A Facebook note by Chris Runion, published August 14, 2018 – www.facebook.com/notes/a-better-fit-for-flemington-driver-runion-giles-mccormick/my-thoughts-questions-from-last-nights-council-meeting-by-chris-runion/450116465491964/

First, I wanted to thank a local resident for handing me the microphone last night so that I had the opportunity to ask a couple questions. The mayor seemed intent on my not speaking as he signaled to the both of us he wanted the microphone back while I in turn refused. I then had a police officer stand over me as I asked my two questions. Since Facebook seems more tolerant of opposing opinions than our own local government, I thought I would share my thoughts and questions from last night’s event here…

a) The Borough releases an interpretation and analysis of the financial agreement but has not released the actual agreement open to public scrutiny. The mayor seemed to suggest that first drafts generally are not released. Are analyses of first drafts generally released? What if the financial agreement changes going forward? Those that walked away from the presentation last night will in effect be misinformed.

b) Without an independent study (independent from the developer) we are not in a strong position to negotiate.

c) The PILOT study left out the most important part: local school taxes and student demographic data from their analysis.

d) From the Cust Website:

“PILOTs are common for large redevelopment projects in New Jersey areas in need of redevelopment. There are two in our immediate area, the Yale property in Raritan Township which was converted to the Costco store and the Herman E. Kapp Center at 62 Church St. in Flemington.”

Fine enough. But one is a warehouse club and the other is senior residences. I don’t think I need to point out the obvious regarding current or future students.

e) I heard from the mayor and others last night that the master plan is not financially viable nor is repurposing existing structures. Counter point: Spice Factory. A repurposed office building with plans for residential apartments and no PILOT needed.

f) I have also been hearing for quite some time that if this doesn’t go through there is no one else. We found out last night there is someone else and this someone else has been around since June.

g) Mayor Greiner stated that we have not heard from other developers and therefore have to go with this plan. See (f).

h) Average rent if I recall correctly was $1900 a month. I am a full time teacher with no college or car debt, and I couldn’t afford the average apartment. Yet millennials, 64% of whom in Hunterdon county live at home, 1 in 5 are in poverty, and have 300% more student loan debt than their parents will be able to afford one of these luxury apartments?

i) The presenter’s own graph showed home ownership trending upward while renting is trending downward. He also mentioned 70% of NJ households are childless. There is a net movement out of NJ and a declining population in Hunterdon County. We also have development complexes popping up in Raritan and surrounding areas. Even if these Courthouse Square apartments are filled now will they be filled in 30 years. We have to learn the lessons from large projects of the past, e.g. Liberty Village. It was very successful for a period of time but times change. There is always the potential with such a project that we are left with another Liberty Village in the center of our town 30 years from now or sooner. As a biology teacher, I can say that the resilience seen in natural ecosystem’s is due to their diversity of parts rather than the strength of any one part. Such a “putting all your eggs in one basket” approach that our town is pursuing carries great risk.

j) There was recently an article in NJbiz.com “Lawmakers Seek to Boost Oversight of PILOT program.” State lawmakers have put forward two bills with regard to PILOT programs.

Senate Bill 1701would require the town and developers each to produce their own cost-benefit analysis on how the PILOT agreement would impact local tax revenue.

Assembly Bill 3969 would require tax-exempt developers to rework funding distribution to include money earmarked for school taxes.

One has to ask why state lawmakers are so concerned about requiring cost-benefit analyses and money earmarked for school taxes with regard to these PILOT programs? One should also take note that the first bill would require the town AND developer to each produce their own cost-benefit analysis on how the PILOT would impact local tax revenue. I’m glad state officials are asking for this because the majority of our local governing body is not. In addition, one has to question the Otteau group’s own analysis given local numbers for school demographic data and trends were not used.

The presenter himself stated a school study was not performed because it was not requested.

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