Guttenberg introduces $12.9M budget Councilman Criscione resigns; residents complain about local bar

Monday’s Town Council meeting in Guttenberg was full of important issues – the introduction of a $12.9 million town budget, complaints from residents about a local bar, and the announcement that one of the five council members has resigned for family reasons.

At the meeting on Sept. 22, the council voted to introduce the 2009 fiscal year budget, which covers spending from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. The budget will be largely funded by taxes ($9.8 million), and the remaining revenues come from state aid and permit fees.

While the size of the town budget is similar to last year’s spending plan, residents will have to contribute more taxes ($9.8 million this year vs. $9.2 million last year) because of state aid cuts.

Councilman Gerald Drasheff said that the municipal tax rate will rise by 7 percent if the budget stays as is. However, the town has requested additional state aid to try to ease the burden.

The state must now approve the introduced budget. Then, a final version will be subject to a public hearing and council vote at the council’s Oct. 22 meeting.

Drasheff, who is also a candidate in the November mayoral race, noted that homeowners will be also hit hard because of a 25 percent cut to the Regional Efficiency Aid Program credit, a tax rebate given by the state for homeowners in North Hudson due to the regionalization of their Fire Department. Drasheff said this could increase the tax rate to 8 percent.

Another issue that will affect homeowners is the fact that Guttenberg’s total assessed property value has dropped by 0.6 percent, from about $407 million to $405 million. That means those properties are contributing less taxes, so everyone has to share more of the burden.

Drasheff said the reduced value is largely due to residents and developers appealing the assessed value of their properties in a poor economy. This has brought the value of the town’s assessed property down.

Drasheff said that for instance, after the tax assessor looked at the assessed value of the Bull’s Ferry Development on River Road, the development’s taxes dropped by 10 percent because the properties aren’t worth as much as when they were purchased.

“And after that, we still had a couple of people a couple of people who filled appeals, and they had their taxes reduced even further,” said Drasheff. “Properties are not valued as much as they were when they were originally purchased.”

Also, the Galaxy Mall recently appealed their tax payments to the town, saying the property was assessed too high. The town will now have to pay them back $600,000, which they agreed on Monday to finance through a bond.

North Bergen and Jersey City have seen similar occurrences recently, with companies and developers seeking tax refunds in a tough economic climate.

As for the next tax bills, Chief Financial Officer Vince Buono said that the taxes people got in their estimated first and second quarter bills were slightly overestimated, which will make them lower in the third and fourth quarters.

“We have to wait for the state,” said Buono. “We’re going to apply for extraordinary aid, [and] we feel we will get something … so I think we’ll end up a little better.”

Criscione resigns

After being absent from the council for numerous weeks, Councilman Frank Criscione resigned from his position on Sept. 22. Town Attorney Charles Daglian said that he has been caring for his ill mother.

Daglian said that the town clerk will notify the Guttenberg Democratic Municipal Committee of the vacancy within 15 days. They will submit three nominees for the position to the council within another 15 days. The person will fill one year of the unexpired term until the Nov. 4, 2009 election. The final year of Criscione’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2010, will be on the ballot next year.

Councilwoman Adela Martinez thanked Criscione for his years of service on behalf of the mayor, council, and people of Guttenberg.

Guttenberg resident and mayoral candidate Vasilios Scoullos didn’t agree.

“I under stand that Councilmember Martinez praised Mr. Criscione, but I don’t think he was pulling his weight,” said Scoullos during the public speaking portion of the meeting. “I think it was about time he resigned, because his attendance record was bad. He has more absence then presence.”

New projects

The council also introduced a resolution that will take $200,000 worth of grant money that they were awarded from the Department of Transportation and allocate it to repaving 71st Street.

They also voted for a resolution that will set aside $25,000 of municipal funds to complete this project.

In another vote, $540,000 that came from a Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund Grant was allocated to be used for acquiring a vacant building on the corner of Anna L. Klein School, which the council hopes to renovate into a multi-purpose community center.

“This ordinance will authorize the [Mayor James Hannon] to actually close on that property,” said Drasheff.

Residents complain about bar

Town Attorney Daglian said that there will be a disciplinary hearing on Oct. 6 for a bar on 70th Street called Cosmos 2000.

Four residents at Monday’s meeting complained about the bar and problems caused by customers outside of the premises.

“I live around the corner,” said Mary Saltalamacchia. “It’s late and everyone’s gathered out there, and I’m afraid. I worked in New York for over 15 years. I take the subway at night and I’m not intimidated by much.”

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