Bayonne Mayor James Davis has delivered the 2022 State of the City Address, highlighting his administration’s perceived accomplishments since taking office in 2014.
This is the first State of the City since 2019, albeit in video format due to COVID-19. Davis is running for re-election in the upcoming May 10 municipal election, having utilized the address to highlight key moments during his past eight years in office.
Addressing the recurring deficit
Davis touted the economic recovery he said his administration ushered in when faced with the recurring deficit when first taking office.
“When my administration took office, Bayonne was burdened with a $25 million dollar annual structural deficit,” Davis said. “Previous administrations took numerous one shot deals to try to address this deficit. These one shot deals were simply temporary fixes that did little or nothing to reduce the actual reoccurring deficit. Taxes continued to rise as the city continued to sell its assets… At some point, you run out of things to sell.”
To reduce the recurring operating deficit, the city needed to establish new revenue, according to Davis. In 2014, his idea was to “reimagine the city” by capitalizing on its “untapped potential” and growing its tax base through redevelopment. While other neighboring municipalities redeveloped their vacant commercial and industrial waterfront properties in the 1980’s, Bayonne did not do so.
“Bayonne remained frozen in time,” Davis said. “Bayonne was doing nothing that these other towns were doing, even as we experienced increasing debt and taxes without any new sources of recurring revenue… Businesses and residents began to flee our once great city as Jersey City, Hoboken, North Bergen, Weehawken, West New York, and other cities experienced population growth, an increase in property values, and a place in the 21st century.”
Setting out to “save the city from financial collapse” and restore its “unique sense of self,” Davis settled lawsuits that had been preventing the redevelopment of the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY). From 2001 to 2014, only one project was built at MOTBY, according to Davis. Additionally, areas near the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and Avenue E were identified for redevelopment.
“We got right to work and settled those lawsuits so that we could realize real revenue and growth from this valuable real estate in New York harbor,” Davis said. “We then identified transit zones for redevelopment. Bayonne’s light rail system was a terribly underutilized asset in 2014… The light rail’s proximity to Avenue E and the east side of Bayonne should have transformed those areas to residential living destinations a long, long time ago. But it hadn’t.”
Tax incentives for developers
According to Davis, previous administrations had failed to use financial and land use planning tools that other municipalities were using to attract development. He said there was no incentive to invest in Bayonne.
“Right from the start, this administration sought investment and new development, leveling the playing field with the surrounding communities by taking advantage of the same tools they were using,” Davis said, referring to his administration’s use of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements. PILOT agreements have been the primary incentive for investors to look at Bayonne.
“Without PILOTs, it’s highly unlikely that any of the new development that is providing us with recurring revenue, would have taken place,” Davis said.
The city has taken in approximately $79 million in PILOT payments since 2015, according to Davis.
“This administration’s willingness to maximize the use of development tools attracted developers that would have previously invested in other municipalities,” Davis said. “PILOTs enabled these developers and their lending institutions to revitalize abandoned, underutilized, or derelict properties and repurpose them into modern facilities that offer residential and commercial opportunities that simply did not exist before I took office. The money brought in by these PILOTs lessens the tax burden that would have otherwise been borne by existing taxpayers… Without these new developments contributing millions of dollars into our budget through PILOT payments, taxpayers would be forced to make up the shortfalls in the city’s budget.”
Not just residential redevelopment
Residential development and commercial development go hand in hand, Davis said, pointing to the businesses both big and small that have since called Bayonne home amid the redevelopment boom.
“As residential development took hold, commercial developers took notice,” Davis said. “We were able to finally bring in Costco, a full-service Starbucks, a HomeGoods, and a LIDL supermarket to our east side… Scores of news businesses, not only on the Route 440 corridor, but throughout the city opened, or are opening soon.”
Davis also highlighted the United Postal Service facility under construction at MOTBY, the Amazon warehouse that opened on Avenue A, as well as the planned film studio for the former Texaco site which “is set to bring thousands of good-paying jobs to Bayonne.”
“This massive, long-dormant property, located under the beautiful Bayonne Bridge, will also soon be home to thousands of new, good paying jobs and will revitalize an area that has been neglected for decades,” Davis said of the former Texaco site. “Other companies will follow suit as Bayonne is quickly becoming a most sought-after business destination.”
