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West Seneca contractor goes to prison for scamming clients

LOCKPORT – Joseph J. Lloyd, a Southtowns contractor with a long history of defrauding clients, will serve 3 1/3 to 10 years in state prison for failing to repay his victims.

“In the words of Nobel Prize-winning poet Bob Dylan, ‘Some men rob you with a fountain pen,’ and you fall into that category,” Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Lloyd.

Lloyd had pleaded guilty last year to taking money from three women for home improvement jobs and not doing any work. He was placed on probation by State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns, on the condition that he make restitution payments of at least $1,000 a month, but he did not do so.

The probation violation case was heard in Niagara County because Lloyd, 45, had moved to Niagara Falls by the time he pleaded guilty before Burns, and was being supervised by the Niagara County Probation Department. However, Lloyd later moved back to West Seneca.

Lloyd’s attorney, Alfonso M. Bax, pointed out that if Lloyd is in prison, he can’t make any more payments until he gets out and finds a job. That didn’t faze one of his victims, Jenny White of Blasdell.

“I think he should go to jail for the greater good of the public,” White said after the court session. Lloyd still owes her about $12,700.

Two other victims in the case were from Orchard Park. Lloyd was ordered last May to repay the three clients a total of $17,900.

“It stinks right now that the victims won’t get repaid, but they weren’t getting repaid anyway,” said Erie County Assistant District Attorney Christopher P. Jurusik, who was allowed to take over the prosecution’s arguments before Murphy.

“I don’t usually come to other counties, even when probation is transferred to other counties, but this case cries out for justice,” Jurusik told the judge.

He said Lloyd “lacks a moral compass. He lacks decency. He’s got to go away.”

“My client is guilty of not being a very good businessman,” Bax said. “He got in over his head, no question. … My client needs to work for someone else. He can’t manage his own funds.”

Bax said Lloyd was working as a union carpenter after his guilty pleas to first-degree scheming to defraud and third-degree grand larceny. He lost that job after a hospitalization for “renal disorders” and publicity about his case, but Bax said Lloyd found another construction job.

Lloyd said he had repaid $2,150 since his last court date Jan. 17.

“I’m working very hard,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes. I admit to that.”

But Murphy said the repayments were “too little, too late.”

“I think you are a con artist whose felony convictions didn’t stop you from committing more crimes,” Murphy told Lloyd.

Jurusik said the home improvement charges were a byproduct of a probe by Erie County’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Bureau into a snowplowing service in which Lloyd signed contracts with dozens of property owners in eight Erie County communities and never plowed any snow for most of them.

He said that case resulted in a civil settlement brokered by the State Attorney General’s Office in which Lloyd was ordered to repay about $40,000.

On Christmas Eve, Lloyd was accused of renting a house he owned, which was threatened with foreclosure, to a family member who demanded their deposit and first month’s rent back after they found out about the foreclosure. Bax said Lloyd wasn’t able to make a full refund because he had already spent some of the money on repairs to the house, but he made a repayment agreement with the tenants.

“He’s just a deplorable guy,” Jurusik said.

Article source: http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/28/west-seneca-contractor-goes-prison-scamming-clients/

‘Vulture capital’ firm preys on Baltimore

In 2010, Joann Rodriguez suffered a health crisis precipitated by her multiple sclerosis. She could no longer keep her job with the AARP, but it took her two years before she received any disability benefits. After draining all of her retirement savings, she finally fell behind on her mortgage.

Three weeks ago, Joann came home to find a note taped to her front door. It said that she has until March 28th to vacate her home. Joann has tried to negotiate a modification that would allow her to pay off her mortgage and stay in her house, but instead, her house is being foreclosed on by a Wall Street vulture capital fund called Oaktree Capital Management. Instead of negotiating, Oaktree has asked the sheriff to evict Joann from her home.

