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Twenty-Six Years: Mayor McDonough's Redevelopment Vision Realized

May 18, 2023
Mayor Raymond McDonough Redevelopment Vission Realized

The Town of Harrison, New Jersey, has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last 26 years with the redevelopment of its industrial area into a vibrant residential community. This ambitious project was initiated by the late Mayor Raymond McDonough and then-Councilman Peter Higgins, two visionaries who unfortunately did not live to witness the fulfillment of their aspirations. Their dedication and commitment laid the foundation for the town's remarkable progress.

It was back in 1997 when the southern part of the Town of Harrison was declared an area in need of redevelopment. Harrison resident and former Councilman Anselmo Millan is one of the remaining council members from that time.  Millan spoke in a recent interview about how Mayor McDonough and the then Council, which he was a member of, were looking for a way to stop the loss of property tax rateables by transforming the industrial part of Harrison into alternative uses. The first thought was office buildings and residential housing.

Companies Leave Harrison's Industrial Zone

The problem confronted by Mayor McDonough and the then Council was that the manufacturing industry was moving South or overseas and many of the former industrial properties were contaminated. The perception of the southern part of Harrison was bleak. There was a time when Movie Production Studios came in to look at the Guyon / Crucible Steel large wide open warehouses for Movie Studios but they ultimately passed on coming to Harrison.  In retrospect, the Movie Production Studios may have passed up a big opportunity.  The former Guyon / Crucible Steel Buildings were wide open spaces ideal for Movie Studios whose life expectancy according to the Town’s Master Plan was infinity. For those unfamiliar with Harrison, where the Steelworks, Vermella, Cobalt buildings are today and the surrounding neighborhood was where the Guyon / Crucible Steel warehouses stood. Men and Women worked 24/7 with three shifts during World War II to produce munitions that helped save the world from Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party.

Shaping Redevelopment

Former Councilman Anselmo Millan, who has been a resident of Harrison for over 40 years, played a significant role in shaping the town's redevelopment plans and continues to be an influential figure in the community. Millan spoke of his relationship with the late Mayor Raymond McDonough and how he reconciled with Mayor McDonough after the two quarreled over details of the Redevelopment Plan and what should be included and what rights long-time residents had regarding their properties.

Pivotal Role Acknowledged

In 2018, the current Mayor of Harrison, James Fife, acknowledged the pivotal role played by Mayor McDonough and former Councilman Higgins in the town's financial success. Mayor Fife did not mention former Councilman Millan’s contributions. Their vision to redevelop the industrial sector and attract new investments has led to substantial revenue growth, primarily through Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). These PILOT payments, which exceeded 15 million dollars per year in 2022, have contributed immensely to the town's finances and enabled the Mayor and Council to free themselves from the financial oversight by the Department of Community Affairs, Local Government Services Unit (DCA).  DCA provided Transitional Aid to the Town of Harrison year totaling close to 2 million dollars per year.  The DCA also reviewed the Town’s financial records and found one year of cost savings of over 1 million dollars. Some residents feel that oversight of the Town's finances by the State of New Jersey is a good thing.

Mayor McDonough's objective in redeveloping the industrial area was twofold: to generate additional property tax revenue and to alleviate the burden on residents by lowering overall property taxes. His foresight and dedication were aimed at improving the quality of life for Harrison's residents while ensuring the provision of exemplary municipal services.

Mayor Fife, in recognizing the success of the PILOT payments, acknowledged the monumental efforts of Mayor McDonough, Councilman Higgins, and the council members who served in 1997. Their work laid the groundwork for the town's financial prosperity and created a legacy that still resonates today.

Lower Property Taxes Promised Not Fulfilled

Despite the record-high PILOT payments and their significant growth over the past five years, the property taxes in the Town of Harrison have not experienced a corresponding decrease. This discrepancy has raised concerns among residents who were promised lower taxes during Mayor Fife's re-election campaign. While the PILOT payments have undoubtedly contributed to the town's financial stability, the expected reduction in property taxes has yet to materialize.

The passing of Mayor Raymond McDonough in February 2014, due to a sudden and massive heart attack in his office, was a tragic loss for the community. His dedication, commitment, and determination to see the industrial redevelopment through were cut short, but his legacy lives on in the thriving residential community that Harrison has become.

Former Councilman Anselmo Millan, having served the town for over 24 years as Councilman, has been a steadfast presence in Harrison's development. His deep understanding of the community and unwavering dedication have contributed significantly to the progress witnessed today.

The Town of Harrison's redevelopment of its industrial area into a residential community stands as a testament to the vision and determination of leaders like Mayor McDonough, Councilman Higgins, and Councilman Millan. While the financial success resulting from their efforts is undeniable, the promises of reduced property taxes remain unfulfilled, leaving residents questioning the long-term implications of this ambitious redevelopment project.

As the Town of Harrison continues to evolve and grapple with the complexities of balancing economic growth and the needs of its residents, it is essential that the community engages in open and transparent dialogue to address concerns and work towards a prosperous future. Only through collaboration and effective governance can the town ensure that the vision of its late leaders becomes a complete reality.

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