Life Style — Are We Deeply Into The Weeds?
I have been listening to people, and see writing by people on Facebook and in other media, and I have had personal discussions with people who want to focus on financial detail and other elements of the proposed massive redevelopment project in the heart of Flemington's historic district.
I disagree with people who have told me that the development project will be a great bonanza for the taxpayers and businesses in Flemington. I agree with those that say the financial benefits that have been projected have been naturally inflated, and tilted or spun, from the viewpoint of the developer and Mayor, as part of an effort to sell the project to both the Flemington government and to the voters of Flemington.
Enough That Is Misleading
There is enough truth in what has been said to justify the sales pitch. But there's also enough that is misleading in terms of what has not been said that some corrections and clarifications are due. When I hear that Flemington will receive payments or benefits financially of $200 million I hear a big number that is likely to sound attractive when compared with the taxes collected today by the properties as they are now used and valued.
Two factors are left out. The first is that the present value of 30 years worth of payments should not be calculated by simply multiplying 30 years times the payments proposed to be made. The present value of those payments, as was stated by a young woman during one of the municipal meetings, is much closer to $120 million. That is still a lot of money, but I submit that it is not as much as would be collected in taxes through the normal process should private interests develop each of the individual properties without the benefit of the negotiated agreement involving a PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) program.
I know the proposal is that the payments will be increased at some point by 1% each year. But what if the inflation rate is more than 1% , say 2 % a year? The payments will have half or less the value projected in the study the Mayor and developer presented at a recent public meeting.
Additionally, as one Facebook writer pointed out, we've seen no budget that attempts to project the increase in costs that the taxpayers will be expected to pay to accommodate these massive structures and the increased number of people and vehicles that will be involved. The proposed 800 or 900 vehicle private parking facility (as many parking spaces as we now have in all of Flemington) tells us that we can have a real traffic jam each morning and evening as people commute off to the jobs they will need to support the rent requirements to live in the project. And know you cannot park there without paying a fee, of what ever he sets it to be, to the developer.
The Developer Needed the PILOT
The consultant working for the developer and the mayor (remember his conclusion that the developer needed the PILOT to afford to build that project) based his projection on the residential portion of the development containing no schoolchildren. With a considerable number of the residential units containing two or more bedrooms one must conclude that some of those bedrooms will be occupied by children. Just 40 school children cost tax payers today about $600,000 each year. What will they cost with inflation 20 or 30 years from now?
Think back more than 50 or 60 years. The apartment complexes built on the edge of Flemington at the foot of Thatcher's Hill were proposed to have no schoolchildren. They were promoted by the then developers as the starter homes for young people. We were told that by the time they had children old enough to go to school they would be moving into the single-family homes built in the community surrounding Flemington. We were also told that those apartments would also or otherwise be occupied by senior citizens who were downsizing from those same homes that surrounded the borough.
I think we know today that it takes four or five school buses to take the children living in those complexes to school. I have personally witnessed three school buses loading when my timing is off when I drive into Flemington to my office on any school day.
Think of the proposed Main Street or “Hotel” project as being those two-story buildings piled four buildings on top of each other and moved to the center of town. Look at the area of parking required to meet the needs of the residents in those apartment projects.
The Life Style We Want
Do we want, in effect as residents and business people in Flemington, to stack a number of those buildings on top of each other and move them into the center of town? Is that the life style we want? That is what the mayor and developer are proposing? How will that affect light and air in the middle of town?
What I suggest we do is get out of the weeds for a moment, forget some of the detail just for a moment, and look at the impact of lifestyle for all of us. Why are we in Flemington? If we wanted high-rise buildings full of people and massive numbers of cars, we could have moved into Camden, or Jersey City, or somewhere where those buildings already exist. And if we did that we would at least have railroad stations to make communing to the jobs we would have to have to support the rent.
Recently Flemington experienced a break in a water main. Think of how the town was essentially closed down to manage the traffic while efforts were made by construction crews to solve that problem. Flemington is about to experience the installation of a new streetscape for Main Street. $1 million worth of State taxpayer money will be paid for that project. The accompanying traffic, construction noise, dust and dirt, and inconvenience may cost the businesses and residents more than the benefit of the improvement. Of course it may not. It's possible that after being shut down for a number of weeks it will be just the project that will increase business for the businesses on Main Street to such an extent that everyone will say that the cost of the shutdown was worth it. Of course that also may not happen. Some businesses may actually close because customers cannot get to them.
Once we have experienced that streetscape construction we can begin to imagine what it will be like in town for all of us, but especially for the immediate neighbors of the project, and the businesses on Main Street, in terms of what it's like to live in the middle of a construction zone conducted in the confined spaces in the center of town.
If The Project Is Allowed To Begin
If the project is allowed to begin I hope that it does not fail. If it does fail after it begins, we will have traded our central Flemington historic district, home for many of us, for a big hole in the ground, our historic building will be gone, and perhaps some partially constructed new buildings will be left. As I understand the approved plan, the only thing the developer has promised is that if he is successful with the project he will preserve as much as he feels he can practically preserve of the façade of the hotel building and the façade of the bank building.
I can understand why some of our officials want this project to go forward. They would like to get rid of the bank building to correct the mistake they made when they purchased the bank building. I'm told that they expected a bank to remain on the ground floor. Rent paid by the bank was to be the source of funding for the bond issue used to buy the building. After they bought it they learned it would cost an unreasonable amount of money to turn the upper floors into a municipal complex. They also learned that the bank was not going to stay and pay rent. Where was the due diligence of our elected officials?
One More Massive Failure At Our Cost
The municipal assessor says that the bank building is worth less than half of what the taxpayers paid for it. Of course that's only part of the story. During the entire time the borough has owned the building they have not collected taxes from the owner (they are the owner and are tax exempt just like the County) and they have had to make regular interest payments. Borough management has not sought to turn it to productive use for it to pay its way. If one were to calculate and include all those numbers they would probably find that the cost exceeds $2,000,000 or more. The mayor has reportedly said that he will sell the building to his designated developer for its assessed value of less than $750,000. We tax payers, not the municipal management, will have lost $1,250,000 through that venture. Is it time to change municipal management? Is this management to be allowed one more massive failure at our cost?