ROSELLE, NJ — The Union County Improvement Authority characterized as a “myriad of misstatements” concerns about Roselle’s proposed $50 million Mind and Body Complex by a former school board member, in response to a state agency’s query about the project.
The UCIA, which would issue bonds for the project if approved by the freeholders, addressed criticisms in the financing of the deal from former school board member Anthony Esposito, who wrote to the Local Finance Board in Trenton last month. The LFB asked the UCIA to review those concerns.
The UCIA’s nine-page response, written by attorney Matthew Jessup, described actions taken in at least 30 public meetings dealing with the Roselle Mind and Body Complex.
Esposito and other residents attended many of those meetings, raising concerns about what project will cost borough taxpayers.
The UCIA’s letter addressed two of Esposito’s main concerns: why the cost of the project increased by millions over the years, and issues with the land lease for the project.
“[T]he primary reason that the cost of the projects increased from 2015 to 2016 was the receipt of the responses to the authority’s public request for proposals to construct the projects,” the UCIA letter said. “At that time, project costs went from being estimates to actual. It also surprises no one that, as every year passes from 2014 to 2017, the costs of labor, materials, equipment and supplies necessary to construct the projects increases.”
Esposito said the land lease agreement between the school board and the borough is no longer valid because it required financing for the project to be obtained by the end of 2015. The freeholders did not guarantee bonds from the UCIA until after that date, he said.
The school board first amended the agreement at a July 10 special meeting so that financing could be obtained by 2018. The UCIA said that, although that meeting did not “fully comply with the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act,” the school board voted at its Aug. 28 meeting to extend the timeframe to obtain financing until 2018 anyway.
The LFB “reviewed and issued positive findings” of bonds for the project in 2015 and again in 2016.
In an email to the LocalSource on Sept. 18, Esposito said he did not agree with the conclusions presented by the UCIA.
Using UCIA bonds to finance the project would reduce the property tax burden on Roselle residents, in theory, because of the county’s superior bond rating compared to Roselle’s.
Although Esposito filed a civil complaint against Union County, the UCIA, the borough and the school board on Aug. 23, the freeholders took action on the project at their Sept. 14 meeting anyway, approving what county spokesman Sebastian D’Elia called “additional language” to the original bond ordinance for the borough’s community center and library portion of the project.
The freeholders have not yet issued the bonds though, said D’Elia, who is also a UCIA commissioner.
Freeholder Angel Estrada abstained from the Sept. 14 vote and Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh, a former Roselle resident, was absent. Jalloh has recused himself from hearing public comments about the project in the past.
The resolution approved Sept. 14 was the same scheduled for a special meeting vote by freeholders Aug. 10, D’Elia said. That special meeting was abruptly cancelled after Esposito threatened legal action if the the freeholders voted on it.