Township Council Hears 2020 Requests In Final Budget Hearing

Carl Hauck, the township’s Public Works manager, FTPD Sgt. Brian Farrar, FTPD Lt. Phil Rizzo and Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, left to right, at the Township Council’s budget hearing on February 18.

The Franklin Township Police Department presented the Township Council with nearly $3 million in budget wish-list requests at the Council’s second budget hearing on February 18.

The requests were for upgrades to the department’s radio system, new cars and a new mobile command center.

The Council heard from other departments at the annual event, including Recreation, the Township Clerk, Social Services and the Open Space Advisory Committee.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker told the Council that the requests were just that, and that departments may not get what they ask for when he presents his budget to the Council next month.

“I have to crunch the numbers,” he said.

The biggest ticket item of the evening was the new radio system for the police department, which carries a price tag of about $2 million. Vornlocker said the need wasn’t known until last November, when Somerset County informed the department that it would be upgrading its radio system this year, a move which would render the township’s unusable.

“On the day their upgrade goes into effect, we would no longer have radios,” Vornlocker said. “They would effectively become bricks.”

FTPD Lt. Phil Rizzo reminded the Council that the department’s radio system affects the entire township, including Fire Prevention, Emergency Management and the school district.

The current radio system is 17 years old, FTPD Sgt. Brian Farrar told the Council.

“Portions of it has already seen the end of their lives,” he said. “At the end of the year, the bulk of the equipment will be at end of life.”

Farrar said the portable radios the department uses have an average life span of 10 years, but that Franklin has been able to get 17 years out of them.

Rizzo said the price tag as it now stands is $1.97 million, “but we are confident that we can get that a little lower. How much lower, we can’t say.”

The department is also asking for $215,000 for a maintenance contract for the entire radio system.

The FTPD also asked for eight marked SUVs at a cost of about $300,000, with another $250,000 for outfitting them for police work.

Rizzo said the vehicles wold be part of the department’s normal rotation of its cars.

The department is also looking for three unmarked cars: two Ford Fusions and a Chevy Malibu.

Also on the department’s wish list is $400,000 for a new mobile command center, to replace one acquired by the department in 1981.

Rizzo said that in addition to being used in emergencies, the unit can be used in community functions such as Franklin Day.

“There are lots of community benefits other than emergency services,” Rizzo said.

Mayor Phil Kramer said that although he’s been calling for a new mobile command unit for the past three years, the $2 million purchase of an upgraded radio system may knock that off the table.

“The justification for that is righteous, but we have to balance needs with resources,” he said. “I want it, but we may not be able to afford it.”

The department also asked for funding for four fixed-mounted license plate readers and four AR-15 rifles to replace weapons that are not considered safe to use.

The township is looking to fold its welfare services – the last offered by a town in Somerset County – into the Somerset County social services program, and transfer some personnel from the social services building on Hamilton Street into the new youth center when it opens, Vornlocker said.

He said the township only provides those services to adults without families, and the number of clients has dropped from more than 100 to just 22. He said the clients got to the County’s satellite office on Franklin Boulevard for other services, such as SNAP, anyway, so it makes sense to let the County handle everything.

“We can take our two social workers and office coordinator and move them to the new youth center,” he said.

Vornlocker said all of the social services programs that are youth-based will be offered at the youth center.

“It’s kind of a win-win,” he said.

Vornlocker said the township would retain ownership of the Hamilton Street building for other uses.

The Recreation Department’s budget request calls for a $50,000 increase for the employment of part-time staff at the new youth center when it opens.

The Council was also told that a lifeguard at Naaman Williams Park pool recently received instructor certification, and would be able to teach lifeguard skills to local youth.

Bill Byrtus, the recreation director, said this would allow the pool to remain open year-round.

Byrtus said the plan is to offer the lifeguard training for free, contingent on the trainee working for the pool for one year.

“When (Byrtus) told me this idea, I told him to get the ball rolling,” Vornlocker said. “We can employ people in the neighborhood so they can come work for us when we need them.”

The township’s Tax Appeal reserve fund, through which it pays successful appeals, will have to be increased to $750,000, Vornlocker said. He said the reason was the fund was depleted last year after the township lost several large tax appeals.

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