NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The City Council voted unanimously to approve the borrowing of $2.75 million to fund major projects over the next year, including one that will rebuild a dead-end industrial street where a powerful family owns six of eighteen buildings.
The rebuilding of Jules Lane, a two-block industrial street that's just one-third of a mile long was listed as the first "major project" in the capital plan at Thursday's City Council meeting.
No other road improvements were mentioned at the public hearing on the law to authorize the borrowing, but three others appear in the seven-page plan: "College Avenue from George to Bartlett;… George [sic] Road pedestrian safety improvements; Neilsen Street repairs."
Jules Lane is only about 1,700 feet long, and companies owned by a Councilwoman's spouse currently hold about one-third of the real estate along the road.
The shorter, dead-end block of Jules Lane provides access to six industrial buildings, including two with addresses on Home News Row. Without exception, they are all owned by Louis Garlatti or one of his numerous companies.
Garlatti's wife is Elizabeth "Betsy" Garlatti, the second-most senior member on the Council and the only incumbent running for re-election this fall. Her mother, Patricia Sheehan, served as Mayor from 1967 to 1974.
As we reported in March, Louis is the President & Owner of Albert Garlatti Construction Co. where he pulls in over $500,000 per year. He also serves on the New Brunswick Parking Authority's Board of Commissioners.
Elizabeth works for the NJ Commission on Higher Education, a state government agency where she made $95,108 last year, in addition to her $9,000 for serving on the City Council.
The couple owns well over a million dollars worth of real estate, including their home in New Brunswick, a vacation home in Monmouth County, and three other properties in Middlesex County, each listed as "commercial/industrial" on their financial disclosure forms.
Louis Garlatti's construction company is based in Highland Park and does business with the state according to the forms.
Properties that his companies control on Jules Lane and Home News Row total eight industrial buildings that span 11.69 acres, all of it worth $3.8 million.
Typically Council members recuse themselves and abstain from voting in situations where they have a personal or professional interest. For example, Garlatti often abstained when votes dealt with the city-based Child Health Institute, where she was employed for several years.
But all five members of the Council voted in favor of the bond ordinance on Thursday, even though they only needed four votes to pass it.
The other block of Jules Lane contains twelve warehouses, most owned by AMB Property. AMB entered into a merger with ProLogis last year to become the world's largest industrial landlord. According to ProLogis' website, they lease 3,100 properties in 22 countries.
AMB's "Generation Industrial Park" in New Brunswick expands well beyond Jules Lane to include facilities on Jersey Avenue, Home News Row, and Janine Place. Several other roads in this mostly industrial area appear to be in approximately the same condition as Jules Lane.
HOW CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS WORK
The city's bond ordinance is a law passed each year that authorizes the city to borrow money for siginificant one-time expenditures like building roads, upgrading buildings, or purchasing vehicles. Along with each city budget, the city also plans ahead for these major expenses and borrows accordingly in a separate budget called a "capital improvement program."
The program is then put to a vote of the City Council in the form of an ordinance. Unlike other laws, bond ordinances require at-least a two-thirds vote, meaning four of the five City Council members must vote "Yes" for it to become law. The Mayor must also approve the borrowing by signing the ordinance.
Thomas Loughlin, the city's Business Administrator, said this particular bond ordinance, "is to fund the general capital improvements that have been considered and are part of the budget request for 2012," after Council President Robert Recine immediately referred a question about the purpose of the borrowing to him.
When pressed on the major projects funded in the plan, Loughlin led with the Jules Lane improvements.
"We are appropriating some money to rebuild Jules Lane. We are appropriating some money to continue with the design of a new Recreation Park, for the final improvements we want to make to Joyce Kilmer Park," he said.
Loughlin continued to say that the borrowed funds would also go towards installing a new type of synthetic grass called "FieldTurf' at Memorial Stadium, to purchase vehicles for the Departments of Recreation and Public Works, and to upgrade the radio system used by the Fire Department.
Several of the projects that Loughlin did not list out loud, but were spelled out in the seven-page ordinance:
- improvements to Buccleuch Mansion, a historic building that has fallen into disrepair under the city's stewardship
- improvements to City Hall, including a re-design of the Council Chambers and upgrades to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems
- vague spending for the city's police department, including an "upgrade of police area at Civic Square," downtown security cameras, and a "utility vehicle"
- various additions and improvements to city parks, including resurfacing the tennis courts at Alice Jennings Archibald Park, "heating improvements" at the Youth Sports Complex heating improvements, and the "construction of swing bridge/ ramps" at Boyd Park
- a slew of improvements for the city's Senior Center, including: chairs, an exterior camera system, an improved outdoor fitness trail, as well as upgrades to the building's heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and sprinkler systems.
- technology improvements including "network infrastructure upgrades and hardware improvements," new computers for housing inspectors and construction code officials, portable radios and computers for the Fire Department, and computers, servers and modems for police cars
- new roofs for the buildings that house the Department of Public Works
- unspecified improvements to a "cofferdam" on the Delaware & Raritan Canal
- funding for the installation of a beam from the World Trade Center to serve as a memorial to the September 11 tragedy
The bond ordinance did not break down costs of individual projects, but does shed some light on four categories of spending. "Public Facilities Projects" were the biggest appropration, at $987,800. "Streets and Sidewalk Projects" came in second with $788,900, while "Safety, Office, and Equipment Projects" accounted for an impressive $731,273, and "Vehicle Replacement" came to $238,000.
The city is expected to make a $130,973 down payment on the $2.75 million in borrowed funds. In addition to the down payment on this new bond, the city's 2012 budget anticipates spending $2.45 million paying down debt on old bonds, an increase of 2.8%.
In all, the city plans to spend $4.83 million just in paying its debts this year, up from $4.74 million in 2011. This figure represents 6.25% of the total city budget.
Editor's Note: The author of this article is an independent candidate for City Council and was the only member of the public to ask questions about the bond ordinance during the hearing.