Cities around the state, including several in Hudson County, have reaped the benefits of the state-instituted Urban Enterprise Zone sales tax program that has promoted retail business in struggling urban areas.
However, since some of the original cities are in danger of losing status within the program, the participating municipalities have rallied their efforts to insure that the program continues on.
Recently, representatives from the 27 municipalities in the program met in West New York to discuss proposed legislation that would make the 20-year Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program permanent in all towns.
The North Hudson towns with UEZs are West New York, Union City, North Bergen and Guttenberg. These cities were introduced to the program only five years ago, so they still have 15 years remaining to participate in the program. But an area can lose its UEZ distinction if the state rules that the sales in the area do not coincide with the urban needs of the area.
The state’s original five UEZ cities, Newark, Camden, Trenton, Bridgeton and Plainfield, are only six months away from losing the benefits that the zone provides.
These benefits include charging a 3 percent sales tax, a 50 percent savings from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. In addition, the sales tax money that is collected can go toward refurbishing the zones.
From streetscape projects to new parking lots and added lighting, North Hudson towns have been benefiting from the perks that being an Urban Enterprise Zone has to offer.
“If you walk [along Bergenline Avenue] from North Bergen to Union City, you will see a completely revitalized community,” said West New York Business Administrator Richard Turner, who also serves as the mayor of Weehawken. “We have given competition back to the malls.”
“It was important that we all [banded] together,” said North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who, as state senator, helped introduce the legislation that would make UEZs permanent throughout the state.
West New York UEZ Coordinator Oscar Miqueli said that it’s important to try “to make the UEZ permanent in the municipalities that already have it.”
Longevity is key
Urban Enterprise Zones are set up on a 20-year scale. For the first five years, all of the money collected from the 3 percent sales tax is added to the municipality’s individual zone assistance fund.
In the second five years, one percent of that money is transferred to the state’s general zone assistance fund. For the third five years, two percent of that money is added to the general fund, and in the last five years, the zone is still able to collect 3 percent sales tax; however, all of that money is added to the general fund.
Bill A-1008, which is in the legislature right now, directs the New Jersey Enterprise Zone Authority to designate zones meeting certain criteria as permanent enterprise zones.
“[These zones] are still in need of assistance,” said Michael Parkes, who has been a business owner in West New York for more than 30 years. “Especially the type of assistance that the UEZ gives. Many urban businesses might cease to be [without the benefits of the UEZ]. Especially small businesses.” There are more than 20 bills in the legislature dealing with the UEZ. However, most bills are dealing with either increasing the number of zones or enlarging the zones that already exist. Bill A-2446, introduced by West New York Mayor and Assemblyman Albio Sires (D-33rd Dist.) among others, would amend the UEZ enabling statute to allow marketing, public relations and special events and other managerial and professional services to be defined as projects eligible for UEZ funding assistance.
Benefiting North Hudson
One of the biggest perks of the program is having the money come back to benefit the town.
“Because of the UEZ, we have many projects in the works,” said Juan Jimenez, the North Bergen UEZ coordinator. “Because of the development of the Columbia Park shopping center [on Kennedy Boulevard], we’re actually increasing our sales. In previous years, our numbers didn’t reflect Columbia Park. But now, that center is booming. We have been increasing UEZ tax sales every year and it’s been a huge help to the town.”
Jimenez said that North Bergen stands to make even more improvements with the expected UEZ tax sales that will come from the Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, slated to open on Tonnelle Avenue later this year.
The four North Hudson municipalities involved in this program have been able to use the money made by the towns’ 3 percent sales tax to help refurbish the business districts. North Bergen focused on improving Bergenline Avenue and Broadway with UEZ funds.
“We were able to utilize the UEZ money to do streetscape of both of our business districts,” Sacco said. “Our business districts have been completely refurbished. We are able to redevelop our business districts and modernize them.”
Plus, said Ameda Avila, Union City’s UEZ coordinator, “Shoppers are aware that they can save 50 percent on sales tax. It makes a difference.”
Guttenberg working new angles
Meanwhile, while North Bergen’s UEZ seems to flourish and get stronger, Guttenberg is making plans to strengthen its UEZ program and encourage more businesses to participate.
The township has already called upon the services of former councilwoman Joanne Martin to be the UEZ coordinator for the town and has also hired a public relations firm, headed by Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons to promote the UEZ.
“We will aggressively pursue other businesses to join,” Councilman David Delle Donna said. “There is no reason why businesses that are in the UEZ area that wouldn’t want to participate. In the Galaxy [shopping mall] alone, there are some 20 to 25 businesses there. I would agree that our participation in the UEZ has been very lax, but we’re working on it. Although it could get taken away at any time, I haven’t heard anything that it is about to happen.”
Staff writer Jim Hague contributed to this report.