing commencement.”
This is a luxury rental facility that had been planned as a condo development, and stalled partly due to the downturn in the economy.
“Royal Kedem Wines has announced a major expansion of their operations here in Bayonne and are developing a state of the art distribution facility at the former ICI site,” Smith said. “They have also designated Bayonne as their corporate headquarters.”
Eastern Millwork, which is relocating from Jersey City to expanded facilities on Seventh Street in Bayonne, is expected to bring in 75 highly-skilled jobs.
“Imperial Bag and Paper recently purchased Burke Supply and is planning on consolidating all of their combined operations here in Bayonne,” Smith said.
Best Foods – a primary source of jobs in Bayonne which closed its doors more than a decade ago – may see new life.
“The city is actively working with a developer to acquire and redevelop the former Best Foods property creating jobs and new tax ratables,” Smith said.
The owner of the former Woolworth’s site on Broadway met with city officials last week, and presented what Smith called “a realistic plan” to build a five-story apartment complex with retail and professional office space on the ground floor.
“All indications are that this year will be the year that we shake off the effects of the recession and get people back to work building things and creating jobs,” Smith said, adding that the city would continue to keep city operations trim.
To this end, the city abolished the Bayonne Parking Authority and consolidated the Bayonne Town Center Management Corp. with the Urban Enterprise Zone and Bayonne Town Center.
“For the first time in quite awhile, I believe we have cause to be optimistic about our economic future.” – Mayor Mark Smith
Crime, both violent and non-violent, has decreased over the last year by nearly nine percent.
“We continue to modernize our public safety facilities, improving public access by building a new police desk, and developing a new state of the art emergency communications center, all with grants and forfeiture money at no cost to our local taxpayers,” Smith said. “Our fire department has completed extensive training in life safety and extraordinary hazard mitigation. We are building a new fire station and are enhancing our water rescue operations though the purchase of a modern fire boat, again, financed with grants, at no cost to our taxpayers.”
The city, Smith said, continues to offer a comprehensive recreation program serving kids and municipal services for seniors.
“We have improved our responsiveness to our citizens through our innovative zone management system and the use of information technology to log and track complaints through to resolution,” Smith said. “We are reducing our cost to deliver Community Health Service through strategic contracting and sharing services with other communities. And we have stepped up enforcement against illegal dwelling units and absentee landlords whose properties are in disrepair.”
The city said has paid down debt and avoided additional borrowing.
“This year alone, we will retire over $10 million in bonds,” he said. “We have aggressively shopped our insurance programs and reduced costs while providing comprehensive coverage. For the first time in over two decades, Bayonne has insurance to protect us in the event of catastrophic events and tort claims.”
Smith said the city has also sought to increase its environmental technology, installing solar panels on public buildings as well constructing the first turbine windmill in northern New Jersey, which will power a significant amount of sewerage and storm water operations. To further reduce the cost of energy, Bayonne has joined a cooperative energy program with Hudson County.
“Looking forward, we intend to revamp our solid waste collection process to encourage greater recycling to reduce our overall disposal costs,” Smith said. “Of course, our recovery is a work in progress. We continue to be burdened by tremendous bonded debt – debt that was created years ago and eats up a significant portion of our annual tax revenue. In a very real sense we are paying property taxes of a decade ago plus interest with our tax dollars today. The good news is that we have stopped the hemorrhaging. We have weaned ourselves off of the credit fix and are working on real and permanent solutions.”