Reconstruction of a collapsed Hoboken walkway, the purchase of land for a North Bergen waterfront park, and funds to acquire Jersey City land along the Hackensack River are just a few of the 17 projects that may receive a portion of the $6.3 million in the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund this year.
However, when the Hudson County Board of the Chosen Freeholders decides which of 31 applicants asking for a combined $25 million will receive funding, they will also likely vote to lower the open space tax levy to collect just enough to pay for debt service for the next year, and to fund no additional projects. A public hearing will be held on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.
County Executive Tom DeGise, after receiving a report by the Open Space Advisory Board which rated each project, recommended 17 should be funded. He said that next year’s lower levy would halt the county Open Space Recreation & Historic Preservation Trust Fund from collecting monies for its four categories of land acquisition; park and recreation renovations; historic preservation; and planning, engineering, environmental and historical preservation studies.
“To not be able to fund any projects next year, that is going to create a problem.” – William O’Dea
In the meanwhile, funding decisions for 2010 are up for vote.
$2.4 million in land acquisition
DeGise said that the largest pot of money allocated is for land acquisition since the program’s mission is to “create new parks.”
He recommended that $1,835,000 be awarded to North Bergen to purchase Hudson River waterfront land. The township then hopes to seek state funding for construction of a park, which will be built in conjunction with one proposed in an adjacent lot by Guttenberg, which has no parks. Open Space awarded Guttenberg $1.2 million in 2005 for the purchase of the property from K. Hovnanian, before receiving an additional $400,000 for it in 2008.
The town planned to complete construction last year, but when K. Hovnanian was unable to continue developing the North Bergen portion of their land, the municipalities decided to work together in creating a joint park. DeGise called this their “signature” project.
“This has been a dream of mine, the entire site of the park, since even before I got involved in public office, since I moved to Guttenberg and overlooked the land, not knowing who owned it,” said Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff. “Now we are going to realize that dream.”
Jersey City will likely be allocated $1 million for the purchase of 28 acres of land along the Hackensack River, bordering Lincoln Park and overlooking the Pulaski Skyway.
“That is a critical one in my district because that will help create additional athletic fields and right now we have a desperate need to create both soccer and an additional cricket field,” said Freeholder Vice Chairman William O’Dea.
The area was once the site of the PJP Landfill, a contaminated site that DeGise never believed would ever become park land. He said that while emphasis is often placed on the Hudson River waterfronts, the Hackensack River was redefining itself as well.
Around half of the $6.3 million will be put toward park improvements.
DeGise has recommended that $500,000 be given to Hoboken to help reconstruct a part of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway at 5th and 7th Street along Sinatra Drive, which collapsed due to deterioration of wood pilings by shipworms.
Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano said that the shipworms were an unfortunate result of the river cleaning itself up. Originally Hoboken had requested $1 million for the $9.8 million project.
It has been recommended that Union City receive $500,000 to be put toward a $2 million artificial turf at Washington Park.
If approved by the freeholders, Weehawken stands to receive $350,000 that will be put toward a waterfront multi-use pavilion along Port Imperial Boulevard. The phase II of the development includes an outdoor ice skating rink with a basketball overlay.
Improvements to West New York’s Veterans Park, including basketball court and drainage renovations, were recommended to receive $350,000.
The county’s Berlin Wall installation of “Memorials for Peace,” to be located on the south lawn of the Harborside Plaza 10 in Jersey City, stands to receive $133,000.
Secaucus’ Ivanoski Park was allocated $100,000 for their renovation project, while Guttenberg may receive $100,000 in funding for its proposed recreation center.
The Washington Park Association was recommended $100,000 to help fund the non-for-profit organization, which wants to upgrade landscaping and bicycle racks, along with installing a community garden, exercise stations and new picnic tables.
Another not-for-profit, the Jersey City Parks Coalition/Village Neighborhood Association, also may be granted $295,000 for improvements to 1st Street Park.
Historic improvements and planning
The Bayonne Community Museum may be allocated $240,000 for restoration of the two story Beaux-Arts style building, while Bayonne may receive $45,000 for a neighborhood parks planning study.
Save Ellis Island, Inc. requested $350,000 for restoration to the laundry and hospital building, but most officials felt that was a federal burden.
DeGise agreed that open space funding should stay in Hudson County.
“I am doing some quiet diplomacy with the mayors and the freeholders and I am hopeful I can garner enough support to try and bring [the program] back, even if [the taxes collected are just] half a penny,” said DeGise.
DeGise said that the freeholders have the right to pass the levy, reject it, or reduce it, but that it can only be increased by a referendum voted by the people. He said that most of the freeholders, mayors, and residents believe the program is popular. If projects aren’t awarded funds next year, like the many that could not receive monies this year, they will feel the burden then, said DeGise.
He said that when it originally passed Hudson was the only county in the state to not have an open space trust and he now fears a dense and urbanized area in need of parks won’t have one again.
“It was really done to give some tax relief and it was done for one year from my understanding,” said Romano, who said that Jersey City and Hoboken tax payers needed a break.
O’Dea hoped that they would work at the minimum, collecting half a cent.
“I think because of the overall tax burden, we have to make a difficult decision,” said O’Dea. “To not be able to fund any projects next year, that is going to create a problem.”
Do you believe Hudson County should collect half a cent per $100 in assessed property value to keep funding the Open Space Trust Fund? Express your opinion on this subject by going to this story on our website, www.hudsonreporter.com, and participating in our reader’s poll.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.
(This poll will close on Thursday, October 7)