Hoboken City Council approves $1.3M budget for citywide special improvement district

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The Hoboken City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve a $1.3 million budget for a special improvement district citywide, to the chagrin of 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo who believes that individual business corridors should have their own specific SIDs.

Back in July, the city council okayed the creation of a SID, whose objective is to reinvigorate businesses throughout the city.

Now with a $1,336,689 budget, the Hoboken Business Alliance, the entity overseeing the SID’s implementation, will be able to use a portion of the monies towards visual improvements along the city’s main commercial artery, as well as creating annual events and festivals to enhance retail promotion and business retention.

The discussion before the vote centered around Russo’s argument that a citywide SID doesn’t meet the needs of businesses since they’re all lumped together.

In fact, he told the council that he believes they arbitrarily included properties into the SID so that it could generate enough dollars from an assessment.

Every property in the state has a tax code, and anything categorized as a “4,” whether 4a, 4b or 4c, is considered an income producing commercial property.

According to New Jersey Administrative Code, 4a is anything with a commercial/retail operation; 4b is industrial properties (only a handful exist in Hoboken); and 4c is residential property with five or more units.

Russo’s claim drew a strong rebuke from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, also a SID committee member.

She said that the creation of the SID has been in the making for years and based on her discussions with business and property owners over the past year, they have expressed discontent over a lack of economic investment in the city.

She noted that a steering committee of approximately 15 people worked hard on whether to create a city-wide SID or a specific SID, while acknowledging that a city-wide SID may bring greater benefits to downtown Hoboken.

“We recognize that the majority of the obvious benefits will be closer to Washington Street and that kind of mid-Hoboken and most in the 3rd Ward wouldn’t have as many obvious benefits …and that was a lower [assessment] rate. So we had a higher rate where there were higher benefits. I don’t feel there is anything arbitrary about this,” said Fisher.

In an interview, Russo explained that his opposition to a city-wide SID stems from the fact that there are some homeowners who inherited their properties such as a four- or five-family house who are struggling.

Although they may be renting their units, they aren’t generating enough revenue since the units are rent controlled and are now being asked to pay more in taxes for a SID whose benefits for that homeowner are ambiguous at best, according to the councilman.

“That’s the question, where is there going to be an improvement for that homeowner? Are they [the city] going to power wash the homeowner’s sidewalks, are they going to market the units when one of them is vacant?”

Russo has his own vision for a SID, based on its southern neighbor, Jersey City, which has created multiple SIDs for different business corridors and districts.

“Let’s break up the SID so that it’s very specific because the needs of Washington Street are very different than the needs of the coffee shop on Jefferson Street,” he continued.

He also believes that a “one size fits all” approach will put some commercial enterprises at a disadvantage.

“The reality is that there should not be a SID across the entire city because there are different commercial entities in the city that have very different needs and if one particular portion is represented on the SID board rather than others, well, then the money is probably going to be funneled to that a little bit more.”

As expected, Russo was the lone no vote when the vote came up, with the measure passing 8-1.

In a statement, Fisher said that the vote represents a historic moment for Hoboken’s local economy, while thanking the Hoboken Business Board members and Stuart Koperweis of the consultancy Economic Development Strategists, who worked with the city to create the SID and gave an hour-long presentation back in July to explain how the SID would benefit Hoboken economically.

“Our local businesses are the backbone of Hoboken’s economy and at the heart of what attracts people to live in and visit our urban village. Last night’s vote puts Hoboken on a trajectory of economic growth. I could not be more proud of and excited for my community.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ravi Bhalla applauded the council for coming together to sign off on the SIDs budget.

“I’m thrilled that for the first time, Hoboken will now have dedicated resources to assist our small businesses through the adoption of the Hoboken Business Alliance’s budget,” said Bhalla said in a statement.

“Special Improvement Districts are a proven way to help revitalize local economies, and I have no doubt that our community will benefit from this dedicated funding source,” he added, also crediting Fisher, Koperweis, and Business Administrator Stephen Marks – the other city official on the SID committee.