West Miford's man in Trenton

| 04 Oct 2012 | 01:30

— The West Milford Township Council agreed Wednesday night to hire Princeton Public Affairs Group, Inc. to lobby on the township's behalf in its fight over taxes with the City of Newark.
The contract with the group will run through December, 2012 at a total cost of $12,000.
Councilmen Mike Ramaglia and Ed Rosone were absent.
There were no bids for the service. Instead, the council spoke with William Pascrell III, a county attorney and partner in the lobbying firm. After a presentation by Pascrell two weeks ago, the council was ready to move.

The issue

A long-standing issue for the township has been the dwindling tax revenue it receives from the City of Newark, the largest property owner in the township with 16,481 acres of watershed property. The city has successfully appealed its assessments many times over the years.
Yet Newark sells the water to its users for millions of dollars in profit each year. The township’s position is that water is a commodity and if Newark is making money from the sale of it, the land from which the water comes should also be valued higher.
The township has implored its representatives in Trenton to help them by changing the way the land is assessed. But that has fallen on deaf ears. They have also suggested a water surcharge where Newark would pay by volume for the water. That too wasn’t met with any support.
In 2011, Newark paid $1.6 million in taxes to West Milford. After appeals were filed and won for 2010 and 2011, West Milford will receive $822,107 in tax revenue from Newark in 2012.

Help on the way

Two weeks ago, Pascrell made a presentation to the mayor and council.
“I think I can play a unique role trying to put forward an agenda to allow this town and others to be properly and fairly compensated,” said Pascrell in September.
The Princeton Public Affairs Group, Inc. consists of Pascrell and 14 partners and associates. Pascrell said they are bipartisan, working with both Republicans and Democrats in Trenton, in both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Although he didn’t want to reveal strategy, Pascrell said a key to their approach might be that the legislation created decades ago regarding the towns and watershed property is simply outdated. Populations of the six watershed towns have doubled in the past decade alone. The legislation puts a significant burden on the governing bodies, he said.

No second thoughts

On Wednesday, Councilwoman CarlLa Horton said she would prefer that the council consider more than one lobbyist or firm before making the decision to hire Pascrell. That being said, she told the Messenger that Pascrell and Princeton Public Affairs, Inc. have impeccable reputations and are highly qualified to do what the township needs done.
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s (Pascrell) got an extraordinary reputation,” said Horton. “I just wish I had more than one person or firm to choose from.
“I'm expecting a full-time commitment of this firm for our needs as a township,” she continued. “I expect them to do everything they can do for us. Based on their track record, I have no doubt that’s what we'll get.”
Former councilman Robert Nolan, who has been part of the fight with Newark over compensation for many years, disagreed with the township hiring the lobbyist. In a letter to the editor (which appears on page 12) , Nolan said the township shouldn’t have to spend taxpayers’ funds to get equity from Trenton.
“Light a fire under Jay Webber, Betty DeCroce, and Joseph Pennacchio,” said Nolan. “In case you don’t recognize the names, they are our so called representatives in Trenton. What have they ever done for West Milford?”
Moving forward
Pascrell will meet with the mayor and council in the near future in an executive session to lay out the strategy they have devised. He suggested at the Sept. 19 meeting that the township reach out to the other watershed towns to join with West Milford in the fight. Putting those populations together would equal 70,000 residents of the state, a much more formidable number when dealing with legislators.

What are your thoughts about hiring a lobbyist? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and share your thoughts.