What may be a relief for municipal and not-for-profit organizations working to create parks or preserve historical landmarks, the Hudson County Freeholders voted in their September meeting to extend old grants to allow projects to continue.
The freeholders had been considering taking back money that had not been used for projects that had been funded years ago that had not been completed.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea had raised concerns that more than $6 million in funds from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund had not been used, and that some of these projects were asking for extensions. His idea was to take back the money and give it to projects that were better able to advance.
Three such projects involving connected parks in West New York came under particularly close scrutiny, partly because costs had jumped from an estimated $1.5 million in 2009 to more than $4.5 million for a project still not completed in 2013.
Local officials said that while some money had been shifted to make improvements to Veterans Park, problems with nearby Donnelly Park were more serious than first thought. The project was designed to rebuild a retention wall that would keep soil and parts of the park from falling over the palisades and into the town pool or on top of the town firehouse.
A review by the county and a second hearing with the third engineering firm hired by West New York confirmed may of the claims officials made during a July hearing.
“We talked to their engineers, and what they said made sense,” said Freeholder Chairman Anthony Romano.
Three grants of $350,000 each were extended until next year so that West New York could move ahead with its own bonding to cover the additional costs associated with the project.
While O’Dea questioned the tight timeline for the bonding approval, bidding, and start of construction, he and the board voted to approve the extension of all three loans until Feb. 1, 2014.
The approval included extensions of two grants for Bayonne—$45,000 for a neighborhood parks study extended to June 1, 2014, and $240,000 for the Bayonne Community Museum extended to March 1, 2014.
The city of Hoboken had grants for four projects extended—$100,000 for the Downtown Boathouse until July 31, 2014; $300,000 for 1600 Park Avenue Development until Dec. 31, 2013; $700,000 for Southwest Park until June 1, 2014; and $350,000 for Hoboken Cove Park Development until Dec. 31, 2013.
Two grants to Secaucus were extended: $3,100 for waterfront property acquisition—Farm Road and Oak Lane until Aug. 1, 2014, and $1.6 million for improvements to Buchmuller Park until March 1, 2014.
Friends of the Loew’s Inc received two extensions, for a total of $780,000 until June 15, 2014.
Jersey City Parks Coalition received three extensions for a total of $360,000 for work in Speer Cemetery, Van Vorst Park, and renovation of the First Street Park.
The City of Jersey City received extensions for $240,000 for work on the Apple Tree House and Boyd McGuiness Park.
The Township of Weehawken received extensions of $912,000 on three projects that include its Water Tower Park project and multi-use waterfront pavilion.
What some freeholders see as outrageous overtime for several key nurses at the county’s psychiatric facility in Secaucus has yet to be resolved despite nearly a year of questioning.
The Hudson County Freeholders said not enough has been done to resolve overtime that has equaled or surpassed individual annual salaries.
The freeholders have been pushing for new hiring to reduce overtime costs since the problem first became known during 2012 budget hearings.
Freeholders learned there were massive overtime costs at the Meadowview Hospital facility in Secaucus, where entry-level employees were showing overtime payments equal to or more than their annual salaries. One worker with a $40,000 annual salary incurred $44,305 in overtime during that pay period, and a number of other similar cases for entry-level employees showed consistent overtime rates.
Romano said that while the hospital explained significant overtime rates for nurses, the overtime rates for other workers were just as high.
One nurse had an annual salary of $71,000 but overtime payments for $85,000, Romano said. He was also concerned about overtime costs in the sheriff’s department, because the county had instituted a new patrol program last year designed to bring down these costs.
“They still haven’t done what we asked them to do,” Romano said. “We need them to resolve this.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.