LINDEN — The Regular Democratic Organization thinks the council pulled a fast one last week when at the 11th hour they saved a council member’s business property from being sold at a tax sale.
On May 21 when the city held a tax sale for 40 properties with outstanding taxes, one name was removed from the list: Reliable Tire, owned by 7th Ward Councilman Jack Sheehy and his brother. Although initially it was unclear why the property mysteriously disappeared from the list, it was not long before the issue became political.
On Friday, Linden Democratic Chairman Chris Hudak called for a full and thorough investigation into why this happened prior to the tax sale, which was carried out under the Jones Act for the first time.
The Jones Act enables municipalities to sell liens at auction for properties that previously had no bidders during annual tax sales. Unlike regular tax sales in which bidders pay the taxes on a property and then hold a lien on it until the owner either pays the bidder off or sells the property, the Jones Act allows properties with outstanding taxes to be sold outright.
Under the Jones Act auction, which the city council gave their nod by resolution in April, the winning bidder becomes the restricted lien holder that must foreclose within two years from the date of the acceptance of bids.
To maintain the status of primary lien holder, the bidder must pay the back taxes on the property in question. This allowed for consistent tax payments to be made to the municipality on properties that have not been paying any taxes for a long time. In some cases years.
Tuesday city tax collector Stacey Carron explained that the Jones Act is the final form of enforcement that state of New Jersey offers tax collectors when they are faced with property owners who are delinquent in their taxes.
The list of 40 properties, which included superfund site Linden Chlorine owing $13 million in back taxes, was Sheehy’s business on St. George Avenue owing $129,369.94 in back taxes.
Hudak said that according to information he received, it was city officials who had Sheehy’s property removed from the list. Later the governing body, along with Sheehy, voted to accept all bids with the exception of his own property. Hudak had a problem with how this transpired.
“I am greatly troubled at what appears to have transpired at city hall this week,” Hudak said, adding that on the day of the vote, the councilman’s property was the only one removed from the list.
“Councilman Sheehy has a financial stake in one of those properties on the list and his involvement in this process is wrong. At best he should have recused himself from any vote that has a property belonging to him on it. At worst, we need to find out how and why his was the only property removed from the sale list,” he said, adding that he intended to ask the Union County Prosecutor to investigate this immediately.
Sheehy’s family has owned Reliable Tire on St. George Avenue “since they put shoes on horses,” he said. Although it once was a thriving business they put tires on everything from wheelbarrows to huge cranes, in recent years it was a combination of things that caused the business to become delinquent in their taxes. Sheehy explained Tuesday in an interview that the economy, and an inability to find reliable, hard workers certainly caused the business to take a hit. But when his kidney failed and he had to be on kidney dialysis three times a week, it was a death knell for the business he has shared with his brother.
“Our family has owned a business at this location since the 1890s. First it was a blacksmith then it evolved into the tire business it is today,” Sheehy explained.
“First our family put shoes on horses and now we put shoes on cars,” the 7th Ward councilman quipped, adding it was a shame his health caused things to get to the point it has.
Sheehy readily admitted the business property was behind three years in taxes, but he said he never asked anyone to intervene on his behalf so the business would avoid being sold at the tax sale last week.
“I never said a thing to anyone,” the councilman added, but Sheehy did say that any business that was in the process of being sold could be removed from the list. That, he added, saved the day for Reliable Tire.
“I’ll bite the bullet for the business, and not paying the taxes, but I never said anything to council,” said the councilman who has served two terms and is running in the primary Tuesday against one of Hudak’s candidates.
The real problem, as Sheehy saw it, is that Hudak wanted the councilman to run on the Regular Democratic Organization ticket in the primary but Sheehy refused.
“Every Friday for eight weeks he called me and asked me to be on the Democratic line, but I refused. I’m an independent Democrat. If you live in Linden you are a Democrat, but there are different lines,” the councilman said.
Even though Sheehy needs a kidney transplant and is on dialysis, he was not willing to give up his seat on council.
“I can’t walk away because of the people in my ward. They depend on me,” he added.
The problem, he said, is that the regular Democrats realized that it was their political party that put the city in the financial trouble it is in now.
“Plus, I have a major problem with Chris Hudak being Democrat Municipal Chairman and his father being the city attorney. That is a conflict of interest. It’s like telling the enemy you are going to attack,” Sheehy said.
The 7th Ward councilman is hoping the primary and general election in November will result in Emanuel Donelson being elected to council so there will be “six of us on there forming a majority.”
“We need that so we can get things moving in Linden,” he added, noting that the way things are right now, “we can’t get anything accomplished.”
Hudak, on the other hand, is not interested in any of Sheehy’s explanations. As far as he is concerned, there is only one solution to the entire mess.
“Councilman Sheehy should end his re-election bid. What appears to have transpired on May 21 is a disservice to the residents of the 7th Ward and the entire city of Linden. Not only has Sheehy cut services and raised taxes due to the city but his recent act deprives the city of a payment of $15,661.73 in taxes due the city,” said Hudak, who also sits on the Union County Freeholder Board.
Sheehy said he will never step down regardless what anyone says about him.
“After all that has happened to me, this is nothing. They can’t intimidate me. I do this for the people of my ward, not politicians,” said the 7th Ward councilman.