Working out a way to work Freeholders agree to bus subsidy extension

Vowing to look at other alternatives to providing transportation to remote sections of the county for people coming off of Welfare and going to work, the Hudson County Freeholders voted to approve a six-month $225,000 extension on subsidies to NJ Transit for low-ridership bus routes.

Ben Lopez, Director of Hudson County’s Department of Family Services, said the extension was needed in order to review the effectiveness of the program and the look at possible alternatives. The subsidy program was designed to help provide bus service to people working off-hour jobs in Secaucus and North Bergen.

The cost of the current bus service was less than the county set aside last year, Lopez said. “We expect this to continue to go down,” he added.

Getting from Hoboken to Secaucus or back has always been a problem. While the No. 85 ran weekdays only and mostly only during the morning and evening rush hours, the service has not been profitable, even though it has local stops in parts of Jersey City, Union City, Secaucus and Hoboken.

For Hudson County officials, the route was significant for people moving from Welfare to work since the mall areas provided a significant opportunity for jobs – not just in the stores, but in the nearly 20 hotels that Secaucus hosts, as well as the business offices, a convention center and restaurants. The bus also provided a vital link to West Side Avenue in North Bergen, which boasts numerous corporations and many possible job opportunities.

The problem for many job-seekers, however, was the limited hours bus service ran. Many of the employment opportunities required workers at odd hours, beyond the rush-hour schedules on which the bus normally ran. The cleaning staff for hotels often had to get to work later in the day and leave later in the evening than the bus provided for. Workers at local theaters had to come on weekends, which the bus did not run at all. Last year, Hudson County came to an agreement with the state Department of Human Services in conjunction with its Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, then came to an agreement with New Jersey Transit to fund increased hours for the bus. Under this proposal, Hudson County pays $450,000 a year for the service to be run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends Late last year, several freeholders questioned the cost, asking whether or not the county might better use its resources to purchase vehicles or operate its own bus service to remote areas around the county that traditional bus service does not go to regularly.

Lopez said he had preliminary talks with Suzanne Mack, the director of the Hudson County Transportation Management Agency, and others in setting up a management team to review the needs of the county and examine all other options.

“We will look to see if this is a viable service,” Lopez told the freeholders during the Feb. 11 caucus. “We will report back in June or July on alternatives.”

Lopez said the management team will examine a program currently in use in Essex County for transporting welfare-to-work clients to jobs at remote locations. He said the team would offer a recommendation to the freeholder either to switch to an alternative or to continue the current subsidy program.

Turnpike backs off

An agreement between Hudson County and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority must be renegotiated because of recent events in Secaucus, said County Administrator Abe Antun.

The Turnpike Authority withdrew its $.5.5 million offer to purchase 10 acres of land from Secaucus, the site of a new Turnpike exit to service the Secaucus rail transfer station.

“The Turnpike amended its offer,” Antun said. “A certain issue arose at the site and in order for us to negotiate we need to hire John Curley as an expert in land condemnation.”

The “certain issue” Antun alluded to was the recent ruling by a superior court authorizing the Turnpike to relocate up to 3,500 human remains from a former Hudson County cemetery on that site. The Turnpike has estimated the cost of this action at $5 million, and though the county had hoped to obtain more than the $5.5 million for the property, Antun suggested the county may actually get significantly less.

John Keller, chief project engineer for the Turnpike’s exit ramp project, said the cost is still being negotiated. Hudson County officials were banking on the sale to balance not only the 2002 budget, but to spread some of the revenue to the 2003 and 2004 budgets as well.

What, no parking?

The freeholders – after much debate – agreed to procure the services of MCManimon & Scotland of Newark for a contract not to exceed $75,000 to handle several unfinished matters. One of these issues included a small matter missed in the sale of the Meadowview Hospital Nursing Home to Omni Healthcare last April.

Although Freeholder Bill O’Dea grilled Antun as to why the deal was not completed after several years of bickering among various county officials, Antun said it was a matter of one small overlooked detail.

United Parcel Service – which has its center on property adjacent to the nursing home – purchased the nursing home’s parking lot some years earlier for use by its employees. In that agreement, UPS agreed to allow the nursing home to use the parking lot as long as the facility remained under county control. Last year’s sale to Omni put the nursing home in private hands.

“Now the facility is no longer owned by the county and UPS wants the parking lot,” Antun said.

The firm is also needed to address several other outstanding issues such as the Lincoln Park Golf course proposal in Jersey City.

Homeless task force to meet

Freeholder and Union City Mayor Brian Stack – in his capacity as the chairperson for the newly established Hudson County Task Force for the Homeless – issued a brief report on recent activities. He said the task force, in conjunction with Union City and the City of Hoboken, was seeking to move people from the hillside section of Union City and wooded area of Union City below the viaduct and above where the new tracks for light rail are being installed. Stack said about 40 people have been living there in a makeshift village.

“We interviewed the people there with the purpose of finding them adequate shelter,” Stack said. “But a few of the people just would not leave.”

Stack called the interviews an enlightening experience.

“I learned just how some people became homeless,” he said, noting that the task force and the municipalities have been active in seeking resources to help the people there.

He also noted that the task force would begin regular monthly – possibly even twice-a-month – meetings after an upcoming March 3 homeless forum scheduled to be held on the campus of New Jersey City University.

“But the real solution to the homelessness problem in this county is money,” Stack said. “We can provide some beds in some local shelters. But money is needed. This is a countywide problem, not just Union City’s or Hoboken’s. And we won’t be able to solve it without finding more money.”


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