Finance board weighs ethics matter in Hopatcong, OKs Panasonic application in Newark

TRENTON – The Local Finance Board is weighing an ethics matter involving the mayor of Hopatcong.

The board took testimony today but did not rule on a complaint regarding a letter Mayor Sylvia Petillo sent to residents in 2011 regarding an upcoming voter referendum to consolidate the zoning and planning boards.

Two complainants alleged an ethics law violation over the use of public funds for the letter, and the questions before the finance board involve whether a public official used public funds for personal gain.

The referendum, which passed, involved saving money and improving efficiency during a time of fewer applications, canceled agendas and reduced board activity, the finance board was told.

No one accused the mayor of trying to benefit from this, Deputy Attorney General George Cohen told the board, and he said one option, if the board should determine a violation occurred, is to waive the $100 fine.

The board was told the mayor sought legal advice as to whether it was OK to mail a letter explaining to residents the details of the proposed merger.

The finance board said it would reserve judgment until members review documents in the case.

Among other business items:

The board OK’d the application for $10.5 million in Redevelopment Area Bonds involving Panasonic’s relocation from Secaucus to Newark.

The project has drawn some criticism since it was announced in the spring of 2011.  The electronics company plans to set up shop near Penn Station-Newark. The company says that the move will help prevent it from going out of state, and help retain 800 jobs. The company has said it also plans to create 200 new jobs.

But opponents, including Secaucus and Panasonic landlord Hartz Mountain, decried more than $100 million in tax credits OK’d by the Economic Development Authority under the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program as a misuse of that program’s funds.

Eventually, Secaucus and Hartz Mountain dropped their legal opposition.

The finance board was told that there would be over $1 million a year in payments in lieu of taxes for 20 years.

*The board OK’d these Environmental Infrastructure Trust Loan Program applications: Cumberland County Utilities Authority, $2.1 million; Secaucus Municipal Utilities Authority, $400,000; Vineland City, $3.9 million; Hampton Borough, $550,000; Hanover Sewerage Authority, $11 million; Middlesex County Utilities Authority, $10.6 million; Jackson Township Municipal Utilities Authority, $1.3 million; and Milltown Borough, $764,000.

*These applications were approved: Salem City, $50,000; Gloucester County Improvement Authority, $29 million; South River Borough, $3.5 million; Essex County, $12.5 million; Woodbine Municipal Port Authority, Port Authority Budget Approval; and Carteret Borough Municipal Port Authority, Port Authority Budget Approval.

*Evesham Township received approval on a $2.54 million bond ordinance refunding application in order to privatize catering operations at the Indian Springs Golf Course Clubhouse. Finance board weighs ethics matter in Hopatcong, OKs Panasonic application in Newark