Commentary on vaults issue


The Enterprise’s Thursday story on the Livingston downtown underground states that the Urban Renewal Agency voted to pay for filling in the underground at 66 percent when it had actually voted at a special meeting on Jan. 17  to pay 75 percent of the costs of filling in the City of Livingston owned (ownership established in the current lawsuit) underground after the city pays for the amount thus far pledged at $48,000. The Livingston City Commission has previously voted to pay $3,000 per 16 addresses for those 11 building owners along Callender Street between Second Street and B Street cited in the Enterprise article — thus the $48,000.  So there was a unanimous vote of the Livingston City Commission at the Jan. 17 meeting  to endorse the URA recommendation to pay the 75 percent of filling in the vaults along Callender Street ($285,000 minus $48,000 or 75 percent of $237,000, thus the $177,750). The question was not whether the city would honor its vote to pay the $48,000 mentioned above, but whether or not the C.I.P. (Capital Improvement Plan) monies, $10 million total previously decided by Ed Meece’s 14 person, $1,0860,000 “leadership team,” would pick up the additional 25 percent of the total cost of $59,250 of the $285,000. A significant number of city man hours have gone into coming to the reduced amount of the $285,000 from over double that amount to save the vaults. Filling in the vaults is a disappointment to people like me, but, given the choices, the downtown would rather save the vulnerable businesses along Callender Street and get Callender Street and the second block of Main Street done this year, rather put it off again for the fourth year in a row.   

Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, in the Livingston City Commission two-hour debate, Chairperson James Bennett, commendably insisted that the process be “fair.” It became clear at the meeting that in order to be fair the easiest thing, in light of the already committed $225,750 that if the C.I.P. stepped up to the plate and paid the additional 25 percent the entire process would be fair, the lawsuit would be automatically dropped, and bidding on the entire street projected could begin in a timely manner. The public works department, in the second of two special meetings before the URA meeting and vote, said that they were ready to complete the streets this year. They preferred going out to bid in early February for the vaults and Callender Street so that they could begin the actual work started in March and complete Callender Street by June. Then, the public works department and the leadership team said they could possibly begin work on the second block of Main Street in June. The downtown businesses and the URA (Urban Renewal Agency) was very supportive of that idea to the point where the URA voted the 75 percent, in spite of limited funds, to support the filling in the vaults mentioned above.  

This is truly a “no-brainer.” The city owns the underground vaults and the URA renewal agency has already agreed to cover 75 percent of the costs not already covered by the city commission. To be “fair” no other building owner anywhere in Livingston has had to pay to fill in their vaults thus far and the cost this year has almost been halved due to the efforts of the public works department. The building owners along Callender Street are already paying for half of the sidewalks to go on top of the filled-in vaults which for many of them is half a block and many will cost over $10,000, again a city sidewalk, and that on buildings, many of which are currently valued in under the $400,000-plus range.

At the Jan. 17 meeting, the city commission decided to have workshop on Jan. 31 to finalize this decision and possibly move on with getting the city streets done this year.  An Urban Renewal Agency, downtown businesses that have been stumbling over their city streets while the city put this off for the last three years, and the public will be grateful to have this hurdle overcome by the public works department and the Livingston City Commission.

Patricia Grabow