LINDEN, NJ — Controversy over repairs to the Linden Train Station has brought other issues to light as the June primary elections draw near.
The station, which is located in the city’s downtown area on South Wood Avenue, was built around 1950 and is in need of both infrastructure and cosmetic repairs, according to officials.
Linden Third Ward Councilman Peter Brown Jr., who is also on the city’s finance committee and has been a driving force in the ongoing train station cleanup, told LocalSource that claims being made by a Sixth Ward candidate for council — in what he calls the most hotly contested race in the city — are untrue.
According to Brown, Democratic candidate John Roman is alleging that the city’s taxpayers are paying for weekend overtime work by the Linden Department of Public Works employees, who have been working on repairs at the station.
According to the operating agreement and lease between NJ Transit and Linden, NJ Transit has owned the building and lot since January 2004, and the city is responsible for daily maintenance and repairs at the station including upkeep, removal of all trash and debris, daily removal of trash and litter, mopping and sanitizing of areas throughout the station, removal of graffiti, power washing and the repair or replacement of defective hardware such as floor tiles, doors, handrails and benches.
In addition, the city is responsible for lighting, painting, repair of sidewalks and concrete decks, and maintenance and repair of fencing, guardrails, stairways and minor platform repairs. Landscaping and snow removal are also the responsibility of the city.
Maintenance and repair that fall under the purview of NJ Transit includes repairs to columns, removal of snow on train platforms and painting of yellow safety lines. NJ Transit is also responsible for replacing certain items if the city deems them beyond repair.
According to Brown, the city has been in talks with NJ Transit to address needed infrastructure improvements.
After a visit to the station with Linden Mayor Derek Armstead and Linden’s Sixth Ward Councilman Robert Sadowski, the Democratic incumbent who is running against Roman, Brown wrote a letter to city administrators on May 2, outlining some of the issues.
“A list of all the infrastructure issues needs to be listed and sorted by who, whether the city or NJ Transit is responsible for fixing it,” Brown wrote in the letter, which he provided to LocalSource. “Example: the ticket shelter, glass, stairs, etc.”
While questions about such responsibilities linger, Brown wants Roman to stop the accusations regarding the neglect of issues at the station and allegations that overtime work is costing residents.
“He’s trying to make it a Sixth Ward issue,” Brown told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “We’ve had trees trimmed, stairs fixed, we are having ongoing meetings and work is scheduled to be done. Things are being fixed up. He’s claiming council people are down there for a photo op,” Brown said of Roman.
Brown said Roman is misinformed about overtime pay to DPW workers.
“The DPW is working overtime but it’s not costing taxpayer money,” Brown said. “We have a $100 million budget and $58 million is coming from taxes.
Everything else comes from grants and revenue points. We keep 60 percent of the revenue that comes from the train station and that money is put into the budget, so taxes are not being raised. The repairs are not causing a tax hike.”
According to documents, revenue from the Linden Train Station has increased since 2015, with a total revenue of $569,206 and a net revenue of $226,433. In 2016, the total revenue was $604,706 with a net revenue of $262,966.
“He’s making this a campaign issue,” Brown said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Roman, a Linden native and local community activist, told LocalSource in a recent phone interview that council members are threatened by his candidacy.
“I’m just a kid from Linden who has always tried to do good by the people of Linden,” Roman said. “The train station looks deplorable and things are getting worse. This has been an issue since 2011, but my candidacy really brought this to light.”
Roman said that he has been the campaign manager for both Brown and Sadowski in the past.
“I’ve walked every ward in this city,” Roman said. “I’ve campaigned my butt off for Peter. It’s nothing personal. Bob Sadowski has done a lot for the ward, but not recently. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing. Now I think that running is the right thing. I’m energetic, I have an honest opinion. I’m worried about my community; I want to move Linden forward.”
Roman noted the current split of the all Democratic, 10-member Linden City Council. Five members of the council are considered to be in Armstead’s political faction; the mayor currently has the deciding vote, giving his faction the majority.political Roman pointed out that if he wins a seat on the council, it could potentially change the entire political dynamic of the governing body.
“I’m an important vote,” he said. “Then it’ll be 5-5, and I’m the deciding vote.”
According to Roman, a general apathy on the part of some members of the council has caused many issues in the city to go unaddressed. He said some problem areas include several city streets, including Emma and South Stiles, as well as bridges and other infrastructure that he says are in dire need of repairs.
Sadowski called out Roman in a May 8 statement to LocalSource.
“My opponent is trying to make this a campaign issue,” Sadowski said. “However, the fact is that this is a city of Linden issue, as the train station affects many of our residents who commute. This concern has been and still is being worked on with NJ Transit, now for over a year, and we are making some significant progress.”
Sadowski also questioned Roman’s motives in moving to the Sixth Ward five years ago.
“Please be advised that this young man moved into the Sixth Ward with the sole purpose of running against me and is being supported by the same people who gave him his county job,” Sadowski alleged. “These individuals continue to thwart the efforts of this governing body in moving our city forward.”
According to Linden’s Fifth Ward Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling, the station is in dire need of further repairs.
“Peter Brown has gotten things done,” Cosby-Hurling told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “Sadowski hasn’t said a word about it.”
But issues need to be addressed properly, Cosby-Hurling noted. “Instead of lighting and ramps, they have bushes spelled out to say, ‘Linden,’” she said.
Tenth Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey agreed in a recent phone interview that the train station has been an issue for many years. Hickey, who is currently running to retain her seat on the city council and is not a member of Armstead’s faction, made her feelings known about the situation after several members of the council visited the train station on April 29, and referred LocalSource to her April 29 Facebook post, in which she wrote, “Unfortunately, this comes down to mismanagement of taxpayers’ money and photo ops for campaigns.”
Hickey also alleged in her post that she was among certain council members told to stay away during the council’s visit to the train station.
“I don’t need pictures of wasting money,” Hickey wrote. “Great job DPW, this certainly is not about you. You were given a job to do, and as you know I always appreciate your hard work.
“Financially, this is not the appropriate way to handle city finances and the taxes that we pay. However, we have a finance committee that obviously is more concerned about pride, exposure, and photo ops than the taxpaying residents of our city.”
Roman said the current council members should spend time working with — instead of against — one another.
“I know what I believe in and I know I want the best for the city,” he said. “If you are an elected official, then you need to take care of your constituents.”