Aromalicious cafe up for sale

Aromalicious, we hardly knew ya. The Portuguese pastry shop opened for business just around the start of 2011 and barely lasted a year. A few weeks ago, a sign on the front door indicated the shop was closed for vacation and more recently a “Business for Sale” sign has graced the storefront at  85 E. Cherry St.

Across the street, it appears a clothing store has opened, next to the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market, and further up the street, a beauty supply shop has taken over the space at 43 E. Cherry St. that was occupied by Pet Essentials, which moved around the corner to the former Kataluma Chai space on Main Street.

Almost $1 million in PILOTs in 2012 budget

The $49-million municipal budget anticipates almost $1 million of revenue from various PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements, including the first from one of the Park Square properties.

The total $961,000 in PILOT revenue is up from the $783,000 in the 2011 budget and breaks down as follows:

* Lower Essex St – Denholz Management (Rahway Plaza Apartments) – $366,000
* Landmark – $150,000
* Parking Authority (River Place) — $170,000
* Rosegate — $25,000
* Senior citizen housing — $250,000

Landmark, which broke ground on the Irving Street side of Park Square (2 Park Square) in 2006, appealed its assessment in Tax Court, getting it reduced from $6.05 million to $4.077 million.
The Main Street side (1 Park Square) is assessed at $8.965 million.

The PILOT agreement had the developer paying taxes on the assessed value of the parcels as they previously existed. Landmark will begin paying 20 percent of its assessment this year, which will rise 20 percent each year until it reaches 100 percent (which would be 2016).

River Place was constructed on property owned by the Parking Authority, which receives an annual payment from the development’s owner and splits it roughly in half with the city.

The city budget also anticipates $660,000 in revenue from red light camera fines. About $1 million was realized in the Transitional Year budget, which covered the six months of July-December 2011.

The amount to be raised by taxes in the budget is $33.455 million. The proposed municipal tax rate for 2012 is 2.287 (per $100 of assessed value), so the average assessed home ($133,000) would see municipal taxes of $3,042, compared with $3,046 estimated last year. (Remember, municipal taxes make up only a portion of your overall property tax bill; the others being schools and county). Presented to City Council by the administration in February, the municipal budget will be up for a public hearing and vote at the March 12 meeting.

Poll results: Which grocery store do you want?

The phenomenon that is Trader Joe’s jumped out to a strong, early lead in our latest poll and held steady for weeks at the 60 percent mark until voting closed last night. It was really a race for second place from the start:

Continue reading Poll results: Which grocery store do you want?

New hotel finally breaks ground off Routes 1/9

A new hotel just off Routes 1&9 finally broke ground last month.

A four-story, 93-unit Candlewood Suites gained approval from the Planning Board in March 2009, which was later changed to become a Home2 Suites by Hilton extended stay hotel. Originally, the plan was to construct a Sleep Inn just off Routes 1&9 at the corner of East Milton Avenue and Lennington Street.

The vacant 4.4-acre site was acquired in June 2008 for $2.35 million and currently pays about $6,000 in property taxes as two parcels (Block 338, Lots 3.01 and 3.02).

The city continues to see increased revenues from the local hotel tax enacted almost a decade ago. About $55,000 was realized in the transitional year 2011 budget, covering July to October 2011. Pro-rated, that would be about $110,000, compared to $103,000 in Fiscal Year 2011, $99,000 in 2010, $58,000 in 2009 and $36,000 in 2008, according to municipal budget documents.

The state imposes a 5-percent hotel tax and municipalities are allowed to impose an additional levy of their own of as much as 3 percent. The hotel tax was created during the McGreevey administration in 2003 and Rahway enacted the local tax effective Nov. 1, 2003.

Another look at Merck’s tax appeal settlement

The city’s tax appeal settlement with Merck & Co. added approximately $400 to the average home over three years, according to my estimate. Merck & Co’s tax appeal settlement that was approved a year ago cut the property tax bill for the pharmaceutical giant by at least $4.5 million over three years, reducing its overall tax assessment in Rahway by $82 million, or more than 26 percent.

The appeal affected the tax years 2010-2012 and my estimate includes some assumptions based on 2011 tax rates for 2012. The biggest hit looks like 2011 (see the end of this post). My estimate doesn’t include some other costs the city might have incurred, such as appraisals, litigation and borrowing, only an attempt to quantify how much the new assessments affected the average home.

