Would you use Zipcar?

Would you use Zipcar if there was one at Rahway train station? For those unfamiliar with Zipcar, here’s a brief summary and history of the company. A reader email prompted this post and thought it’d make for a potential discussion to accompany a blog poll.

Continue reading Would you use Zipcar?

S&P gives Rahway AA rating; debt ‘moderate’

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service assigned a AA rating and stable outlook to Rahway in advance of its $11.65-million bond sale this past spring. “The city’s tax base has experienced, what we consider, limited, but stable, growth; it increased by 2.1 percent since fiscal 2007 to $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010.

This equates to a per-capita market value of $134,775, a level we consider extremely strong.” That net debt as a percentage of average equalized valuation was 1.4 percent, as of March 1, while the statutory limit is 3.5 percent.

“The city’s overall debt burden, which includes overlapping governmental units, is a moderate $4,943 per capita, or 3.7 percent of market value, and debt service accounts for a moderate 8 percent of operating expenditures. Other than the bond issuance for the Merck tax appeal repayment, officials do not plan to issue additional debt in the near future,” according to the report.

Here’s a breakdown of the city’s valuation, by class. Notice that “Industrial” used to be about 24 percent of the total and this year is down to about 21 percent. The total for “Residential” has remained largely unchanged in recent years but still jumped from 64 percent of the city’s total to 66 percent this year, while “Apartment” is up by more than 12 percent, jumping to more than 3 percent of the city’s total.

The almost 4-percent decline in the tax base in 2011, according to S&P, is likely the result of the tax appeal by Merck, as well as the general economic downturn. It appears that the valuation is expected to drop another 1.3 percent next year as a result of the tax appeal, barring any other new changes.

The tax appeal settlement knocked off $62.7 million from Merck’s 2011 assessment to $249.75 million, which totaled property taxes of $27.7 million, according to the mayor’s February letter regarding the appeal. The company’s 2012 assessment will be reduced by $82.4 million, to $230 million. A review of property tax records shows Merck owns different 19 parcels in Rahway, ranging in size from less than an acre to 37 acres for a total 91 acres and broken down in this Google spreadsheet.

If any other interesting tidbits come out of the bond sale documents, I’ll post them.

Bond sale included $7.8M for redevelopment

It’s long overdue for some details about the city’s bond sale this past spring that I promised last month when I posted the city’s top 10 property taxpayers.

The city borrowed almost $12 million in general improvement bonds, including almost $8 million for redevelopment- and arts-related items.

Ten of the 22 items in the $11.765 million bond sale were related to redevelopment, totaling $7.78 million for redevelopment, more than half of it related to the Hamilton Street arts projects. About $783,750 was authorized in 2007, which covered architectural concept plans, planning and engineering, surveying, DEP permitting, floor plans and elevations, and demolition of the Hamilton Laundry building. Another $4.5 million was authorized last year, but only $3 million borrowed so far, for the Arts District’s amphitheater, which would cover the renovation of the Bell Building (now referred to as the Hamilton Stage), construction of the amphitheater, acquisition of arts related equipment and eventual acquisition of the Elizabethtown Gas building (Block 167, Lot 1).

A breakdown of the 10 items, some dating back to 2000, can be found in this Excel file, including the amounts authorized and bonds issued, along with a brief description. At the April bond sale, the city secured a rate just below 4.51 percent over 20 years from J.P. Morgan (UBS Financial was the other bidder, coming in at under 4.59 percent). The bonds mature annually on April, beginning in 2012 at $350,000, increasing to $450,000 in 2015, $550,000 in 2016, $560,000 in 2017 and $640,000 in 2018, before leveling out at $700,000 annually through 2030. The complete maturity schedule can be found in this Excel file.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll take a look at what Standard & Poor’s had to say in its report on the city.


NJ Monthly magazine’s Table Hopping with Rosie paid a visit to Patria Restaurant and Mixology Lounge. She called it “a place in NJ that should be on your must-try list.” Overall, she had quite a few good things to say, calling the garlic shrimp better than anything found in Newark, and advising not to miss some entrees (including Patria pork, and I must agree) as well as dessert.

NJ Transit graded 5.2 overall

NJ Transit this week released the results of a comprehensive customer survey, earning an average overall satisfaction score of 5.2 out of a possible 10, but just a 4.5 from rail riders specifically, which make up almost a third of customers. Bus riders, 61 percent of customers, rated it 5.5 and light rail customers, who make up 8 percent, gave it a 6.5.