Paula Smith, a mother of three who works for Baltimore City Public Schools, and her family were scheduled for eviction Monday. In 2009, the bank that owned Paula’s mortgage went bankrupt at the height of the financial crisis. She spent months trying to send her payments to the new owner of her loan, Bank of America, but says they refused to accept payment. When Bank of America finally did acknowledge that they owned her mortgage, they notified her that she was in default because the loan was more than 90 days overdue. After Oaktree became the owner of Paula’s loan they informed her that they were no longer interested in negotiating a modification and were moving to foreclose.

Joann’s and Paula’s stories speak for hundreds of other Baltimore families whose lives have been upended by Oaktree’s actions. When we first learned of Paula’s and Joann’s circumstances, our offices sent Oaktree letters requesting they keep these families in their homes, to come back to the negotiating table, to stay their evictions. Oaktree never responded to our requests.

Development group to bid on 24 Detroit neighborhoods – WSYM

DETROIT (AP) –

A Detroit real estate development group is planning to bid on a large area of the city’s northwest side that spans 25 square miles and 24 neighborhoods.

City Councilman George Cushingberry tells The Detroit News (http://detne.ws/2nERRok ) that the corporate counsel is reviewing the legality of Home Team Detroit’s proposal and is expected to present a report in about two weeks.

Home Team CEO David Prentice, who formed the group less than a year ago, says the group’s plan is to stop losing foreclosed homes from unpaid property taxes.

To do that, Home Team plans to buy thousands of northwest properties before they head to the annual tax foreclosure auction and fix them up while offering paths for tenants to become homeowners.

Article source: http://www.fox47news.com/news/local-news/development-group-to-bid-on-24-detroit-neighborhoods

How N.J. governor candidate Jim Johnson plans to lower property …

TRENTON – Democratic candidate for governor Jim Johnson has put forward a comprehensive plan to lower property taxes in New Jersey that hinges on something  Gov. Chris Christie has fought tooth and nail: Affordable housing.

Johnson, a former undersecretary of the U.S. treasury under President Bill Clinton, said New Jersey is trapped in a vicious cycle where lack of housing limits good job opportunities and revenue for local communities, resulting in fewer services and ever-higher property taxes.

“This is one of the drivers of property taxes,” Johnson said in an interview with NJ Advance Media on Sunday. “And they’re also directly related to our high foreclosure rate. The more homes foreclosed, the higher the property taxes are for the municipality — and the the higher those taxes have to go for the remaining homeowners.”

Johnson said he is proposing a “programmatic approach to reduce property taxes” that has both affordable housing and foreclosure reform as the centerpiece of his campaign for governor.

“We need to stop the tired argument that, ‘Oh, well, we get more for the taxes that we pay.’ — because, we don’t,” Johnson said.

Here are the highlights of Johnson’s plans.

1. Stop taxing residential homes like they’re for-profit businesses

The state Constitution requires all property to be taxed at the same rate.

This makes no sense, Johnson said, because a business generating $5 million in annual revenue winds up paying property taxes at the same rate as a $50,000 home that generates none.

“It’ll take a constitutional amendment to change it,” Johnson said, “but it must be done.”

2. Band towns together to leverage their purchasing power

New Jersey has 565 municipalities, with many elected officials and departments duplicating efforts of nearby towns.

Johnson said the aversion to consolidation of services stems from a fear of what might be lost — a fear that’s informed by a lack of transparency about what could be gained. That’s why he’s proposing property tax transparency legislation.

“If people are given a much clearer view of what can be achieved with shared services and savings, they can see the benefits of their choices,” he said. “I believe people would be in favor of government that can deliver the same amount but at a lower cost.”

Johnson follows Murphy with new TV ad in N.J. governor’s race

3. End the foreclosure neighborhood “death spiral”

New Jersey was again No. 1 in foreclosures nationally last year. And because  foreclosures lower the value of all nearby houses in their neighborhood by about $7,200 per home in the Garden State, even one foreclosure in a neighborhood can have a devastating effect, reducing the property tax base for all the houses around it.

Johnson argues that successful foreclosure reform will stop this debilitating cycle.

