The Jersey City Council approved a 25-year tax abatement for a $364 million development project in Ward E that will include a new school for pre-school, kindergarten and 1st grade students.
The lengthy public portion had around two dozen speakers, several who were LIUNA union workers who urged the council to approve the $364 million project to keep labor jobs in the city.
Eddie Torres, a Jersey City resident who is a part of the Hudson County Building Trades and Plumbers Local 24, reminded the council that these type of projects allow skilled laborers to start their careers.
“A council, just like this council here, in the 70s [and] in the 80s, allowed two buildings to be built in Newport for LeFrak. I was a laborer. It opened the doors for me to become a plumber,” he explained.
“It opened the doors for me to work in the first two buildings in Jersey City for Newport Towers and it opened the door for me to raise my family and live it Jersey City for the next 30 years.”
Ellen Simon, a former school board member and an ally turned enemy for Mayor Steven Fulop, said she supports the project but it’s also time to start thinking about how tax abatements impact the school district.
“The abatement tonight, if approved, will be the 69th abatement of this mayoral administration. The school building being included here will be the very first of those 69 abatements that includes a give back for out public schools.”
Simon also noted that the council has the discretion to set aside one-third of the total of any payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), including the one in front of the governing body yesterday, for the public schools.
Additionally, the 25-year abatement includes $1 million in city-issued bonds that the city says will pay for infrastructure improvements on the Columbus Drive property.
In a similar vein, Brigid D’Souza, a Jersey City parent who is also frequently critical of the mayor, said it is a slippery slope to continually pass abatements that pay no school taxes.
“My concern is this: every abatement siphons future tax dollars from the school system. Right now, that’s sort of invisible to a lot of people because we are subsidized 75 percent by the state, as I think you all know.”
D’Sourza added that it’s only a matter of time before the state retracts their aid from the Jersey City Public School district so it is time to start game planning for that sooner than later.
Mazzeratti Powell, a lifelong Jersey City resident and another Plumbers Local 24 member, said these type of projects are a life saver for workers that have made mistakes in the past.
The council approved the measure by a vote of 6-3, with Council members Michael Yun, Rich Boggiano and Chris Gadsden voting no, with Gadsden indicating that he feels protocol related to hiring minority workers for abatement projects has not been followed.