Wayne Mayor: Menendez's SMART Fund 'Common Sense'

Wayne Mayor: Menendez's SMART Fund 'Common Sense'

By:  Montana Samuels


WAYNE, NJ — In a Tuesday, May 5 press conference, Senator Bob Menendez and mayors from across the state of New Jersey discussed the fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their cities, and endorsed new legislation from Menendez and Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy.

Menendez is hopeful that the new legislation could help offset some of the fiscal impacts the mayors are currently watching play out in their cities and towns.

"At a moment when these jobs have never mattered more, the reality is there may not be enough money to pay our police officers, firefighters and paramedics, our teachers, public health and sanitation workers." said Menendez.

The press conference, held via phone, included updates from the mayors of Wayne, Brick, Cherry Hill, Galloway, Hoboken, New Brunswick, Paterson and Rahway.

Wayne Mayor Christopher Vergano, who hosts a daily news conference updating the total coronavirus cases and deaths in Wayne Township, gave an update on the fiscal situation brewing there today.

Citing revenue concerns related to COVID-19, Vergano explained that Wayne Township introduced a budget in March, but he is now recommending that the council not adopt that budget.

"At this point we have very big concerns about our revenue stream," said Vergano.

He explained that a number of revenue sources have been impacted by the pandemic, and the state's reaction to it. Building projects have been placed on hold, the revenue from hotel occupancy tax is "almost down to zero" and courts have been closed for two months, he said.

Police enforcement of tickets has even slowed, Vergano said, because "[police] are fearful of who they're pulling over, and whether or not they are infected."

In total, Vergano predicts that revenue stream loss in Wayne Township could end up anywhere between $850-950 thousand.

This, hypothetically, is where Menendez's newly introduced legislation could come into play.

The State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund proposes to add an additional $500 billion to the existing $150 billion set aside by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

One important piece of the SMART Fund for places like Wayne is an expansion to include aid to counties and towns with populations of 50,000 or more. The current threshold is 500,000. The idea, according to Menendez, is that aid should be given based on the breadth of impact, not population.

Funding would be divided into three tranches based on a new formula that takes this idea into consideration, according to an April 19 news release.

One-third of the funding would go to eligible entities based on population size to "meet their growing needs", using the same formula as the CARES Act, but doubling the available funds, according to the release.

Another third would be dispersed based on the number of COVID-19 cases relative to the U.S. population to target the health challenges related to the coronavirus.

Lastly, one-third would be dispersed to eligible entities based upon state revenue losses, relative to pre-COVID-19 projections to help with economic challenges.

During the press conference, Vergano was just one of the mayors to endorse the legislation.

"It's common sense not just for New Jersey, but for the rest of the United States together," said Vergano.

When asked if he had an early estimate of how much federal funding could be coming into New Jersey, Menendez said the number wouldn't be known until more final revenue loss figures are available.