Tax designed to help Camden raze buildings

Posted: January 27, 2014

CAMDEN Camden has more than 4,000 vacant buildings in its nine square miles, 900 of them classified as abandoned and slated for demolition. At more than $30,000 per demolition, most continue to deteriorate year after year. But a new tax on parking lots, required to go directly toward razing those buildings, could speed the historically slow process.

"Abandoned properties and crime go hand in hand, and in conversations with the chief and other law enforcement from the city, we're always talking about how can we get these structures taken down," said State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), who sponsored the bill along with Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson (D., Camden). "On the other side is a city strapped financially, with finances not always used for demolitions."

Under the bill (A4590) passed in December and signed into law by Gov. Christie on Monday, Camden could levy a surcharge of up to 7 percent on parking facilities - public, private, or both - so long as the money is used for demolitions.

The law gives Camden, Passaic, Paterson, and Trenton the power to draft an ordinance to impose the tax. Norcross said it would be up to the city to determine which lots are taxed (though residential lots are exempt) and up to the parking lot operators to decide whether they would increase their fees to patrons or take the money from revenue for the tax.

"As funding becomes available, I look forward to working along with the parking authority and our residents to continue the revitalization momentum we started to transform Camden's neighborhoods," Mayor Dana Redd said in an e-mailed statement.

Camden has lots all over the city, some in neighborhoods grown over with grass, and the most popular on the waterfront used for concerts and other events.

Josh Wheeling, founder of CamConnect, a nonprofit organization that maps the city's abandoned properties, said that although the city had created a list of 900 abandoned properties (up from four before Redd took office), few had come down.

"It's not an easy process," Wheeling said. "It is fairly expensive, and it depends what they're sitting next to, if it's sandwiched between two houses, or freestanding."

Pilar Hogan Closky, executive director of St. Joseph's Carpenter Society, which has rehabbed or built more than 800 homes in East Camden, said the legislation could be a major moneymaker if it taxes the most trafficked lots along the waterfront. She also said those lots could be sold for future developments.

Closky said not all abandoned properties need to be taken down. Some could be sealed for about $2,500, and then rehabbed for far less than the cost of demolition.

Council President Frank Moran said he was eager to sit down with the mayor, the parking authority, and City Council to write an ordinance and get the money coming in.

While no estimate was available for the revenue the surcharge could generate in Camden, parking taxes of 15 percent in Elizabeth and Hoboken brought in $2.7 million and $1.2 million in 2013.

"This definitely has huge benefits to Camden," Moran said. "The question for us now is how do we roll it out to really get some revenue?"


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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