Oliver testifies to budget committee on how the state helps NJ cities

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver told the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman that it’s difficult to identify ways that local municipalities can save money. Sen. Paul Sarlo wanted to know how the state could wean nine cities from needing $100 million in transitional aid this year.

Among those cities: Trenton. The state supplies a third of Trenton’s budget because state property occupies so much of the city. Right now, the new mayor and council are locked in disagreement over how much to raise taxes. Oliver says they’re missing the big picture.

“They have to begin to work more cooperatively, council and mayor, to bring redevelopment into the city. And if they continue to fight and be obstructionists with city hall, developers are not going to want to get into the middle of that. And I think it’s time for cooler heads to prevail,” Oliver said.

Oliver said Atlantic City exemplifies how state involvement can help stabilize and revitalize a city. She says the city’s budget has been reduced by $32 million, tax appeals have fallen by 60% and Atlantic City is beginning to diversify its economic base.

“For the first time in decades, a supermarket in the city of Atlantic City. We are striving to make certain that Atlantic City is no longer a ‘one-horse town,'” Oliver said.

Oliver said that Atlantic City is no longer receiving transitional aid from the state, but Paterson is among the cities still getting that kind of aid and more.

“We had phenomenal success with Paterson this year. We identified that the city of Paterson had not been billing many of its commercial water and sewer customers,” said Oliver.

Oliver told the committee that homeownership has fallen in New Jersey, but rental vacancies have reached their lowest levels since 2005. So many people are staying in rentals longer that it’s leading to a rethinking on money to build affordable housing.

“We have not decided, but there is a growing sense that all of the Affordable Housing Trust Funds should go to the production of rental housing,” said Joyce Paul, chief of staff for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

The demographic change is leading to new policies and ways to incentivize towns to accept the building of affordable housing.

“We’ve increased points in the suburban areas for the good school systems and we are using the Department of Community Affairs’ Municipal Revitalization Index to also rank communities that developers look to build in so that we’re building more affordable housing, or at least financing it in communities where there’s a better chance that children will grow up in better schools,” said Chuck Richman, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

The governor just signed into law the creation of the Office of Homelessness Prevention within the DCA and Oliver says it will aggressively address homelessness in the state.