The announcement that Roche Pharmaceuticals, the town's largest employer and tax revenue source, would leave Nutley Township at the end of 2013, caught town officials by shock and surprise.
At a hastily-called meeting, Nutley’s mayor and a commissioner talked Tuesday night of hope for the best possible outcome, that another drug company can be lured to the huge Roche campus and fill the void the business will leave in the community.
This was after an emergency meeting with a Roche official Tuesday afternoon where the devastating effect on Nutley's property tax base was discussed.
Roche pays more than $9 million a year in property taxes to Nutley and has spent more than $1 million upgrading its facilities. The company has received millions in tax abatements over the past four years.
Mayor Alphonse Petracco said Tuesday night that the decision to leave was unexpected and extremely unfortunate for the estimated 1,000 employees and another 1,000 contractors losing their jobs.
A Roche official told the commissioners that 72 Nutley residents jobs will be lost in the move, according to Petracco.
“People being laid off are our concern,” Petracco said. “And what it does to the local businesses who serve the employees is also a big concern.”
He said officials have until the end of year, when Roche officially pulls out, to work with the company for the best outcome for the township and Roche.
“Their taxes represent 10 percent of the revenue for us, so we’re looking at walking away with the best possible situation, and since we’re only 13 miles from Manhattan, we think we can attract a good, young pharmaceutical company to take the property,” Petracco said. “It is also best for Roche if they can sell the property by the end of the year.”
Darien Wilson, spokesman from Roche, said, "We plan to cease business operations onsite at the end of 2013. Then carry out any necessary remediation and sell the site by the end of 2015. During that time, Roche will still be the site owner and pay it's share of taxes."
Commissioner Steven Rogers said Tuesday night that officials are disappointed that Roche did not notify them sooner.
Rogers said, “The Commission will make decisions in the best interests of Nutley. We have to see what that is when we have all of the facts.”
The commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday, where they began discussing options, Rogers said.
After the meeting, the commissioners released a statement that read:
“Roche is the Township of Nutley’s largest taxpayer and employs a number of our residents. The news of Roche’s planned closure of its Nutley site comes as a surprise and is most unfortunate. As the governing body, it is our hope that Roche will work together with us on a proper exit and transition strategy. The Roche site is a valuable property in a desired location and is marketable. The governing body of the Township of Nutley will make the future development of this property its highest priority. The Board of Commissioners has requested Roche to attend their next meeting on July 3rd to explain the details of its plans for the site.”
Petracco said Roche Vice President Evan Morris told the commissioners in a conference call that 72 Nutley residents jobs would be lost, and added that the governing body and Roche will work together, but that its relationship has changed.
“We really had a good, neighborly working relationship, but maybe now it needs to just be a business relationship,” Petracco said. “We need to make sure everything is looked at, and Roche has agreed to that, I have to say.”
He said he remains optimistic about the Nutley site’s future.
“The good news is that we have some time, and I believe this will be a new chapter for Nutley,” Petracco said.