Cleaning up their act
City gets moving on vacant lot maintenance
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Jun 06, 2012 | 2568 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE TROUBLE WITH VACANT LOTS – Zone managers’ enforcement appears to be making progress when it comes to property maintenance around the city.
THE TROUBLE WITH VACANT LOTS – Zone managers’ enforcement appears to be making progress when it comes to property maintenance around the city.

Zone managers assigned to various parts of the city may be contributing to a higher level of maintenance and possible redevelopment of various vacant lots, said Council President Terrene Ruane. “We’re seeing a greater improvement in the situation of vacant lots,” he said. “Many are being kept up thanks to better enforcement. Recently we’re requiring them to put up green fencing and clean up those lots.”

Zone management began in the spring of 2010, dividing up the city into zones of responsibility, each of which had a specific manager who was assigned to develop reports about things such as potholes, broken streetlights, fallen or hazardous trees, as well as deal with blighted properties and other neighborhood issues.

Part of their responsibility is to develop work orders for the Department of Public Works, but also to detect other problems and to monitor property maintenance issues such as uncut grass, overgrown weeds, and accumulating litter on vacant land.

Owners of vacant property were particularly difficult to find because many lived out of town and operated under corporate names. To solve this, the city has been seeking a way for owners of vacant lots to designate local agents who could be contacted.

Fencing also became a problem around these lots, and the city has pushed for property owners to install fencing that blocks out the view of the empty space.

Generally, property owners who are in violation of various maintenance codes receive warning letters from the city, and are given a set number of days to cure the problems. If the problems have not been fixed during the warning period, the city can issue summonses. In some cases, city owners using city equipment remedied the problems and then the city put a lien on the property for the cost.

The Zone Management program was part of Mayor Mark Smith’s local government reorganization plan and was implemented two years ago

Ruane said that the zone managers have played key roles in enforcing property maintenance, as well as working with the fire department and other city agencies to address the issue of illegal apartments.

“We have done a lot in catching these,” Ruane said.

City Business Administrator Steve Gallo said that zone managers have been instrumental in enforcing the fence regulations around vacant properties, as well as curbing illegal dumping.

“We see a direct improvement as a result of this program,” he said.

‘We’re seeing a greater improvement in the situation of vacant lots.” – Terrance Ruane
Bayonne municipal budget to rise a fraction

Still reeling from the impact of a downturned economy, Bayonne taxpayers will get moderate relief. The proposed $126 million 2012 municipal budget will raise taxes only $6.50 on the average assessed home assessed at $133,000.

Chief Finance Officer Terrence Malloy said at the May 9 public hearing on the budget that the increase is for the municipal budget, but not the school or county budgets, both of which are likely to increase this year.

This year the city is operating on a calendar year budget for the first time since the early 1990s. Last year, the city changed from a fiscal year budget to one that is based on the calendar year in order to better synchronize with state aid and other funding elements. As introduced, this budget is about $2 million less than the last full fiscal year budget in 2010-2011.

The budget is significantly impacted by tax appeals and declining ratables, which contributed to the small tax increase, Malloy said.

Loss of ratables, and tax appeals for which the city is required to pay refunds to people who successfully appeal their assessments, mean that the taxpayers have to bear a greater portion of the overall tax burden.

Resident Ray Massorelli, during the public comment portion, said he was concerned about the city’s debt, saying that even if the city paid off $1 million a year, it would still take many years to pay it down.

“If we have a $400 million debt it would take us 400 years to pay it off,” he said. “Does the city have a five year plan for dealing with this?”

Malloy said this year’s budget pays off $21.5 million in debt, which will reduce future interest costs, and that since 2008, the city has paid down $144 million

Malloy said city officials are in the process of developing a five year plan that would allow the city to better deal with debt and other issues.

Positive elements affecting this budget, Malloy said during an earlier interview, included changes in the pension plan and payment in lieu of taxes from the Alexan property.

The city also uses a bulk sale for delinquent taxes that sells off tax liens to a private company, which then collects the debt.

Also because the system for collecting taxes brings in such a high rate every year, the city budget does not set aside money as would be required by the state if the percentage was too low.

But this budget does set aside $1.5 million against future tax appeals.

A positive note in regards to future cost savings was the city takeover of operations of the Bayonne Parking Authority and the cross-training of parking enforcement officers as crossing guards.

The city was able to save money through the Hudson County Utilities Program and the Hudson County Improvement Authority’s financing program, which allows the city to take advantage of extremely low interest rates.

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