He would seek to reform New Jersey’s so-called “arm’s length” real estate laws which prohibit nonprofits from helping families in foreclosure by buying up their mortgage and selling it back to them at lower rates.

And he also wants to offer tax rebates for maintenance costs on homes undergoing foreclosure, arguing a homeowner’s inability to keep up the home further deteriorates the value and makes it more difficult for it to be resold even after the foreclosure is completed.

4. Get millennials outta parents’ house — and into their own

The state’s sky-high property taxes keep many millennials from putting down roots in the state where they were born, raised and educated.

U.S. Census data showed that in 2015, some 47 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 in New Jersey still lived with a parent.

Johnson wants New Jersey to mirror millennial housing initiatives in nearby states. Maryland, for example, provides a discounted mortgage rate and downpayment assistance to college graduates with more than $25,000 in student debt, while Connecticut, lawmakers are considering financial incentives to recent
college graduates who rent or buy a home in certain urban areas.

He’d push for both programs to come to New Jersey.

5. Ban builders from donating their way out of affordable housing requirements

Johnson would ban the practice of letting developers donate to a city’s affordable housing trust fund instead of building affordable units on their site.

He also wants to amp up programs like the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit, which gives businesses a 100 percent tax credit for funds provided to nonprofits aiding with comprehensive housing revitalization.

Under Christie, just $10 million in tax credits have been allocated every year since 2010. Johnson wants to expand that amount significantly.

And he has a plan to help renters: He would restore Christie’s $5 million cut to the state rental assistance program and fully fund the state’s affordable housing trust fund, which Christie raided down to zero to cover budget holes.

“When we’re talking about affordable housing, the details matter,” Johnson said.

Claude Brodesser-Akner may be reached at cbrodesser@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClaudeBrodesser. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

Article source: http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/03/johnson_if_you_want_lower_property_taxes_heres_my.html

Number of at-risk properties for foreclosure declines in Livingston County

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Letters were sent out this month to the owners of more than 160 properties at risk of foreclosure for not paying property tax bills in Livingston County.

The letters are the first step in foreclosing on properties – resident and multi-family homes, commercial properties and vacant lots – that are delinquent in property tax payments.

County Treasurer Amy Mann told the county Board of Supervisors’ Ways and Means Committee this month that 163 properties were on the initial list of delinquent taxes.

“This is the lowest so far,” she said.

In 2016, the process began with 175 property owners in arrears. In 2015, there were 189 properties in the initial mailing.

Taxpayers were notified in a letter sent March 7 that their properties were included on the proceeding begun in state Supreme Court that can lead to a foreclosure of sale of the property in the county’s annual tax auction.

The number of properties that will actually be put up for auction will be fewer than the initial list as properties will be removed from the list as tax payments are made.

Last year, 36 properties were auctioned for a total of $637,000. In 2015, 34 properties were auctioned and in 2014, the number at auction was 31.

Property owners have until June 14 to pay the delinquent taxes and other charges to avoid foreclosure on their properties. If taxes are not paid, the properties will be included in the county’s annual foreclosure auction, which is scheduled for July 27.

A change with this year’s auction is that no personal checks will be accepted from winning bidders. Payment, which includes a buyer’s premium of 10 percent in addition to the bid price, will be required to be paid in cash or by certified check or equivalent. Payment is due immediately upon being declared a successful bidder.

The policy change follows a bid last year in which a winning bid was paid with a personal check and then later had a stop-payment issued on the check, Mann told the county’s Ways and Means Committee.

Property owners will receive two registered letters and a certified letter advising them of their situation and deadlines. The list of properties in arrears on property taxes has also been advertised through legal notices in local newspapers, including The Livingston County News. Updated lists are scheduled to appear in the April 6 and May 4 editions of The Livingston County News.

One property, the King’s Daughters Sons assisted living home in Dansville that was pulled from last year’s auction, is again on the list. Livingston County supervisors chose to remove the 4.5-acre historic property to investigate the possibility of marketing the parcel to developers.

