GARWOOD — The Garwood Council heard from several local residents on Monday as part of a special meeting held to determine how the borough should its spend its unallocated PILOT funding. Suggestions for the $35,000 balance ranged from additional tax breaks and infrastructure updates to education and improvements to the library.
Every year, Mayor Sara Todisco explained, the borough receives a certain amount of funding through a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) arrangement that it has with the Vermella at Garwood Station, an apartment complex located on South Avenue. This year’s projected numbers suggest that the borough should expect a maximum PILOT payment of $650,000. Of that funding, Mayor Todisco said, $450,000 has already been earmarked for direct tax relief purposes while another $150,000 will be allocated to Lincoln School in order to offset the additional burden that the Vermella apartments, and its youngest residents, will place on the district.
“We are going to constantly monitor the financial implications that the new developments have to our school districts. But we will have that dialogue with you guys and we appreciate everything,” explained Garwood Board of Education President Tracey Roland.
Garwood residents then stepped forward to give the council suggestions as to how to spend the remainder of this year’s PILOT balance.
Garwood resident Leona Seufert suggested that the money could be used toward the library for new books and events, as she felt that the library was important to the community. She also suggested the money could be used for tax breaks specifically for senior residents in the town, as she said that they are on fixed incomes. She also recommended the historical society could use some money as well.
One recommendation that multiple people mentioned was to use the money toward fighting traffic, especially with the new housing units being built around the town. Ms. Seufert, Jill Brown and Lee Ann Pavlak all said that they’d like to use the money toward installing new infrastructure, such as sidewalks, stop signs and additional police officers, to cut down on traffic and pedestrian traffic that will increase with the increased residents due to the residences.
Mayor Todisco said that she would look into investing money into more sidewalk on West Street and that the finance committee was looking into other ways to improve on infrastructure for pedestrian and vehicular safety. She also said that the borough may want to look into hiring a new police officer.
Some Garwood residents expressed frustration at the Garwood Council. Garwood resident Frank Kelly said that he would like to know what the $450,000 toward taxes is offsetting. He also questioned whether the Board of Education needed the $150,000 for the children in the new apartments if they are funded anyway. He also said that tax prices have been going up while other towns nearby have been reducing their tax prices. He recommended giving the money back to Garwood residents through a lower tax rate. “Education is always going to get funded. Giving it an extra 150 grand, for five students, they’re going to get it next year, don’t worry about it. But what about the residents?” he asked.
Mayor Todisco said that the finance committee has taken the $450,000 toward offsetting taxes into great consideration in order to save costs. She also said reevaluation affected tax costs. Councilman Marc Lazarow also said that taxes did not increase on the municipal side in 2020.
Councilman Lazarow said that he’d like to put the money toward paying off the fire truck now that interest rates are creeping up. “When interest rates have been low, as the interest rates creep up, as federal reserve increases interest rates, I am concerned long term about bonding as much as we have in the past. And so I really do think prioritizing paying off some of our debt is super important. Because ultimately, if we don’t pay off that debt it doesn’t matter what we do, whether we make cuts, it’s just going to continue to rise…and in the grand scheme I do think it will help our taxpayers,” he said.
There were no decisions on how the money would be used at this meeting. There will be another special meeting on Thursday, March 31 that will address the municipal budget, where the allocation of the remaining PILOT funds will be further addressed.