While some residents have been dismayed by the redevelopment boom in Bayonne, Davis said overdevelopment of Bayonne was a concern of his, emphasizing the need to keep recurring revenues without losing the city’s community feel. But he left it open as to whether or not redevelopment would continue at the same pace if re-elected.
“It’s the governing body’s job now whether want or need to scale back or continue development,” Davis said. “We have to look long and hard at the social and financial considerations of further developments because we need to keep the neighborhood feel of Bayonne.”
Amid the new economic growth through redevelopment, Davis said his administration has also been improving parks: “When we came into office in 2014, most parks hadn’t been improved in decades. I made upgrades to our parks and public spaces a priority.”
Additionally, the city is currently working on the plans for a pedestrian walkway over 440 at Goldsborough Drive, and the pedestrian bridge over light rail at East 25th Street is under construction now. Davis added that the ferry service is in the works as well.
Diversity in government
As Bayonne grew in size, it also grew more diverse. Davis proudly pointed to a list of officials he appointed or that he endorsed and were elected that he said brought diversity to his administration. He said he fulfilled his campaign promise to bring back an elected school board, which then saw the election of the first African-American trustee, David Watson, who recently resigned after moving out of Bayonne for family reasons.
In addition to Watson, Davis highlighted his appointment of: Madeline Medina, Bayonne’s first female Municipal Clerk; Samantha Howard, the first African-American woman to be the Executive Director of the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation; Suzanne Mack, Bayonne’s first female City Planner; Donna Mauer, Bayonne’s first female Chief Financial Officer; Joyce Perkins, the first African-American woman to be the Executive Director of the Bayonne Office on Aging; Rev. Dorothy Patterson, Community Relations Specialist; Michelle Hennessy, the first female Tax Assessor; Rosemarie Martinez, the first Hispanic woman to be Tax Collector; Suzanne Ferraro, Municipal Court Judge, and Michele O’Reilly, Health Officer.
Not included in Davis shoutout of women appointed to his administration is Melissa Mathews, the first female Business Administrator in Bayonne, who is currently suing and other officials over alleged gender discrimination. On top of that, Davis pointed to other appointments, such as that of Ramon Veloz, Mitesh Patel, and Demyana Youssef among others as part of his efforts to include diversity.
“I have also appointed many Hispanic-American, African-American, and Arab-American, Indian-American, and others to our local boards to make sure all members of our community have a voice in our government,” Davis said.
The Bayonne Fire Department and Police Department also got more diverse, according to Davis, with the hiring of the first female firefighters and Indian-American and Arab firefighters. On the police force, the city has hired the first African-American female officers, the first Filipino-American officer, and has promoted the first openly LGBTQ lieutenant and the first Arab-American and Hispanic woman to the rank of sergeant.
“Bayonne’s diversity is its strength,” Davis said.
Crime and COVID-19
During his time in office, Davis said he has hired 78 new firefighters and 98 new police officers. He pointed to the city’s community outreach police program to engage diverse cultures, and police body cameras implemented before the state mandate, as reasons behind what he described as decreasing crime in Bayonne.
“Because of this engagement, we have seen a decrease in crime in every year of my administration except one,” Davis said. “As we look at some of our crime statistics, one area of concern is domestic violence.”
Davis said that an emphasis must be put on domestic violence and mental health issues, and he is working with officials to do so. He also continues to work with officials on the city’s COVID-19 Task Force to continue to issue guidance to Bayonne throughout the pandemic.
Recently, the city saw an increase in actives cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations in January, but those numbers are again declining. In total, 134 residents have died from the virus throughout the pandemic.
“In spite of those losses, the Bayonne spirit has never wavered,” Davis said. “We have stood strong in spite of this monster and we are coming out of it a much stronger and more united city.”
In conclusion, Davis said Bayonne’s growth as a product of his administration and looked forward to what he can accomplish if re-elected: “Before I took office, people were fleeing Bayonne. Our population was dropping as taxes were rising with no relief in sight. Over the last eight years, we have turned that around… Stores are buzzing, people want to come to our city. With your help ,we can continue this growth. Our city is strong, our city is alive, and our city is back. I’m so excited of how far we’ve come together and energized by the thought of how much more we can accomplish together.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.