City plans to appeal judge’s SID ruling

The city intends to file a notice of appeal to a judge’s decision that struck down the proposed expansion of the downtown Special Improvement District (SID) citywide.

“We will continue discussions with our attorney over the best next steps with regard to the ruling of the court,” City Administrator Cherron Rountree said in an email this week. A notice of appeal is the first step in the appeals process, informing the court and the other side that the “unsuccessful party seeks a review of the case.”

(File photo)
(File photo)
The original SID, created in 1993, covered 138 commercial properties in the central business district, generating revenue of about $130,000 annually to fund downtown initiatives, at one point the Rahway Center Partnership, and ultimately the Rahway Arts District. City Council in December approved expanding the SID to all commercial properties citywide, which would cover 521 properties and generate about $760,000 in revenues for an assortment of programs, grants and loans.

Court documents filed in the case revealed a six-page document (Exhibit A/Pages 5-10) titled “Special Improvement District Expansion, presented Dec. 8, 2014.” Some details from that document were mentioned by city officials during the public hearing on the ordinance but the document itself was never formally presented publicly.

Asked why that document wasn’t presented beyond City Council representatives, Rountree said recommendations made to the governing body are made “after a great deal of research and analysis,” a result of careful consideration after consultation with the city’s professionals. “The same was the case of the SID expansion. We do our best to inform the public of the deliberations behind these actions, yet it is important to know that these issues take weeks, months and in some cases years of work and research and so we must condense it when making public presentations,” she said.

The disparity in budget size between the downtown SID and citywide SID, coupled with the expenses of the increased number of downtown events held in the past year, isn’t expected to be a drain on finances, according to Rountree. The public downtown events are a collaboration between the city, SID, Union County Performing Arts Center and other outside sponsors and supporters, she said. “A portion of the proposed expanded SID budget was to go to special events, however, the events that have already passed are exclusive of that expanded budget. We are constantly reviewing our programs as they relate to budgetary constraints.”

The governing body adopted a SID budget of $760,000 that listed some planned expenditures, however, that spending plan is in limbo as a result of the judge’s decision. The Rahway Arts District board is expected to meet for its quarterly meeting on Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. in its offices at 1544 Irving St., Suite 204.

The lawsuit was filed early this year by Friends of Rahway Business, LLC, which said it represented a group of affected property owners.