In 2011 the Freeholders in Sussex, Morris and Somerset Counties (all Republicans by the way) entered a convoluted plan to finance solar project installation throughout municipalities in their respective counties.
The plan was based on rosy projections of the value of solar energy credits, timetables for construction that were untenable, and the guarantees by the counties (meaning taxpayers) for the bonds being issued to construct the projects.
This plan fell apart as the values of the solar energy credits plummeted and construction was more complicated than anticipated, resulting in delays. A third party brought in to manage the project -SunLight - and the company contracted to install the panels - Mas-Tec - got entangled in a complicated legal mess that ultimately resulted in Mas-Tec winning a 52 Million Dollar arbitration claim against Sunlight. So, as guarantors of the issued bonds, the counties were brought into the legal squabble as participating parties. When it became apparent SunLight could not pay it’s obligations, the counties were left holding the bag. They ultimately made a settlement with Mas-Tec so SunLight would not go into bankruptcy, creating another set of problems (Sun Light was able to obtain Federal Solar Energy Credits which may have been lost in any bankruptcy).
In Somerset County, this resulted in additional taxpayer exposure of 6.75 Million Dollars, financed over many years. And the counties are still liable for paying the original bonds.
Somerset County Freeholders have portrayed the settlement as a win for the county. It is hardly that.
It does end a potentially protracted legal battle, but this was a battle that should never have needed to be fought. Had there been better planning, oversight and financial safeguards built into the original agreements this never would have occurred and taxpayers would not be on the hook for these additional dollars.
If all this sounds complicated, it is. And this is one of the reasons why the project failed. In fact, Sussex County brought on outside counsel to review the whole process (from Sussex’s perspective but there is plenty of overlap into how Morris and Somerset proceeded) and the findings were included in a 62-page report that basically blasted the entire concept and how it was developed and implemented.
There is no record of Somerset County doing an independent review of this project. Without it, Somerset County Residents have 6.75 million questions that need answering. Not just a press release from the people who put the whole debacle together in the first place.
To the Editor:
As a former student at Somerset County College, now Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), I can still recall the reasons I attended: Quality education and Affordability.
Over the years, I have been pleased to see RVCC maintain its high level of academic achievement. In fact, my son attended RVCC after graduating from Hillsborough High in 2000 and went on to get a BS, a Master’s degree, and now has a successful career.
But over the last 6 years I have noticed a disturbing trend. While maintaining a high level of academic achievement, affordability has become a major concern. I see this first hand as I am involved in two non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to students who describe how critical scholarship funding is to their ability to afford RVCC.
A major source of funding for RVCC is Somerset County. Therefore, it is disheartening that year-after-year the Somerset County Freeholders fund RVCC at marginal dollar amounts, while year-after-year they generously increase funding for the Park Commission. For example, since 2012, RVCC funding increased a total of $185,945, while allocations to the Park Commission increased $2,683,382. Good quality parks and golf courses are an important element of a community, but affordable high-quality education is the foundation for individual success and a critical component to the overall health and well-being of society.
So, this letter is about priorities and as such, I call upon the Freeholders to take stock of what is critical to building a better future for Somerset County residents and our community, and provide desperately needed funding for RVCC, returning AFFORDABILITY to the quality education we've come to expect from RVCC.
“They are stealing our money” charged Peg Schaffer, Somerset County Democratic Chair, when she saw the all Republican Freeholder Boards “special issue” Newsletter.
While the Newsletter includes some information regarding other members of the Board and its calendar, the primary focus of the Newsletter is to tout the alleged “achievements” of the two freeholders up for election this year.
New Jersey law is clear that this Newsletter is a reportable political communication.
The Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) deems a communication “political” if it’s circulated within 90 days of the election to an audience eligible to vote containing reference to the “governmental achievements or objectives” of a candidate and is circulated with the candidate’s consent (N.J.A.C. 19:25- 10.10b).
This special issue meets the test and is thus a reportable contribution to Freeholder candidates Scaglione and Caliguire. By law they are required to disclose who paid for the Newsletter and report it as a contribution. The special issue was mailed and paid for by the Freeholder Board, whose sole source of income is public money i.e. our money. Both the report to ELEC and the Newsletter should read “PAID FOR BY DOLLARS STOLEN FROM RESIDENTS OF SOMERSET COUNTY.” Schaffer called upon Scaglione and Caliguire to properly report the expenditures and repay the dollars. The link to the Newsletter is below.
This charge has been forwarded to ELEC, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s office.