“A couple of interested parties have contacted us,” said County Administrator Ian Coyle, who said those inquiries were directed to Livingston County Development Director Bill Bacon.

County officials may consider removing King’s Daughters from the auction list again to retain control over who could buy the property.

The list of parcels at risk of foreclosure was forwarded to the Office for the Aging, with copies also sent to town supervisors, the county attorney and county administrator.

Anyone having or claiming to have an interest in the real property and the legal right to may on or before June 14 redeem the property by paying the amount of all unpaid tax liens, including all interest and penalties and other legal charges which are included in the lien against the property. Payments may be made to the County Treasurer’s Office in the County Government Center, 6 Court St., Geneseo.

Article source: http://www.thelcn.com/lcn01/number-of-at-risk-properties-for-foreclosure-declines-in-livingston-county-20170323

Work continues at Oakwood truck stop site

OAKWOOD – The permit process has begun to run a sewer line under Interstate 74 that will someday service the Love’s Travel Stop Country Store planned for the north side of the interstate.

Oakwood Mayor Clay Woodard said he is hopeful construction on the Love’s Travel Stop Country Store could begin later this year.

The site already has municipal water service, but the village’s sewer and water provider, Utilities, Inc., will need to extend a sewer line to the property. A lift station also will need to be added.

“They will need to bore under the interstate,” Woodard said.

In October 2015, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores of Oklahoma City purchased the 15-acre site for $342,500, but preparing the property for development has been slow going.

The former I-74 Auto Truck Plaza has sat idle for nearly 10 years after closing in October 2007.

The property went into foreclosure sometime in 2013 and its former owners returned to India. The Village of Oakwood ended up taking possession of the parcel in mid-2014 after agreeing to pay Cranberry Financial LLC $10,000 for promissory notes and the mortgage.

Once the village gained possession of the property, 10 underground fuel storage tanks were removed and work began to clean the contaminated soil at the site using Leaking Underground Storage Tank funds from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

“The underground tanks have come out, and soil borings have taken place,” Woodard said. “Cleanup is under way.

“Right now the village is working with a third-party contractor until the IEPA releases a ‘no more remediation needed’ letter,” he said.

Woodard acknowledged the project has taken longer than the village would have liked.

“The state budget (impasse) has held up a few things,” he said.

Grocery store

Woodard said the village has been actively seeking an interested party to reopen a grocery store at the former Oakwood IGA site at 100 S. Scott St. The Oakwood store, as well as the Catlin IGA, closed in November.

“I’ve been in contact with a small-town grocer,” he said. “They are looking into it to see if it is financially feasible.

“We’re also pursuing other options,” he added.

Woodard said he would like to see a grocery store reopen at that site.

“There’s an older population here that isn’t comfortable driving to Danville or all the way to the IGA in St. Joseph,” he said.

During the March 13 village board meeting, board members:

• Heard a request from Dave Anderson and Angie Pierce of Pierce’s Pit Stop about using TIF funds to add handicap accessible parking spaces at their business. The board referred them to Ehlers, the village’s TIF administrator, who will review the project and recommend to the village board how much money it should release for the project.

• Approved a proposal from Glesco Electric of Urbana and Danville to upgrade the lights to LED lights at the war memorial at Main and Scott streets.

• Considered making improvements around the village including making curb cuts along Oakwood Avenue in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, installing new dugouts and back stops at the baseball field in Oakwood Park, and removing and replacing the old playground equipment sometime in May at the park.

• Discussed entering into an agreement with Presence PRO Ambulance to staff a full-time paramedic in Oakwood.

“We run under the Presence EMS system right now,” Woodard said. “We would continue our relationship with Presence PRO Ambulance, and we would be working in tandem with Presence to bring a higher level of care.

“Anytime we can bring enhanced care to the village, it’s a good thing,” he said.

