Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Show Us the Data

At a recent Borough Council meeting, Brian Taxman, chair of Main Street Highland Park's Board of Directors, made a startling claim when he stated that the last three to five years have been the most successful ones in the history of Highland Park's business district.

When one makes such a claim with the intent of it appearing credible, it is expected that one will provide either quantitative or qualitative data or both to back up that claim. Yet no such data other than this one man's opinion was provided to the public at that meeting.

Have Main Street Highland Park officials reviewed the profit and loss averages for local businesses over not just the last three to five years, but over a longer period so as to have a standard of comparison? Have they spoken with as many business owners as possible or communicated with them via a survey? Without this information, there is no way of verifying Mr. Taxman's claim as anything other than a politically motivated statement.

Why politically motivated? Maybe because he has made such a statement before. Several years ago, in a Main Street newsletter, he credited success in the business district to the election of Mayor Meryl Frank. When one talks about elections and brings in partisan politics, especially in a town as polarized as this one, he or she is making a political statement. This is especially noteworthy because Main Street, as a 501 C3, is required to be nonpartisan and prohibited from engaging in electioneering or promoting any political candidates.

Mr. Taxman's statement amounts to a claim that the last three to five years have been the business district's most successful ones in all Highland Park history, which is 102 years! That requires review of a century of business activity to verify! At the very least, we should consult long time residents and businesses for their take on this even though the chances of obtaining records dating back to 1905 are very slim.

New businesses have always opened in the borough, and some have always closed and gone out of business over the years. There is no proof that the last three to five years have been any different. In fact, many businesses have found this period more difficult, as for the first time, they have been struggling with an additional tax burden through the Business Improvement District (BID). BID money is largely going to expensive consultants and PR firms to promote and conduct events that could be done by volunteers when in all justice it should go directly back to the business owners in the form of assistance in upgrading their properties. On average, business and property owners are now paying an extra $1,000-$2,000 a year in the BID tax.

It is noteworthy that in the recent primary, several businesses displayed signs for the opposition slate while none displayed signs in support of the current mayor.

The streetscape improvements scheduled for the springs of 2005, 2006, and 2007 respectively still have not begun. What has happened, however, is several revisions of the design concept requested by the consultant, the engineer and the architect. Each revision costs additional taxpayer dollars. The results on the ground are once again, more spending of our money and nothing done.

To determine exactly how much money has been wasted on endless revisions of the streetscape design, I have submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request seeking copies of all contracts with consultants, engineers, and architects on the project, which I will share on this blog once I obtain the information.

In all fairness, I ask Highland Park's business and commercial property owners: Have you experienced the last three to five years as your most successful ever? If your assessment differs from Mr. Taxman's, tell the Borough Council at one of its next meetings (Wednesday, November 7 and Tuesday, November 20, both at 7 PM in Borough Hall) or write to the mayor and council at Borough Hall, 221 South Fifth Avenue, Highland Park, NJ 08904. Better yet, write letters to the editors of local newspapers or contact Main Street at . You are the heart of our business district. Make your voices heard.