Scores in several categories were 5.0 or lower and identified as needing improvement:
* 4.3, handling of service disruptions
* 4.5, fares
* 4.7, on-time performance
* 5.0, weekday evening schedule

Other low scores were given for handling of service disruptions, 4.3, PA/general announcements, 4.7, and weekend/holiday schedules, 4.7.

The highest scores were:
* 6.8, payment options
* 6.6, safety
* 6.6, My NJ Transit website
* 6.2, security
* 6.2, My Transit

By the way, a category called “Boarding station/shelter condition” received a score of 5.3, but closer to home, it probably would be much lower, given the long-term closure of the inbound stairs at Rahway and the elevator to the outbound/westbound platform being closed through August.

NJ Transit has average weekday ridership of 425,000, according to the survey, and two out of three customers surveyed expressed “willingness to recommend to a friend.”

The agency this week also passed a $1.9-billion budget for the next fiscal year, holding fares steady after last year’s massive hikes in the first of what’s expected to be three years of no increases.

What do y’all think? What rating would you have given NJ Transit?

Agency to sell parcel for $1 million

The Redevelopment Agency plans to sell a three-quarter acre parcel near the library to a developer for $1 million. Pompton Plains-based Capodagli Property Company would remove a stockpile of contaminated soil in exchange for a deduction on the sale price. The developer has proposed Meridia Water Edge, a 116-unit rental property on the site, just south of the library and adjacent to the Center Circle and Rahway Plaza Apartments, but the project still must be approved.

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the city will monitor movement of the soil and obtain estimates to ensure the developer isn’t making money off the deal, but did not have specifics immediately available as to the the cost or deduction. The Redevelopment Agency at its meeting last week awarded a $25,350 contract to Whitestone Associates to monitor the removal of the soil stockpile just south of the library.The stockpile of contaminated soil came from the library construction of the library in the early 2000s.

The Capodagli firm is eager to begin as soon as possible and already has paid several hundred thousand dollars in water and sewer permits for the project, Pelissier told commissioners. The administration also has been meeting with owners of the Center Circle and office condos on the upper levels of the library to keep them abreast of the Meridia Water Edge proposal.

The Savoy steel finally coming down?

In what might be the first bit of good news about The Savoy property in years, the bank behind the project has orders to level the site — steel and all.

Continue reading The Savoy steel finally coming down?

Bids rejected for interim parking at theater site

The Redevelopment Agency rejected two bids for construction of interim parking at the site of the proposed Hamilton Street amphitheater. A new bid could be awarded by next month.

The two bidders — Berto Construction and Gingerelli Bros. — were about $500,000 apart, one reason why they were rejected, according to City Engineer James Housten, though seven contractors purchased bid packets. (Gingerelli Bros. earlier this year was awarded the $5.825-million bid for the Hamilton Stage project at the Bell Building.)

When the Redevelopment Agency decided several months ago to put the amphitheater on hold and instead build an interim parking lot at the Hamilton Street site, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determined that a different permit would be required, Housten said. Meetings with state officials, however, have led to a more favorable recommendation, he said, with the process and cost to a less than if the agency had followed the DEP’s original edict and see another permit.

Part of the bid included removing remediated soil, which Housten said will be tested and determined exactly what it contains and how much there is. That process might provide for less expensive bids when the project goes out to bid next week. He hopes to have a resolution to award a new contract at the agency’s August meeting.

Early this year, the Redevelopment Agency decided to delay building the amphitheater and instead construct an interim parking lot to accommodate the Hamilton Stage. Commissioners also held off on acquiring three remaining homes on Hamilton Street that were slated to eventually become parking areas.

Dornoch building goes on the market

One of Dornoch’s properties is on the block. The three-story building at 1501 Main St. is listed with an asking price of $599,000, at LoopNet.com. That works out to $120 per square foot for the 5,000-square-foot space, and would be a 16-percent premium over the $515,000 that Dornoch paid for the property in February 2007, according to property records.

The property is assessed at $229,700 and pays roughly $12,500 in property taxes, according to PropertyShark.com.

This past spring, Hillside-based Dornoch was declared in default of its redevelopment agreement on The Savoy and also owns the building that was recently demolished on East Cherry Street, along with several other downtown parcels.