Article source: http://www.commercial-news.com/news/local_news/work-continues-at-oakwood-truck-stop-site/article_3ff6429f-fc3a-51cd-ba52-b819146ea90f.html

Public welcome to Disaster Recovery Resource Fair in Tangipahoa Parish

Homeowners and renters in Tangipahoa Parish and neighboring areas who have been affected by natural disasters, such as last year’s floods or last month’s tornadoes, may find some valuable information Saturday at a Disaster Recovery Resource Fair.

The free event is being held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Florida Parishes Area Event Center in Amite.

The event aims to a “one stop shop” for attendees to glean information and guidance from several agencies involved in disaster recovery, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, FEMA, USDA, Louisiana Housing Corporation and others.

The agencies will have information on disaster-related subjects, such as housing resources, flood insurance, foreclosure prevention, unemployment, legal services, tax relief and more.

Article source: http://www.wdsu.com/article/public-welcome-to-disaster-recovery-resource-fair-in-tangipahoa-parish/9179918

Ann Arbor’s Packard Square could be finished by year’s end

ANN ARBOR, MI – Neighbors of the Packard Square development were happy to hear progress is being made, but say they are frustrated with the process that led to the project on Ann Arbor’s south side.

About 60 people attended a community meeting Wednesday, March 22 at Cobblestone Farm to hear an update from McKinley Inc., the Ann Arbor-based company that has been the court-ordered receiver of Packard Square since Nov. 1.

McKinley representatives have received $19.5 million in funds to complete the project, which they expect to finish by the end of 2017 or the first part of 2018.

Chris Allen, assistant vice president and director of special projects at McKinley, showed pictures of the progress his team is making at Packard Square during the meeting. The retaining wall is in the process of being complete, while other aspects are finished.

“I’m happy we’re able to open the street back up and reopen the sidewalk,” Allen said about a recent sanitary sewer project on Esch Avenue.

Plans for the former Georgetown Mall site, about two miles from downtown Ann Arbor, include 249 apartments and roughly 24,000 square feet of retail space in one mixed-use building, with an underground parking garage.

The underground parking garage at the front of the complex is complete, despite extensive damage to the plumbing system underneath the 56,000-square-foot dirt floor Allen attributed to vendors driving on it.

“Now there’s a place for vendors to store stuff,” Allen said. “There was not any structural damage as a result of that water.”

Previous structure instability, something Allen referred to at the last community meeting in December, was suspected, but monitoring has revealed it to be natural movements, according to the McKinley representatives.

“Our engineers are very confident the movement we see is safe,” Allen said. “All the test reports came back and say the site is safe, and secure and ready.”

Court proceedings are slowing the project down, with McKinley waiting for court approval of a 90-day work budget and schedule to tackle more of the interior of the building, like electrical and plumbing work.

The project has not gone through foreclosure, said Matt Mason, senior vice president in commercial real estate at McKinley, meaning McKinley still needs court approval and there is still a chance the original developer can take back control of Packard Square.

“There is a possibility they could redeem it and get it back at some point,” Mason said. “There has been no judgment of foreclosure.”

McKinley must stick with the original construction plan, he added, and communicate updates to not only the lender but to Judge Archie Brown, who ordered the company to take receivership of Packard Square.

There are a few scenarios of what happens to Packard Square in the future: it could go into foreclosure and be sold to the highest bidder, which could mean the lender would try to take back the property. It would also allow the developer, Harbor Georgetown LLC, managed by Craig Schubiner, a 60-day redemption period to buy it back and attempt to finish the development.

When questioned if McKinley would have any interest in purchasing the property, Mason said no and prompted queries of whether the company thinks the project can be successful.

He explained McKinley’s role as a court-appointed receiver is to maximize the value of the property, which would go against the company’s own goal of reducing costs while buying properties.

Some residents asked if there are any lease agreements remaining on the 50 apartments at Packard Square, or if any businesses have indicated interest in the retail spaces. That is not McKinley’s focus right now, Mason answered.

“That being said, if anyone has ideas, we’re all ears,” Mason said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

He did comment there have been discussions with grocery stores on the retail space, and at least a handful of the apartment agreements are still standing.

