Open Space Committee Wants To Share Laborers’ Cost With Township

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Members of the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee said they did not want to shoulder the entire cost of two new laborers to maintain township parks.

Members of the township Open Space Advisory Committee are willing to shoulder some of the cost of laborers to help maintain township parks, but they want the township to chip in, too.

The committee on Feb. 17 voted down a suggestion from the Township Committee that it shoulder the entire $100,000 cost of two new laborers in the Department of Public Works, both of which would be dedicated to year-round park maintenance.

Instead, the committee voted to fund the salaries of the laborers, which comes to about $70,000 in the first year. The benefits package would total about $28,000 for both positions.

The committee is advisory in nature, and none of its votes are binding on the township council, which will ultimately decide how the positions are paid for.

The council at its Feb. 12 budget hearing was told by representatives from the public works department that two more laborers were needed to handle the burgeoning maintenance work at township parks. Township Manager Robert Vornlocker suggested that the laborers be paid for out of the township’s $19 million Open Space Trust Fund, prompting two council members to suggest running the idea past the open space committee.

Vornlocker told the committee that with the completion of the more than $8 million Middlebush Park, “we’ll need two employees to maintain that park properly.”

“The additional manpower isn’t only necessary, it’s vital,” Vornlocker said.

The manager noted that the township will spend close to $1 million this year to make repairs at township parks. Those costs would be obviated with constant maintenance, he said.

The township’s budget now funds eight laborers and a foreman whose responsibility it is to maintain the parks, Vornlocker said.

“The municipal budget can’t continue to sustain additional personnel and stay within its budget cap,” he said.

But, he said, more parks need more people to maintain them.

“This is something I recognize is an incredibly sensitive issue to the members of this committee,” Vornlocker said.

Committee member Arnold Schmidt said he felt the money was going to come out of the Open Space fund “regardless of what this committee decides,” and suggested that since the committee would be paying for them, it should have oversight of those two employees.

That didn’t go over well with Vornlocker.

“The supervision of township staff is in no way a function of an advisory committee,” he said. “It’s my job as township manager to make sure the work that is needed to maintain this township gets done.”

Vornlocker noted that alt $1 million of the township’s open space tax goes into the trust fund each year.

The council is scheduled to vote on a final budget in March.

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