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DeCotiis News

Monday, March 7, 2011

It’s been nearly eight years since the Salvation Army Corps in Hackensack has had a real home of its own, but its new leadership is revitalizing the charity’s efforts to find a new headquarters in the City.
But while Hackensack officials praise the group’s work, they also worry about seeing yet another parcel of land taken off the tax rolls.
The Salvation Army has been operating out of a small space in the Second Reformed Church of Hackensack on Union Street since early 2004. A few months before that, in August 2003, a portion of the ceiling collapsed at the group’s 87-year-old building on State Street and the property was closed by city order.
The charity had planned a $1.5 million renovation of the building, but construction workers found major structural damage to the foundation and walls.
Then, in November 2005, the Salvation Army submitted plans to the city to tear down the building and construct a new headquarters in its place, but found that new city codes barred them from erecting a new headquarters on the old building’s footprint. The old structure was finally demolished in 2008.
Paul Valverde, who along with his wife, Eileen, were named the commanding officers of the Hackensack corps last July, said the Salvation Army has been able to continue providing various social services from the church. But the lack of its own building has cut back on the group’s visibility and limited the programs it can offer.
"We continue to provide social services, emergency rental assistance, utility assistance and prescription assistance," Valverde said. "We have a food pantry. We have a creative interpretive dance program for 10 girls. But we have somewhat limited space. We would like a facility with 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, an office area, a classroom area, multipurpose rooms and a kitchen."
A new advisory board comprising representatives of many of the area’s leading businesses got off the ground in January. And its first job is to help find the charity a new home.
Chris Rosica, chairman of the advisory board, said the Salvation Army has a lot to offer Hackensack, including social services and after-school activities that he said will save the city money on its own programs.
"It would be advantageous for the city to work with us to acquire a building," said Rosica, CEO of Rosica Public Relations & Marketing in Paramus.
"It’s our job to elevate awareness of the Salvation Army in the community to help more people," Rosica said.
The 18-member board includes representatives from several prominent Bergen County businesses, including Westfield Garden State Plaza, NVE Bank, Bergen Community College and the law firm of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin.
"The city has challenges fiscally," Rosica added. "The value the Salvation Army has to offer is that we can save the city thousands of dollars on social services."
While most of the Hackensack corps’ clients come from the city, they don’t have to live there to receive services.
Finding a new headquarters "is the first order of business," Rosica said. "If we don’t have a building, we can’t do what the Salvation Army does best. We need help from the city of Hackensack. We’ll likely be in need of a use variance. We’ll need the council and the city manager to support us. We need a partnership in order to build or modify a facility in order to provide services to people in need."
City officials offered praise for the Salvation Army’s work, but reserved comment on where they’d stand regarding a new headquarters in town – one that would remove yet another property from Hackensack’s tax rolls because of the group’s non-profit, tax-exempt status.
"It’s always a concern for city officials to see any property come off the tax roll," said Mayor Karen Sasso, who wondered whether the organization could build an adequate headquarters on the corps property where its old building stood.
"That’s always a concern, but it’s a way of life when you’re the county seat," said city manager Stephen Lo Iacono, referring to the large number of non-taxable properties owned by county government, Hackensack University Medical Center and other non-profits in the city.
As for any zoning variance the Salvation Army might need, he added, "It’s hard to comment on an application that doesn’t exist."
But Lo Iacono also praised the group for the services it provides. He was particularly impressed, he said, by the support the Salvation Army provided for the people who temporarily lost their residences when the garage collapsed at the Prospect Towers apartments in July.
"They’ve exhibited a high degree of concern for the city," he said. "Everyone around here has a high regard for them."
Sasso agreed. "They were there and were amazingly supportive. I can speak highly of those individuals."
Valverde said the Hackensack corps has been working with a real-estate firm and has looked at several properties in the city.
"We hope by the end of the year to be able to find a home," he said.
E-mail: lipman@northjersey.com

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