Clifton People Jr. takes a stand against university leadership

By Cheryl Hehl, Staff Writer

UNION – Tension between Union and Kean University intensified late last week when the mayor decided he had enough. It appears the last straw came when Kean purchased the $219,024 conference table and Mayor Clifton People Jr. decided it was time the gloves came off and the township started playing hardball.

File Photo The mayor of Union has become more determined to tackle ongoing issues with Kean University since news broke that the school purchased a $219,000 table from China.

Friday the mayor issued several press releases, one involving the tax appeal by Kean’s upscale gourmet restaurant Ursino’s and another requesting N.J. Transit to terminate its parking agreement at the train station with the university.

The mayor called upon the owners of Ursino’s, the gourmet restaurant that acquired space to operate out of the new state-of-the-art STEM building in 2010 with the approval of the board of trustees, to drop their $100,000 tax appeal.

The township levied a $50,000 tax bill on Ursino’s, owned by Gourmet dining, LLC, in the fall of 2012, even though the company is on university property. While the company paid its tax bill for 2011 and 2012, they later filed a tax appeal for 2013 with the Union County Board of Taxation claiming the restaurant qualified for exemption status and should not be required to pay property taxes.

The township, though, felt the restaurant should pay its fair share since it is a profit making business.
At the time township administrator Ron Manzella explained they used a special provision in the law that allows a municipality to levy a tax if a state-run facility rents the property to a for profit business.

Gourmet Dining, LLC, though, did not agree that they should have to pay the $50,000 annual tax bill and filed a claim with the Union County Board of Taxation. The appeal was subsequently denied and the property declared to be taxable.

Subsequently, Gourmet Dining filed an appeal with the New Jersey Tax Court and has been awaiting a hearing date. However, once it surfaced that Kean used taxpayer dollars to buy the expensive conference table while refusing to deal fairly with the township involving the purchase of the 50-acre track of land owned by Merck, the mayor put his foot down.

“University leadership continues to put Union Township taxpayers directly in the line of fire as it relates to their various financial issues. While we are all asked to bear the burden of paying for a $219,000 hand crafted table from China, the board of trustees continues to champion a court battle to refuse a land deal that would fill a $220 per household tax hole for residents,” the mayor said.

“We are also being forced to absorb the costs associated with the appeal of over $100,000 in taxes for the restaurant being run out of the university,” People added, pointing out that this was all being done in the midst of skyrocketing tuitions, plummeting bond ratings and drastic decreases in enrollment.

The Union mayor also felt taxpayers should not be forced to continuously foot the bill for Kean President Dawood Farahi and the board of trustees “ongoing fiscal mismanagement.”


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