Lacey Township is about to try something no other town in New Jersey has done before: teaming up with a publicly traded private corporation to build a new municipal complex in a deal known as a “public-private partnership.” Think of it like being the first person to try a brand-new roller coaster. It might sound exciting, but it's also very risky because we don't know all the twists and turns ahead - and the financing structure is replete with its own unique risks.
It’s not too late: If enough residents speak up, we can lobby the State of New Jersey to not approve the project and pressure our elected officials to stop their absurd spending plan.
A Bad Deal for Taxpayers
The proposed municipal complex deal is a public-private partnership with Johnson Controls. But here's the catch: the terms are heavily skewed in their favor and could leave taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
We Pay, They Own
Even though we, the taxpayers, will be footing the bill, Johnson Controls will own the building. Imagine paying for a house for 30 years but never owning it!
The contract terms are dubious. This means we could end up paying much more than anticipated over the years. The predevelopment services agreement signed by your elected officials contains many provisions that require the Township to pay exhorbitant penalty payments to Johnson Controls if they back out of the deal.
Displacing Our Veterans For Real Estate Deals
Recently, the Township Committee has been pushing to evict Vetworks from their building and tear down the historic Worden House. Vetworks, a beacon of hope for our disabled veterans, provides invaluable services like free rides to medical appointments. Why is the committee so eager to displace this vital organization? To fund their extravagant spending plans for the new municipal complex.
August, 2020: Township Administrator Veronica Laureigh Starts working with Johnson Controls
May 13th, 2021: The Township officially receives the “unsolicited proposal” and officially acknowledges receipt of the proposal in Resolution 2021-137
July 8th, 2021: The Township Committee does a “do-over” and passes Resolution 2021-203 acknowledging the proposal a second time. On the same night, they also approve the required written policy for reviewing proposals
September, 23rd, 2021: Lacey Township publishes the legally required public notice for the project, omitting any mention of their initial procedural missteps.
The Rulebook Says...
There's a rule in New Jersey (N.J.A.C. 17:49-6.4(a)) that says if a town gets an unexpected proposal from a private company (like building a new municipal complex), the town needs to have a clear plan on how they'll review it before they accept the proposal. This ensures everything is above board and transparent.
But here's where things get tricky: Lacey Township accepted the Johnson Controls proposal without having this plan in place.
That's a big no-no.
The Township Committee signed a contract with Johnson Conrols that allows them to file a lawsuit to STOP the release of information in response to resident requests. What are they hiding?
Illegal Contract Language Allows Johnson to Sue Residents Who Request Public Information
The Township Committee Has Already Committed to Pay Millions in Penalties if They Back Out of the Deal
The Township Committee has placed Lacey in a precarious position. Alarmingly, they've already committed to a deal that, if backed out of, would cost our community millions in penalties the longer this goes on. This obligation is solidified in the predevelopment services contract, effectively locking us into a commitment that could have severe financial repercussions. It's concerning to think that such a significant decision was made without ensuring flexibility and safeguarding the community's best interests.
Disturbingly, the contract also lets Johnson Controls file a lawsuit against residents to stop the release of public information about the project. What are they hiding?
In 2016, Johnson Controls had to pay $14.4M to settle bribery charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Their subsidiary, China Marine, was found to have used fake vendors to funnel $4.9M in bribes to Chinese government-owned shipyards, securing business deals and personal gains.
In 2016, Johnson Controls merged with Tyco International, relocating to Ireland to significantly lower their corporate taxes—a move known as a tax inversion. This allowed them to dodge US taxes, saving an estimated $150 million annually. This restructuring led to a massive 52% workforce reduction between 2016 and 2022. A similar pattern emerged after their takeover of York International in 2005, resulting in a 76% workforce reduction between 2005 and 2016.
Tyco International, before its merger with Johnson Controls, was embroiled in a major scandal. In 2002, its top executives were accused of stealing over $150 million from the company. After a retrial in 2005, they were convicted on most counts, facing potential jail terms of up to 25 years. Tyco later agreed to a massive $2.92 billion settlement for defrauded shareholders.
I am writing as a concerned resident of Lacey Township to express my reservations about the proposed public-private partnership between our township and Johnson Controls for the development of a new municipal complex. After careful review and consideration, I believe this project does not meet the criteria set forth in N.J.A.C. 17:49-6.2(b). Here's why:
Public Need and Consistency with Long-Term Plans: It's hard to see the genuine public need for this project. And with the recent move against Vetworks and the historic Worden House, I'm left wondering how this all fits into our town's bigger picture.
Specific Significant Benefits: The benefits seem vague at best. What's more, the terms appear to favor Johnson Controls, which makes me worry about unexpected costs down the line.
Cost Analysis Over Asset's Useful Life: Without clear numbers from our town officials, how can we be sure this deal is financially sound for us in the long run?
Public Sector Capability and Market Interest: This proposal came unsolicited, which raises a red flag. Plus, I've heard that other municipalities have turned down Johnson Controls. Why are we considering a deal that others have rejected?
Benefits Over Other Options: I'm struggling to see the clear advantages of this partnership, especially when compared to other options or even just leaving things as they are.
Timely and Efficient Development and Operation: With so many unknowns and potential hidden costs, can we really expect this project to run smoothly?
Risk, Liabilities, and Responsibilities: The risks seem to be piling up on our side. Is partnering with Johnson Controls truly the best way forward for our community?
I'm just one voice, but I know many in our community share these concerns. I hope you'll take a close look at this deal and consider what's best for Lacey Township. We're counting on you to help ensure our community's best interests are at heart.
Thank you for your time and understanding.
The following is a sample letter you can customize before sending it to the New Jersey Office of Public Finance and Local Finance Board:
Be on the look out for Pennsylvania plates at the municipal building!
Some representatives of Johnson Controls have been known to drive vehicles with license plates from the state of Pennsylvania. If you see such vehicles parked at the municipal building, you can assume the Lacey Township Committee and their administration are likely holding additional closed-door meetings with representatives of Johnson Controls, and dreaming up more ways to waste your taxpayer dollars.
PAID FOR BY G. ROZZI PO BOX 1232 FORKED RIVER, NJ 08731