Sharing the wealth? Freeholders reject bid to split bus shelter revenue

Freeholder Bill O’Dea was the lone vote two weeks ago against approving an agreement that would allow bus shelters to be constructed along a county road in North Bergen.

By a 6-to-1 vote, freeholders approved an agreement between the Township of North Bergen and AR James Media Inc. to construct bus shelters on a section of JFK Boulevard.

AR James Media would construct and maintain the shelters, and in exchange, would give the township 15 percent of the advertising revenues.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, to which AR James Media belongs, Street Furniture – of which bus shelters are apart – has 17 percent of the $5.2 billion in 2002 revenues for outdoor advertising.

Bus shelters are free-standing structures located at permanent bus stop locations, many of which incorporate advertising panels. Advertising for these panels is usually sold to marketing firms in weekly increments.

“I think we’re setting a bad precedent here by not looking at this more closely,” O’Dea argued, hoping to table the motion so that the agreement. He said that while this agreement only covers the construction of seven shelters, he believed that by allowing North Bergen to keep the revenue without sharing with the county, similar arguments could be made for other communities where more shelters might be constructed.

“If Jersey City comes back with a deal like this for 100s of shelters a year from now, we’re not going to be able to say anything about it,” he said.

He added, “If North Bergen gets $2,000 from these shelters, I don’t think it is unreasonable that the county should get 50 percent of that.”

Freeholder Sal Vega, who voted to allow the agreement to go forward, said this is not uncommon and that the county could expect to see other communities coming up with similar agreements.

A company called Culver Amherst, which has a similar agreement with the Town of Secaucus, not just for bus shelter advertising but also for the use of municipal buildings for cellular phone re-transmitting units, controls more than 2,500 bus shelter panels.

It’s only fair

Kearny Freeholder Al Cifelli, however, argued that local municipalities have taken over many of the responsibilities for police patrols of county streets – after the 1995 elimination of the county police.

“We should not take a share,” he said. “This is a way of reimbursing them.”

O’Dea, however, said the county builds and maintains those roads, and the shelters are located on sidewalks the county has paid for.

“We plow those streets when it snows,” O’Dea said. “That revenue would help offset those costs.”

Vega, however, argued that the revenue went back to the municipality and still helped offset costs to the taxpayer.

“What is Hudson County but 12 municipalities?” he said.

In voting to approve the North Bergen agreement, Freeholder Barry Dugan of Bayonne said Bayonne has a similar agreement in place, noting that the revenue stream from advertising is only one part of the savings. He said the company that installs the bus shelters also maintains them, and in Bayonne, these units fit with many of the streetscape improvements the city had engaged – replacing dilapidated NJ Transit shelters.

“With NJ Transit shelters, the municipality is forced to maintain them,” Dugan said. “This includes replacing the glass if it is vandalized – and there is significant vandalism.”

Jersey City Freeholder Radames Velazquez, however, asked if the town could have a say in the kind of advertising that appeared on the panels. Currently Secaucus officials have that in their agreement, as well agreements with two billboards currently generating revenue for its library and recreation center.

During the public comment section, former County Sheriff Dominick Pugliese asked if any consultants were used in obtaining the contract for the bus shelter and how much was paid to the consultant if one was used. Secaucus had used the same consultant in making connections for the deals for both billboards and for its bus shelter agreement.

County Administrator Abe Antun said the agreement was between North Bergen and the company, and therefore he had no knowledge whether a consultant was involved.

Margaret Clark, a resident of Harrison, also protested against the county allowing county roads to be used to get municipal benefits for a municipality, saying that 50 percent should come to the county.


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