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Department Heads Present Wish Lists In First Budget Hearing

The Township Council heard the first round of budget requests at a special March 7 virtual meeting.

Requests for equipment and new hires highlighted the Township Council’s first budget hearing on March 7.

The budget hearings, the second of which will be held on March 15, are the Council’s chances to hear what the various department heads say they need to operate in 2022. The requests are presented through Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, who has been meeting with the department heads to craft their various budgets.

Some of the requests – such as a $500,000 command center RV for the police department – were met with questions from the Council members.

The departments who made their presentations on March 7 were Municipal Court; Construction Code; Recreation – which includes the new Youth Center – Police, Dispatch, Animal Control; Open Space; Public Works and Water Utility, and Information Technology.

All of the departments presented their proposed operating budgets while all but Recreation also presented their proposed capital budget.

The biggest ticket items were submitted by the police department, which has asked for more than $1.6 million in new vehicles and other equipment.

Public Safety Director Quovella Maeweather told the Council that the vehicles being requested were replacements for cars that are ageing out.

On the department’s shopping list are:

  • Six Chevy Malibus at $120,000
  • 12 marked Ford Explorers at $440,000
  • One marked Ford Expedition at $42,000
  • One Ford F-150 pickup truck at $40,000
  • One command post RV at $500,000
  • Five mobile radios for vehicles at $40,000
  • Outfitting the marked and unmarked vehicles at $425,000
  • One all-terrain vehicle at $25,000

Maeweather told the Council that the department has “21 Crown Victorias that we’re trying to phase out” because, she said, it “costs more to repair them than replace them. It’s harder to get vehicle parts.”

She said that the department has not kept up with a plan started in 2018 to buy 10 vehicles per year to replace older models.

“Things happen, it gets hard to keep up,” she said. “We are behind on that plan.”

Maeweather said the ideal plan would be to purchase 12 vehicles in each of the next four years.

Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) initially questioned the need for a $500,000 command center vehicle. Maeweather told him that it’s been needed for a while.

“The Command Post that we’re requesting is to replace the one that we had, the Partridge Family bus,” she said. Maeweather said the last time it was used it would not start and had to be towed to the location.

“In light of the fact that Franklin is the size that it is, there were several events where it would have been very useful,” she said. “We’ve had hurricanes, fires, crashes, the canal incident where we had our drivers getting dressed in the road before they could jump in the water.”

“We would be better prepared if we had a command post,” Maeweather said. “It could be placed wherever we were to have an unfortunate event, like a shooting. Evidence can be brought inside and analyzed immediately. During high-risk events and other community events, it’s a great opportunity for people to come inside.”

Maeweather said that delaying the vehicle’s purchae over teh past several years has resulted in increased costs.

“When I started, we were looking at a little over $300,000,” she said. “That price has gone up. Do we need it? The answer is yes. We’ve always needed it, we keep going without.”

“I don’t understand why we need a $500,000 command vehicle for many of the uses you said it would be used for,” Vassanella said. “It almost sounds like we need a few much smaller vehicles. I imagine we’re not going to have a lot of public running through it with all the equipment in it.”

Councilman Carl Wright said the cost would likely go up to $500,000 if they wait another year.

“I believe we do need one, I’m all for it,” he said.

Mayor Phil Kramer said that he started talking about a new command post about five years ago.

“As the price tag came up every year, I’d say next year, then Covid came along, and it didn’t seem right to spend it in the middle of Covid,” he said. “I do think the time has come. I, too, am in favor of it.”

Kramer did say the command post may come at teh expense of some of th eother vehicles teh department has requested.

“We can negotiate, but I don’t want to give up all of the patrol vehicles,” Maeweather said.

Deputy Mayor Crystal Pruitt said that she recognizes that “this is something the department very much needs … I do see there is a lot of utility for this post, on the investigative side, the staging side, the emergency management side.”

Seeking to clarify his position, Vassanella said that he supported the idea.

“I just want to be sold on it,” he said. “It sounds like this might take care of all of the needs we are in agreement that are out there.”

The department also wants to spend $80,000 to reconfigure the front desk area in the police headquarters.

“We want to open it up, make it citizen-friendly,” she said. “We learned during Covid that the space the sergeants are in is not big enough. We need to open it up. Space is being wasted. The technology that we have now, multiple monitors… things are just not fitting. “

The Council also heard from the public works department’s request for $2 million for road repaving, a number that may be increased.

“I have a feeling that $2 million isn’t enough, I think we’re falling behind on our road paving,” Kramer said.

“I think that there might be some room this year to increase that number, and I’m willing to talk that talk,” Vornlocker said.

Vornlocker said that he’s concerned that the price of asphalt may increase soon.

“My bigger concern is that crude oil is at $120 a barrel, and asphalt is a petroleum-based product,” he said. “I fear that the cost of that is going to go up, and what was $2.5 million a few years ago is not going to be the same $2.5 million it was then.”

DPW also asked for more employees to handle park maintenance, a request Vornlocker said he supported.

Also requesting new hires was Robert McQueen, the township’s IT director.

McQueen said the amount of work he and his team are doing is ever increasing and is becoming too much for them to handle efficiently.

“We are more of a reactive department than a proactive department,” he said. “With the addition of the youth center and other demands … it makes sense for us to ask for an additional IT specialist position.”

“Everything falls on my shoulders for all of the project managers and it’s getting to the point where we can’t maintain what we have,” he said.

McQueen said his department could also use a deputy director.

Any increase in salary, he said, “would be offset by what we’ve been spending in overtime. I don’t think it would be much a of a cost increase to have that second-tier person.”

McQueen said that the last two years dealing with the IT challenges posed by the Covid pandemic have shown him that “there’s a lot more demands in the IT department to keep things running.”

Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At large) agreed with him.

“There’s so much concern in cyber security that this is a no-brainer to me,” she said.

“It takes people to ensure that all of those things are operating correctly,” Vornlocker said. “You don’t hear about staff member requests unless I think it’s necessary, I think it’s necessary.”

The Recreation Department is seeking $103,245 for 2022, a $13,105 increase over last year.

Vornlocker said most of that increase can be attributed to costs associated with the new Youth center.

The Construction Code department would like to buy an electric Ford F-150 Lightning truck, Vornlocker said, but they’re on back-order.

“Ford has indicated they will increase manufacturing for 2023, and we are on a waiting list,” he said. “Hopefully we will be notified that we can order one of the 2023 models in the calendar year 2022.”

“This will be the first opportunity for us to put a larger electric vehicle into the fleet,” he said.

Municipal Court Administrator Keila Martinez told the Council that her department needs a new $60,000 mechanized filing system.

“We would remove all our cabinets and merge (the files) into just one system,” she said. “We’re running out of space here.”

“Our officers are writing a lot of tickets, and with marijuana expungements, all those files have to be filed somewhere and hidden somewhere, so we need this desperately,” Martinez said.

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