Eric Lipson served on the Planning Commission from 2004 to 2007, and said the kind of zoning applied to the property cannot be repeated in Ann Arbor. He expressed his gratitude for McKinley’s willingness to step up and complete the project, which he called “the Gulag across the street.”

“Thank you for creating something that was a nightmare into something salvageable,” Lipson said.

One resident commented the Packard Square development has left a bad taste in her mouth and those of her neighbors, and reminded the council representatives in the crowd to let the development be a lesson to “not let this happen again.”

At least four City Council representatives attended the meeting: Zachary Ackerman and Julie Grand of Ward 3, and Jack Eaton and Graydon Krahpol of Ward 4. Eaton responded to concerns of how the project continued even after the developer faced continual delays in funding and construction.

“We can’t stop this project but we also can’t stop looking forward,” Eaton said.

Packard Square is part of a “difference in vision for our town,” he said, and a reminder of the importance of zoning and the master plan and resident feedback.

“We have to appreciate McKinley, and the better job we are getting,” Eaton said.

Timeline of Packard Square

2011: Schubiner, as manager of Harbor Georgetown, submitted the initial site plan application for Packard Square in January 2011, according to city records. The application fee was $28,886.

A housing information request included in the application indicates there were 230 housing units planned for the development, ranging in price from $780 to $1,300 per month.

Staff with the Planning and Development Services department looked at the site plan and approved it, along with variances. The property is zoned C1B, for business services, which is detailed in the planning report.

“The proposed project promotes elements of sustainable land use practices, such as creating new housing units along a major transportation corridor, providing a mixture of land uses that encourage pedestrian access, remediating soil contamination, and using land and infrastructure efficiently,” the report said.

City Council approved the site plan May 2, in a resolution that said “The development would not cause a public or private nuisance and would not have a detrimental effect on the public health, safety and welfare.”

In September, the developer applied for an administrative amendment to address the need for additional structural columns that would ultimately reduce the number of parking spots.

2013: The administrative amendment is approved in January, and city staff notes in a letter the amendment would extend beyond approval of the site plan by two years.

In May, the amendment related to the Brownfield plan for Packard Square is submitted and then approved by City Council a month later.

The blighted and vacant Georgetown Mall located on the site is demolished in the fall to clear way for Packard Square.

2014: California-based Canyon Capital Realty Advisors makes the initial funding of a $53 million loan for Packard Square. Construction begins later that year on the development.

Packard Square developer closes on $53M financing, aims for 2016 completion

2015: In December, Schubiner tells The Ann Arbor News the project would be ready for occupation in late summer 2016.

2016: The developer submits a second administrative amendment to address elevation and grading issues along with parking spaces.

After the general contractor overseeing work on Packard Square is fired, the lenders ask an Ann Arbor judge to place the project into court-ordered receivership.

McKinley takes over as receiver of the project Nov. 1, and begins the work of winterizing the property and evaluating the work yet to be complete.

Court orders McKinley to oversee building of Packard Square in Ann Arbor

In December, McKinley holds its first community meeting to update residents on the status of Packard Square.

Officials talk challenges, future of Ann Arbor’s Packard Square project

Article source: http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2017/03/progress_on_ann_arbors_packard.html

Christie touts job numbers, praises Republicans

On the latest stop in what has become a public victory tour, Gov. Chris Christie, after years of getting hammered for his conservative fiscal policies, offered the public his assessment of where he fits in modern history and implicitly lent his voice to this year’s race to succeed him.

Christie on Thursday visited a QuickChek convenience store and stood between a bank of coffee urns and a chilled case of pork roll and salads while touting the addition of 12,600 jobs last month. That brings the state’s unemployment rate to 4.4 percent. It’s the lowest unemployment rate since 2007, Christie said, and below the national average of 4.7 percent.

And it is no accident, Christie said, that a Republican governor was in the State House to oversee the job growth. Referring to a blown-up bar graph showing private sector employment since 1990, Christie called the records of Democratic governors over that period “pretty lame.”

