ROSELLE, NJ — Today is the day when the borough of Roselle will know whether it will be full steam ahead with the proposed Mind and Body Complex — a project that includes a community center, fitness center and pool, media and technology rooms, an Early Childhood Learning Center, 22 classrooms, a secured outdoor playground, and a library.
The borough will be conducting its second round of discussions regarding the bond guarantee before the Union County Board of Freeholders. If approved, the project could break ground as early as November or December.
The funding for the project will be coming from a $59 million bond issue to be repaid by the borough of Roselle and the Roselle Board of Education over a period of 30 years. According to county officials, the borough has asked the county to guarantee the bond because their credit rating is better, thus resulting in a much better rate for the borough. Roselle will be setting aside $500,000 per year for three years to pay for the project, for a debt service of $1.5 million.
AST Roselle has been chosen as the designated developer for the project.
The proposed 100,000-square-foot complex will be located on five acres of land — currently controlled by the Roselle Board of Education — at the corner of Chandler and Harrison avenues, and, according to Assemblyman Jamel Holley, will be a boon for the community.
Others, however, have questioned the amount of money the project will cost taxpayers in the area, and whether residents can afford the projected increase. When the plan was unveiled in 2013, a tax increase of approximately $150 per year was projected. Three years later, however, that amount has gone up to an average of just over $300 per year.
The complex is the brainchild of Holley, who proposed the innovative project while he was serving on Roselle’s township committee five years ago. “I’m the creator of the vision for the Mind and Body Complex,” Holley told LocalSource in a phone call. “I grew up in Roselle, and I often wondered why my town didn’t have facilities and recreation programs like surrounding towns.”
According to Holley, Roselle had no community center, no pool, and a crumbling library and school buildings. And not much has changed, according to Holley. “Over the years, mayor after mayor and committee after committee played with the idea of building these things, but nothing cohesive ever came of it,” said Holley.
According to Holley, the acres of wooded area that is the proposed site for the project was deeded to the BOE by the town for educational purposes, but the BOE has only used it as a nature trail. Furthermore, the deed states that if the BOE does not use it for educational purposes, the land goes back to the borough.
Until now, Roselle has been leasing out space at two different locations in order to accommodate Roselle’s pre-K and kindergarten classes, according to Holley, and paying $700,000 per year for space that does not belong to the borough.
Holley said that the time is right to start putting the money to better use and to utilize the empty land for the betterment of the Roselle community. “Pouring money into a building we don’t own is not a good deal for the town,” said Holley. “Why don’t we just take that $700,000-plus and reroute that to this new project?”
Holley spoke passionately about the condition of Roselle’s infrastructure and the need for improvements. The last school built in the borough was Leonard V. Moore Middle School, which was built in 1962. The borough’s community center, built in 1972, currently serves as a senior center, and Arminio Field, constructed in 1912, has had no major upgrades until 2006, when a new sprinkler system was installed.
According to documents, taxes in the borough increased by almost 50 percent between 2004 and 2011 and, according to Holley, with no major capital improvements or community upgrades to show for it. In addition, Holley maintains that the existing library faces $92,000 in capital needs, such as electrical and HVAC issues.
Holley said that county freeholders, BOE, the state Department of Education and, most importantly, the residents, are in agreement with the plan. “What we have right now is only a Band-Aid,” said Holley. “Kids are walking around the streets. You see them. There’s nowhere to go.”
Union County spokesperson Sebastian D’Elia told LocalSource that the county is in favor of the project. “The County of Union through the Union County Improvement Authority saves taxpayer money for its municipalities over the long term by obtaining better rates for financing on projects such as the Roselle Mind and Body Complex,” said D’Elia in a statement. “Over the last 18 years, the UCIA has guaranteed financing through Union County for projects in various municipalities. The Roselle Mind and Body complex is a development of great public benefit that provides much-needed recreational and educational opportunities in an urban environment, and is supported by local officials.”
According to Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau, the borough has an obligation to be completely candid with residents regarding the cost of the project. “There are not two opposing views regarding the desire to see the Mind and Body project come to fruition,” Dansereau told LocalSource in an email. “There is no doubt we need a school, and no doubt that we in Roselle would like to have a safe, year-round recreation environment for our children, the same as our surrounding towns. The only pushback, for lack of a better term, is the importance of working out all the cost factors involved in this project so that our community is clear about the financial commitment.”
Dansereau made clear that financial transparency and accountability is not in opposition to the project; The borough has an obligation to inform its residents.
“It behooves us as public officials to make sure that the economic issues surrounding this $59 million dollar project are handled in a way so that there is little impact on the financial well-being of our community.”
Dansereau states that she wants to be certain that the town does not take on more financial stress that it can handle. “Apparently, there are people who believe that making sure that this doesn’t happen by doing our fiscal homework and remaining accountable to the community is somehow an adversarial role to the project. This is absolutely untrue, which is why I stated there are not two opposing views regarding the desire to see this project become a reality. We have an obligation to be completely informed of the costs involved regarding any project we pursue on behalf of our constituents, and the financial details involved in construction and operation. Why some believe this constitutes an adversarial position to the project, I have no idea.”
There are those who question the exact amount of the tax increase, with different amounts being bandied about on blogs and social media as costing homeowners anywhere from $150 to close to $500 per year. An unnamed source told LocalSource that he believes that the project will cost far more than the amount being reported, but Holley dismissed the naysayer. “I find it funny that now I’m hearing these objections when they haven’t even sat down with me and talked to me about it,” said Holley.
According to Holley, a tax increase of $312 per year on a house assessed at $119,000 is the rate that Roselle residents can expect.
One blog denouncing the project criticized the UCIA and what they see as increasing costs to residents. “Union County Improvement Authority has approved two bond sales totaling nearly $50 million for construction of a borough community fitness center and school facility,” read the site. “Authority board members approved the sale of $30 million in bonds for the community center and approved a separate $19.5 million bond sale for an Early Learning Center for kindergarten and pre-K classes. Through June 3, 2015 the UCIA has already expended $21,949 on this project and it will likely be another million-dollar-plus payday … The Local Finance Board is rightly worried about these exorbitant fees that Improvement Authority vendors are raking in.”
Holley maintains that those who oppose the plan are not making themselves aware of the numbers. “All these folks don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Holley. “They don’t include our plan for revenue from the borough, so of course it’ll seem that taxes are higher. I have every confidence that Roselle can afford this.”
Holley points out that other county municipalities, such as Linden, have recently constructed three new firehouses and a library. “So what’s the difference here?” asked Holley of the project.
Mike Hanley, of NW Financial, LLC, a consultant working with the borough, told LocalSource that residents seem enthusiastic about the project. “The feedback from residents during the hearings were that everyone is already paying a lot in taxes, but if you are already paying high taxes, you want high quality of service,” Hanley said in a phone call. “You’re creating this very nice amenity, so people have been saying, ‘We’re already paying a lot, so we’d rather pay a lot and have very good amenities than pay a little less for a lot less.’”
Holley maintains that this is a very personal project to him, as well, as he wants all children in the community — including his own — to reap what he believes are the benefits of the project. “Kids today are a different type of kid,” said Holley. “They need a different kind of structure. They need somewhere to go, a destination in town that’s a safe haven. The community has supported this. I know the kind of work the town and professionals have put into this. These are the kinds of things that should be happening in local government. We’ve spent several years working on this through blood, sweat, and tears.”