Terrence T. McDonald | NorthJersey.com
December 8, 2020
Bergen County won approval from state officials on Wednesday for a $150 million borrowing plan allowing the county to build a mixed-use residential building in Hackensack that would include a new bus station and county offices.
County officials are characterizing the plan as visionary, saying it would move NJ Transit buses off Hackensack streets, boost capacity for public transportation in an area of the city seeing dramatic real estate growth and create housing intended for middle-income workers.
“We are proud to work with the city of Hackensack on this visionary public transportation, infrastructure and economic development investment that will contribute to the continued revitalization and renaissance of our County Seat,” County Executive Jim Tedesco said in a statement. “The project also furthers the county’s goal of building a less congested, more connected and environmentally conscious Bergen County.”
The state Local Finance Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the plan. Construction will take about two years, county officials said.
The building would be located on River Street, a few blocks north of county headquarters. The new bus station would replace an existing terminal and have the capacity for 12 buses. NJ Transit, which rents the current terminal from Hackensack, is expected to rent the new station from the county, county officials said.
Two stories of parking and two stories of county offices would sit above the bus station. The residential building would be located on the side with about 100 apartments, most of them one-bedroom units or studios.
The $150 million would be issued by the autonomous Bergen County Improvement Authority and guaranteed by the county. At the end of 2018, the BCIA’s conduit debt — that’s the money it borrows on behalf of other public entities — amounted to $598.9 million, according to the agency’s most recent audit report.
Bergen Republicans have criticized Tedesco and the all-Democratic freeholder board for overseeing what GOP officials have called an alarming increase in debt. Bergen County’s total net debt as of December 2019 was $855.4 million, up from $698 million in 2011. It budgeted to spend $95.5 million on debt service payments in 2020.
This project would add $8.7 million in debt service annually for 24 years starting in 2024. Steven Wielkotz, representing the BCIA, told the Local Finance Board there will be no net effect for taxpayers, citing $25 million in debt service payments the county makes annually now that will expire by 2027.
“One of the things that gets overlooked sometimes is there is a public audience that doesn’t necessarily understand and they see the large numbers and don’t understand the details,” Julien Neals, the county’s chief counsel, told board members.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, is among the River Street project’s critics. Schepisi said it’s “surreal” the county is embarking on this undertaking only weeks after it issued $28 million in emergency bonds the county says are needed because of revenue losses related to the pandemic.
Schepisi also said she’s concerned about the debt service costs, which would reach nearly a quarter-billion dollars.
“It’s a significant expense at a time that I just don’t know if it’s justified,” she said.