“The two best job-creation times were when we’ve had Republican governors. Myself and Governor (Christie) Whitman have the two best job-creation records over the last 30 years,” he said. “That’s no coincidence.”

Over Whitman’s two terms – including her final year, which was completed by Donald DiFrancesco when she left to lead the Environmental Protection Agency – New Jersey added 456,200 jobs. It has added the second-most under Christie, 315,300, according to his chart citing the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Only during four years under Democratic Govs. Jim McGreevey and Richard Codey did the state add any jobs – 23,700. The other Democratic governors, Jim Florio and Jon Corzine, saw a combined 466,300 jobs lost – and each presided during national recessions.

But Christie said that the “lame” growth under Democrats is “because of their policies.” He has been – and continues to be – a target of Democrats and left-leaning groups who say that while it is true that New Jersey is much better off than when Christie took over in 2010, it was also slow to recover its jobs from the Great Recession and its foreclosure rate still tops the nation.

And those periods of growth for Whitman and Christie also happened during Democratic presidencies.

“Are we better than we were at the trough? Yes. Everybody is. We have the weakest recovery of any state in the nation. That’s, unfortunately, a fact,” Phil Murphy, the Democratic front-runner for governor, said Wednesday night when asked about Christie’s recent promotion of his jobs record.

Christie of course wants to keep Murphy – or any Democrat – from replacing him when he leaves in January. Although he has withheld voicing support for any Republican candidate, he has said his goal is to be succeeded by a fellow Republican, who would be more likely to continue or build on his policies of preferring tax cuts to increases and awarding tax breaks intended to foster growth.

“I will continue to push these policies forward for the rest of the term to try to set a good base for whoever the next governor is to shoot for,” Christie said.

The positive economic news has allowed Christie to pick up where he left off early last year, when he regularly held news conferences to promote lowering unemployment rates. This time around, though, he has personalized his message and added a social media component to it. He has been highlighting specific companies – like QuickChek, based in Whitehouse Station, and LG Electronics in Englewood Cliffs, among others – and using a hashtag, #betterthanwefoundit, to highlight what he said was a campaign promise made and kept.

Christie is not the only one taking credit. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is running for governor, tweeted the new jobs numbers on Friday afternoon, saying it was “great news for NJ families!”

She was charged by Christie at the outset of the administration to focus on the economy and job growth. Earlier this week she pushed back against a characterization that she has been primarily a ribbon-cutter at small business openings.

“It’s well-earned,” she said. “Fifty percent decrease in unemployment over the last eight years? I’ll take it.”

Article source: http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/new-jersey/chris-christie/2017/03/23/christie-touts-job-numbers-praises-republicans/99565526/

City: Battle Creek neighborhoods are improving

Battle Creek’s neighborhoods have seen promising progress in recent years, and city officials are hopeful the upward trend will continue into the next decade.

From code violations to property values, local neighborhoods have improved for the third consecutive year, indicating a rise out of the foreclosure crisis and a better environment for investments.

The city uses several indicators to determine neighborhood health: junk and trash citations; housing code violations;  home sales; home sale values; bank and tax foreclosures; long-term vacant properties; and new vacant building enforcements.

Here’s what the data revealed: About 700 vacant residential properties were registered last year, the lowest since 2008; a drop in tax foreclosures to 34 in 2016, from 98 in 2015; and the fifth consecutive year of increases in home sales.

And while the city’s central neighborhoods in 2013 were considered high-risk for decline, none were rated so in 2016.

Battle Creek Community Development Manager Chris Lussier said the improvements could be the result of a combination of the economy and city policies.

“The larger forces that shape what happens in the community are really important and many of them are out of our control,” he said. “The places where you’re trying to understand where we are making the difference in terms of what might be happening locally, in order to understand that — well, that can be challenging.”

