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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A modest proposal: Hackensack should use some of HUMC's millions to fix streets

A PATCHWORK OF PATCHES: Hackensack hasn't paved the block of Euclid Avenue, between Prospect and Summit avenues, for more than three decades, according to longtime residents.
A GOOD THUMPING: Potholes like these, above and below, are found along the entire length of the block, and though small, they can rock even a heavy luxury car like the one I drive.
SUMMER POTHOLES: Who ever heard of potholes that go unfilled through the summer? Welcome to Euclid Avenue in the Fairmount section of Hackensack.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With my property tax bill approaching $19,000 a year, I want more than tax relief from the millions of dollars the city will receive from Hackensack University Medical Center, a so-called non-profit that pays its CEO more than $3 million a year.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Have you heard the latest news in the decades-long battle between the city and the hugely profitable but tax-exempt Hackensack University Medical Center?

In a new deal, approved by the City Council on June 26, the sprawling medical center will pay $4 million a year for six years in lieu of property taxes -- a total of $24 million by the end of 2023.

City officials estimate the medical center would pay $19 million annually in property taxes, if it wasn't tax exempt, and say they hope to use some of the $24 million for tax relief.

A tax cut would be welcome to me and the thousands of other residential and business property owners, but I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping some of the hospital's millions can go to improve the quality of life here. 

Euclid Avenue

That means fixing some of the patched, potholed and broken streets in Hackensack, including my block of Euclid Avenue, which hasn't been paved in more than three decades.

Of course, Hackensack isn't alone in having poor pavement:

Tenafly, Englewood, Teaneck and Bogota -- the towns I drive in or through most of the time -- have dozens of doozies.

Yet, residents of Hackensack and other towns in Bergen County pay the highest property taxes in the nation.

Non-profits

In Hackensack, residents resent having to carry the hospital's $19 million tax obligation, which is shifted onto every home and business property owner, and reflected in their high tax bills.

City residents also carry the tax burden of other non-profits, notably Bergen County government, the county jail and homeless shelter; state Superior Court, Fairleigh Dickinson's Hackensack campus, Bergen Community College and the Bergen County Academies.

$3.3 million salary

Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack University Medical Center, was paid $3.3 million in 2014, according to NJ.com, which cited records from the Internal Revenue Service.

Garrett issued a statement after the City Council approved the $24 million payment plan in lieu of taxes, saying the deal "further deepens our commitment to this community."

He also claimed HUMC is "the largest employer in the county," and that the medical center is "the city's economic engine," but provided no figures to substantiate either claim.

2015 ruling

In the summer of 2015, state Tax Court Judge Vito Bianco ruled Morristown Medical Center should lose its tax-exempt status -- in part because of its parent company CEO's $5 million-a-year pay package.

Today's non-profit hospitals generate "significant revenue and pay their professionals salaries that are competitive even by for-profit standards," NJ.com said, quoting Bianco's ruling.

Months later, a settlement was reached that allowed Morristown to remain a non-profit entity, while paying out $15.5 million over 10 years to help offset property taxes.

The multi-year deal with Hackensack is similar, so let's hope residents get both tax relief and smoother streets as a result.