PLEASANTVILLE — Four police officers, six firefighters and six Public Works employees would lose their jobs if Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to stop payments to New Jersey’s Urban Enterprise Zones passes, city officials said Friday.
Pleasantville collected $2,347,527 from the Zone Assistance Fund in this fiscal year. That paid for the 16 positions, plus $407,801 for administrative costs, said city UEZ coordinator Roger Tees.
Christie’s budget proposal calls for eliminating funding to the 32 UEZ towns for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Tees said.
“So we would get no new revenues from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011,” he said.
Participating retailers in the zones can charge half of the usual sales tax on eligible products they sell, Tees said. The money is credited to the Zone Assistance Fund, which goes back to the municipalities for administration and eligible municipal services.
In Pleasantville, that money funds the 16 municipal jobs and four employees in the UEZ administration office, Tees said.
If the state cuts off the funds, the workers will probably be laid off June 30, Mayor Jesse Tweedle said Friday. The city is already experiencing a 10.1 percent unemployment rate due to the downturn in the casino industry, he said.
“The city budget will never be able to sustain those jobs. The loss of personnel will have an adverse, perhaps even a devastating impact on our economic well-being,” Tweedle said.
Keeping the employees on the payroll if the governor’s plan is enacted would add 32 cents to the city’s property-tax rate, Tweedle said.
“It has a tremendous impact on our city,” Tweedle said. “I consider it a Draconian cut.”
The effects could trickle down to other residents and people in other towns if local retailers lose business as a result of the cut in UEZ funding, Tweedle said.
“I can’t overstate that the UEZ program is one of the most powerful economic development tools that we have,” said Tweedle, who is vice-chairman of the UEZ program for southern New Jersey.
Mayors of UEZ cities will meet to discuss the issue and plan to take their case for funding to the governor, Tweedle said.
The city’s UEZ office would also have to close its doors if the governor cuts off funding, Tees said.
There is enough money in reserves to keep the office open for another year or so, but it needs permission from the state office to spend the money, Tees said. And the state office isn’t accepting any budget proposals for the next fiscal year.
So now, it’s up to the state Legislature to keep UEZ funding in the budget it prepares this spring, Tees said.
“We’re looking for bipartisan support because it’s very important, not only to the city’s economy, but to the region’s economy,” Tees said.
The problem is that a lot of popular programs are on Christie’s list of things to cut, state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said Friday. UEZ funding is competing with things such as homestead rebates and senior-citizens programs.
“The dilemma is, you’re not in favor of these things, but where do you go from here?” Whelan said. “If we restore the UEZ money to the towns, it will create another hole in the budget.”
Whelan said the Assembly and Senate budget committees will work through Christie’s proposal and try to save what they can.
“I’ll let the committees do their work, and see what their recommendations are,” Whelan said.
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said Friday evening that the UEZ program is good for economic development and has really helped depressed areas of the state.
“Do I want to see it stay there? Yes,” Amodeo said. “But in the big picture, we’re all facing a big deficit.”
Amodeo said he plans to speak in favor of sending UEZ funds to the cities, and hopes to get at least some of the funding restored. But many programs will have to be cut or consolidated to solve the state’s fiscal mess.
“We have a crisis in front of us,” Amodeo said. “Everyone’s sharing the pain and, unfortunately, I don’t know where we can get the money from.”
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