Byram still sparring over new muncipal building

Residents may again petition township ordinance

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  • From left, Byram Mayor James Oscovitch, Township Manager Joseph Sabatini and Councilman Scott Olson. Photos by Liam Donovan

  • The audience at Tuesday's meeting. many residents oppose the cost of the proposed new building.

By Liam Donovan

— Byram officials have gotten the cost of the proposed new municipal building down, but still not down far enough for some residents.

The current plan for the building, to be funded over 20 years through a bond ordinance, would cost an estimated $7.4 million, which amounts to about a $137 a year increase in property taxes to the average Byram resident. Residents came out to the council meeting Tuesday to express their opposition.

“The main message that we tried to send was that the public should have a say," said Harvey Roseff. "This is a 6% tax increase if you stay on budget. We felt the cost was exorbitant… We’re now sitting here a year later. If this goes to petition, it’s not our fault.”

Roseff was one of the main opponents of the building proposal last year, which was eventually retracted by the governing body.

The original preliminary estimate for the building was $11 million. This sparked a backlash among taxpayers and a petition to delay the plan was circulated. The petitioners, many of whom called the bond ordinance a “blank check” from taxpayers to municipal officials, were successful because their signatures amounted to more than 15 percent of Byram residents who voted in the last statewide election. Once a valid petition was presented to the governing body, the council had the option of repealing the ordinance or putting it up for public vote. In August 2016, the council opted for repeal.

In March of this year, the council returned with a new plan with an estimated cost of $8.2 million. That estimated has been reduced to $7.4 million and the council has passed the ordinance to go forward with the plan. But Roseff and other residents are raising the possibility of another petition effort.

As Township Manager Joseph Sabatini explained, if a petition is initiated and the necessary number of signatures is obtained by August 1, the governing body would once again have to dcided whether to pull the orinance or put the proposal up to a general vote in November.

"In either case, we would not be able to take any immediate action," Sabatini said.

“Not only is this a burden on homeowners, but a burden on business owners," Byram resident Joann Smith said. "The Shop Rite Plaza is losing tenants. There’s not a person in this room who thinks that nothing needs to be done about the municipal building, but that’s a big number.”

“It’s a hard decision to spend $7.4 million on a building, but that equates to over $500 a square foot,” David Romano, co-owner of the Byram Plaza, said. “Right now we are in the process of building a Shop Rite in Sparta. This is a 95,000 square foot building, state of the art, that is projected to be $260 a square foot.”

Romano brought up, a construction estimate website he used to calculate the price of a new building in New Jersey.

“It would be $179 a square foot in Camden, a high-price area," he said. "Somewhere between $179 and $215 [a square foot] seem to be numbers that might be more appropriate. I don’t question that you need a new building. I do question the costs that are associated with this building.

“Also, there’s been so much publicity with this building, I’m thinking a contractor is not going to bid $2.5 million. They’re going to bid maybe $7.1 million, that’s the expectation,” Romano said.

“As we move through the cycle of the project, the hope is the cost will go down,” Sabatini said.

“The largest increase is in the police department and bringing it up to current standards. There are elements of a public building that have different cost requirements than a private building. We need bulletproof glass, bulletproof resistant sheetrock, We don’t know until we get into the design what we’re going to do and exactly how much it’s going to cost,” Sabatini said.

Sabatini explained that cost estimates so far have been based on floor plan schematics. If the ordinance goes into effect, the township can draw down on the funding to hire an architect and engineers who would produce a detailed design.

"Once we are through this pro cess, we can refine the estimated cost," Sabatini said.

But if a successful petition drive is mounted, the township council will either withdraw the ordinance or wait for November for voters to decide the rordiance's fate.

More information on the Municipal Building can be found on the Byram Township website, including an FAQ and cost estimate:
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