Lussier said there are some tangible results from the city’s work. He pointed to the work of the Neighborhood Stabilization Grant, a $12.2 million project that demolished hundreds of homes and rehabilitated or built nearly 50 others. Lussier said where that funding was used to rehab homes, the neighborhoods saw home sales increase in value at a far faster pace than other Battle Creek areas — not just comparable neighborhoods.

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Community Services Director Marcie Gillette also pointed to changes to the way city conducts property surveys. Previously done citywide every three years, the surveys are now broken down into sections of Battle Creek during the three-year period, alleviating the strain on community resources and government procedures such as appeal processes and court hearings.

“The change has been tremendous,” Gillette said. “If people can receive assistance, if needed, for home repairs, then those repairs are going to get done. Ultimately, that’s our goal: compliance. We don’t want to write somebody a ticket because they don’t have any money to paint their house.”

City officials also pointed to the ordinance regulating vacant and abandoned buildings, a problem that worsened during the foreclosure crisis.

In place for about a decade, the ordinance initially classified properties that were empty for at least 28 days and met at least one condition — disconnected utilities, unsound structure or outstanding taxes, among others — as vacant and abandoned. Officials loosened the rules last year by extending the period to 60 days and no longer revoking its occupancy certificate. Commercial properties now can be regulated under the ordinance, however.

“What we were finding and really hearing in the community is, we have people who want to invest in our community but the processes and the standards, the state codes, are really burdensome to be able to allow people to invest to get them back into productive use,” Gillette said.

SEE: These B.C. homes have been demolished since 2014

The city has often turned to demolition to address blighted properties, relying heavily on its partnership with the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority to win grant funding. But there seems to be a growing fatigue around demolitions, Lussier said, as residents who were first eager to remove blight are now concerned about more vacant land and fewer people in their neighborhoods.

“I think they have this feeling of loss of vitality. You go to some areas where all the houses have been taken down and it sends a signal that this neighborhood is struggling, whether it is or it isn’t,” he said. ”Even if you address the underlying forces that created the vacancy, without filling those spaces it can be challenging for that to feel like a vital neighborhood.”

Land bank Executive Director Krista Trout-Edwards said officials are now trying alternatives to improve its inventory, comprised of tax-foreclosed properties that are often vacant or in poor condition. The land bank has turned to other options: Its Transform This Home program works to find buyers interested in rehabbing properties, and its Neighborhood Mow and Maintenance program pays organizations to care for vacant parcels. It also works with Habitat for Humanity on some home rehabs.

Trout-Edwards said while tearing down properties can make a visual improvement in areas, stabilizing neighborhoods is “a constantly evolving process.”

“Demolition is one tool, but it’s not the only tool,” she said. “We’re trying to find partners and funding, and find other ways to address it.”

Lussier said while city ordinances have made vacant homes “a much more manageable problem,” long-term vacancies continue to be an issue. Fewer properties are getting on the city’s vacant and abandoned list each year, but that number is still greater than the number being put back into use.

RELATED: Looking into the future with Progress 2017

“As long as they’re meeting minimum standards, then it can just sit,” Lussier said. “The problem is while they’re sitting, chances of them getting put back into productive use are getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

“It’s almost like a time bomb — at some point, we know that someone’s going to stop maintaining the properties, the taxes aren’t going to be paid, and then we’re going to have a very large problem on our hands.”

Gillette said long-term vacancies will be a focus for the city in coming years. But officials also will have to look beyond monitoring just maintenance of properties, she said.

“The piece that we really have to focus on related to our commercial properties is not just the condition of our properties, but also how are we marketing Battle Creek? And how are we inviting to businesses to get maybe those small storefronts that are along neighborhood corridors to be occupied?

“And what do neighbors want?”

You can read the presentation to city commissioners about the data here:

Contact government reporter Jennifer Bowman at 269-966-0589 or jbowman@battlecreekenquirer.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jenn_bowman. Listen to the podcast she co-hosts, The Jump Page, at soundcloud.com/enquirerpodcasting.

Article source: http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/local/2017/03/22/city-battle-creek-neighborhoods-improving/97236304/