Flat fee for sewer bills; budget to be adopted

The good news: Municipal taxes for the average Rahway home are going down $2 compared to last year, from $2,278 to $2,276. The bad news: sewer charges historically included in municipal taxes are not included in that figure for 2008. More good news: The average assessed home ($133,000) paid about $391 in taxes to cover sewer charges last year, but under a new sewer utility, will pay a flat $245 annual sewer fee, separate from property taxes.

The city’s $44.3 million budget for 2007-08 is up $1.2 million from the previous year, almost 3 percent, while the tax levy is up 0.6 percent. In addition to splitting out sewer fees, the city collected more than $2 million in water and sewer connection fees from new development, the city’s taxable assessed value rose $10 million, and $1 million was returned as Rahway’s share of surplus from the sewer authority. The redevelopment plan “is starting to work now, and as projects come on line that $10 million will increase,” said City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier. A public hearing and final approval of the city budget is scheduled Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Emergency Management Room at City Hall.

The City Council approved the creation of a sewer utility during a special meeting Thursday night. Historically, the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority bills the city, which acts as a conduit and lumps a town’s assessment into the municipal tax bill. Annual sewer fees for various properties would be as follows, under the new sewer utility:

Single-family home, $245
Two-family home, $392
Three- or four-family home, $392 + $147 per unit
Condominium, $196
Nonprofit/Apartment/Government, $125 + $2.64 per 1,000 gallons
Commercial/industrial, $355 + $3.96 per 1,000 gallons
Industrial/Merck, $355 + $5.28 per 1,000 gallons

The annual sewer fee would not change for at least five years, said Pelissier, the city’s representative to the RVSA, adding that the only costs in creating a utility would be billing, which are expected to be about $50,000 a year. No new positions would be created. City Attorney Louis Rainone described the utility as merely an accounting mechanism.

Residential properties currently are charged for sewerage based on the value of their home, not on what’s being used. “A utility will make it more equitable,” said Dieter Lerch, the city’s auditor who presented the proposal to City Council last month. Residential properties currently cover about 62 percent of the city’s RVSA bill, according to officials, but are only responsible for 50 percent of the assessment, thus subsidizing commercial and light industrial properties.

RVSA member communities Woodbridge and Clark both created a sewer utility to handle sewerage assessments and Kenilworth also is considering establishing a utility in the wake of rising RVSA assessments the last several years as a result of a $250-million upgrade to increase capacity at the Rahway plant. “Had RVSA not increased its rates, Pelissier said, the city probably wouldn’t be doing this. “It’s not a gimmick, it’s the cost of sewers,” he said, and the costs are staggering, whether included in the tax bill or not, and are borne by property taxpayers.

Housing decked at tavern site

The Zoning Board of Adjustment last month rejected an application to build two bi-level duplexes on the site of Decker’s Tavern, at the corner of Jaques and East Inman avenues. The liquor license was sold earlier this year.

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Surveying the future

In case you’ve somehow missed all the signs around downtown, check out the survey that the Rahway Center Partnership is conducting. As it says on the site, “Participate in the future of downtown Rahway.” The survey only takes about 12 minutes to complete and you’ll notice a direct link in the Local Links section, to the right.
In the spirit of the Rahway survey, check out the latest poll question.
As for the last poll, it was overwhelming in favor of video surveillance as long as it makes the area safer, with 15 of 20 votes (75 percent), compared to just three against (15 percent), and two (10 percent) who said it doesn’t matter to them.
Thanks to all who voted, and set a new Rahway Rising poll record, with 20 votes cast!…compared to 14 in the inaugural poll last month.

Irving-Fulton realignment

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Intersection improvements at Irving Street and East Milton Avenue are expected to begin next month, and wrap up by April, the same time the hotel is scheduled to open. Improvements will include the realignment of Irving and Fulton streets, as well as signalization. The winning bid came in at about $875,000, which the City Council on Monday night officially accepted from Rahway-based Berto Construction.
For the realignm
ent, Irving Street will be shifted west slightly, taking a portion of Train Station Plaza — City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier estimated “up to the first planter.”
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alization also could be coming to the five corners intersection on the other end of Irving Street, where it crosses Main and Hamilton streets and Central Avenue. The city engineer has been asked to determine the costs of signalization, Pelisser said, which could come later this spring or summer.

Zoning Board KO’s plan for 12 condos at Koza’s

Uncomfortable with a density of 12 units on a three-quarter-acre site, the Zoning Board of Adjustment Monday night denied a concept plan for condos to replace Koza’s Bar, 197 W. Scott Ave.

Continue reading Zoning Board KO’s plan for 12 condos at Koza’s

Rahway’s ‘Ring of Steel’?

London has its “Ring of Steel,” New York City is looking into getting its own version, and now a pilot program will bring surveillance cameras to downtown Rahway, starting with the Rahway Center Partnership offices.

The city’s crime rate has dropped considerably in the last decade, according to data from the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), taking a similar pattern to countywide numbers. Compared to 10 years ago (39.1 incidents reported per 1,000 residents), the crime rate in 2006 was down by a third, and has dropped each year since 2001. To put it in perspective, Rahway’s 25.8 rate in 2006 was similar to Union County’s overall figure (25.3), slightly higher than Roselle (23.6), but lower than Union (28.7). It varied compared to its immediate neighbors: Clark (14.7), Linden (32.9), Edison (26.1) and Woodbridge (31.0).

Given all those data, there are still more than a few people I know who aren’t comfortable walking downtown at night. Will cameras help? If something were to occur, you’d think there would be a better chance of getting it on video, but the NFL’s instant replay hasn’t exactly solved every problem. Cameras won’t be much help in the dark, and they didn’t stop the Hat Bandit. At least taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab on this one. It’ll be interesting to see the results of the pilot effort.

With cameras also popping up at intersections to catch motorists running red lights, it seems as if life is getting a little more Orwellian every day. A step closer to life imitating art? And how about the acting police chief’s sounding like a character right out of 1984: “It’s only scary if you have something to hide.”

What do you think? Will cameras help?

Senior housing proposed for St. Mary’s

City Council members were presented Tuesday night with a plan for a four-story, 50-unit affordable senior housing development to replace the former St. Mary’s convent. Use of the church, gymnasium and school buildings at the complex on Central and Esterbrook avenues would not change.

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Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark initially needs approval from City Council, which would include a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), before even applying to the Planning Board. The project would be funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which looks for need and support for such projects. The Archdiocese has built five such projects through its Domus Corporation, a single-asset corporation that brings together government funds with parish properties, said Catholic Charities CEO Phillip Frese.
“The administration is more than convinced of the need for this,” said City Administrator Peter Pelissier.
Council members had some concerns about parking and the size of the new structure. The project would include 49 one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit (for a superintendent on site). The existing building would be demolished and some parking spaces and the driveway to Esterbook Avenue would be realigned, said Steve Cohen, an architect for the Archdiocese.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier disagreed that a new four-story building would fit into the neighborhood, and expressed concerns about parking and that three adjacent residences were not yet contacted by the Archdiocese. Some creative redesign of the layout, she suggested, could allow the building to be pulled to the right, “making everyone happy.”
The population of such a project typically is associated with the municipality in which it’s developed, said Don Lubin, a consultant for the Archdiocese. He estimated 50 to 60 percent of residents have some connection to the municipality. Applicants for the affordable housing must meet three requirements: they must be someone in the household; someone older than 62; and income requirements of less than about $30,000 annually. The typical applicant to such senior housing projects in New Jersey are single females about 75 years old, he said. Individual units are about 540 square feet.