TRENTON – Sen. Ron Rice said he was frustrated to learn that the Urban Enterprise Zone program in Newark, his hometown, actually has money left unspent during a time the city had to lay off several police officers.
“We are laying off people, we got money left in the zone that is not being spent,” he said at a Senate Urban and Community Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. “That bothers me.”
Newark UEZ officials were not immediately available for comment. However, several other UEZ officials from various municipalities – including Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Vineland, and Asbury Park, among others – praised the program for generating revenue, enabling towns to make businesses loans to foster economic growth, and giving a much-needed facelift to urban municipalities that people avoided coming to. All said, this isn’t the best time to strip away the revenue from towns, given the tough economic climate, UEZ supporters argue. Doing so would grind construction projects to a halt, and lose customers to regional shopping centers, they say.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), of Cape May, said he is seeking to draft legislation “that the governor will sign” to keep the UEZ program largely intact. He said it must be expected that changes will be made to the present UEZ program and compromises are inevitable.
“Nobody is going to get exactly what they want,” Van Drew said. “I don’t want to do something that is just symbolic. There may be some changes.”
He said the program will need “parameters” that will measure the program’s effectiveness.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, home to one of the largest UEZs that includes a large outlet mall, said he would be fine with changes but stressed the program’s benefits must continue.
“Our theory is amend it, don’t end it.”
Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healy said the program has been instrumental in turning around once-distressed towns.
“The streets were filthy and crime was rampant,” he said.
However, thanks to the UEZ program that was implemented by then-Republican Gov. Tom Kean, those tides began to turn, he said.