Overall, the city’s valuation dipped from $1.549 billion to $1.486 billion in 2011 and $1.467 billion in 2012 as a result of the settlement, according to the letter sent to residents last year, explaining the settlement.

As part of the settlement, Merck withdrew its appeal in 2009 and received a cash refund of overpayment of taxes that year of $1.6 million. All told, that’s at least $4.5 million, based on 2011 tax rates, that had to be made up somewhere on the tax rolls.
Some explanation of how I arrived at this estimate: The average home in Rahway is assessed at $133,000. Every $13.30 in municipal taxes on the average home generates about $149,000 in tax revenue. Feel free to check my work in this Excel file; the key figures also are listed below (tax rates can be found on the city’s website). For 2012, I used the 2011 tax rate since the county and schools have not set their tax rate, while the municipal tax rate has only just been proposed.

Merck’s overall assessment was reduced from $312,368,300 to:
– $280,878,500 for 2010 (-$31,489,800)
– $249,699,700 for 2011 (-$31,178,800)

– $230,000,000 for 2012 (-$19,699,700)

Merck’s property tax bill shrank approximately:
– $1,614,797 in 2010 [$144 for average home]
– $1,797,458 in 2011 [$161 for average home]
– $1,135,688 in 2012 [$101 for average home]

Council introduces municipal budget

Municipal taxes are expected to eclipse $3,000 for the average assessed home ($133,000) this year, according to the $49-million budget introduced by City Council on Monday night. The municipal budget makes up about 38 percent of the overall tax bill, which also is made up of the school and county taxes.

The municipal tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — is proposed at $33.455 million, down slightly from the $34.118 million estimated for all of 2011, which was split between the second half of the 2011 fiscal year budget and a 2011 transitional year budget. The proposed municipal tax rate for 2012 is 2.287 (per $100 of assessed value), so the average assessed home ($133,000) would see municipal taxes of $3,042, compared with $3,046 estimated last year.

The city’s net valuation dropped from $1.489 billion to $1.462 billion, a decline of $27 million or almost 2 percent, due primarily to Merck’s tax appeal. City Financial Officer Frank Ruggiero told council members that $1.5 million of a $3-million settlement with the Union County Utilities Authority will be used as revenue this year, offsetting the loss of about $1 million in tax revenue this year due to the multi-year tax appeal settlement with Merck. He said the city also plans to become more aggressive in its debt reduction in the 2012 budget.

The City Council introduced the 2012 municipal budget by a 7-0 vote, with two members absent. Final adoption and a public hearing is scheduled for the March 12 regular meeting.

The City Council in November approved a transitional year budget covering July-December 2011, as it moved from a fiscal year budget (July to June) to a calendar year budget this year. Municipal taxes were about $1,522 for the average home for the six-month transitional year budget, and about $2,416 in the last fiscal year budget.

Poll: What kind of grocery store do you want?

It’s time for another fun blog post, like a new poll. It was mentioned during the annual reorganization meeting of the City Council that the city is in discussions to bring a grocery store downtown, upward of 20,000 square feet in size. A grocery store has long been among the top priorities for residents, so our next poll question isn’t whether you want a grocery store downtown, but what kind?

Which grocery store would you prefer downtown?
Fairway Market
Stop & Shop
Trader Joe’s
Whole Foods

Given the proximity of a few (ShopRite, A&P, Aldi, Trader Joe’s), the demographics of some (Whole Foods) and the size of others (Wegman’s), I doubt whether these are realistic possibilities for downtown but we needed to give you something to vote for. For some perspective, of the 10 or so Whole Foods stores in New Jersey, the smallest is about 17,000 square feet (Montclair), so I’m not sure what could fit downtown, if anything.

Consider the “Other” option for any boutique or single-location store you might be familiar with, and feel free to share details in the comments. Who knows, maybe someone who can do something about it is reading.

120-unit Meridia Chateau proposed at Savoy site

A 120-unit rental complex proposed for the former Savoy site would nearly four times the size of previous plan’s density. The Savoy, which broke ground in 2006 at the corner of Monroe and Main streets but stalled and went into default last year, was to be a 36-unit, two-bedroom condo development.

Continue reading 120-unit Meridia Chateau proposed at Savoy site