Township Council Hears Requests For More Employees, Equipment At Second Budget Meeting

2nd budget hearing 20151

Township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts, left, and Lt. Kristen Durham at the Feb. 12 Township Council budget hearing.

The township’s payroll could grow by eight more positions this year, based on requests made at the Township Council’s second budget hearing on Feb. 12.

Department heads presenting their budgets to the council also made requests for trucks, technology and other capital items during the four-hour hearing.

In a process begun on Feb. 9, the council heard from seven department heads, who described their proposed 2015 budgets.

Four of those proposed employees – police officers for a community policing unit targeting Hamilton Street – were discussed at the council’s Feb. 9 budget hearing and revisited when the police department made its formal budget presentation.

The four police officers – which would cost about $125,000 – were requested by the Hamilton Street Advisory Committee, a group of Hamilton Street business and property owners tasked with helping the rebirth of the business district.

Councilman Carl R.A. Wright (D-Ward 4), said that he supported the idea of extra policing for Hamilton Street, but wondered if extra police would be added to other parts of town if residents make the request.

“If I live on Elizabeth Avenue and I ask you for additional police, can I have additional police on Elizabeth Avenue?” he asked.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said the extra police for Hamilton Street are meant to address perceptions that the area is not safe.

“There is a perception that a particular part of Hamilton Street has a safety issue and people won’t go there because it’s unsafe,” he said. “The police department deploys its manpower based on activity.”

“In the 30 years I’ve been employed here, the Hamilton Street corridor from roughly Franklin Boulevard to the New Brunswick border has been continually identified as needing more police presence,” said Vornlocker, a former township policeman.

In addition to the police department’s request, the council heard from the head of the township’s Information Technology department on the need for a full-time GIS employee and from Public Works representatives on why a new part-time mechanic’s helper and two laborers for parks positions need to be created.

Carl Hauck, the DPW’s public works manager, told the council that two new supervisory positions also need to be created. These would not be new hires, he said; current employees would be promoted into them.

Vornlocker said creating the new supervisory positions would require negotiations with the foreman’s union, and probably would not happen this year.

The council will also look into the idea broached by Vornlocker that the two park laborers positions’ salaries be paid out of the township’s Open Space fund. The council wants to run that idea by the Open Space Advisory Committee before making any decision.

Hauck had also requested new custodians, but that idea did not receive support from Vornlocker. Vornlocker instead proposed that the budget for an outside cleaning company be increased, an idea the council endorsed.

The council was told that the two laborers are needed because of the increase in the number of parks in the township.

Vornlocker proposed that the salaries for the new hires could be paid out of the township’s Open Space Fund.

Several council members, including James Vassanella (D-Ward 5), Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) and Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3), said they wanted to run that by the Open Space Advisory Committee first.

“I think this recommendation is a philosophical shift” in how open space money is to be used, Chase said. “I’m not saying that it can’t and shouldn’t be done, I’m saying I’d like to hear the opinion of the Open Space committee.”

The council decided to expand a previously approved part-time GIS position to full time after being told the position has been empty for 10 months.

Justin Heyman, the head of the township’s IT department, said two people applied for the job in the nearly one year that it has been advertised. One of the applicants was not qualified, he said, and the second took another, full-time position.

Deputy Mayor Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) asked if the township wasn’t being “penny wise and pound foolish” in not making the GIS position full-time.

Heyman said the township’s water utility and fire services would have the most use for a GIS person. he noted that towns such as Montgomery have two full-time GIS employees.

The cost, he said, would be a little more than double the $25,000 the township had allocated for a part-time person.

“Do we have enough work for a full-time person?” Heyman asked rhetorically. “Yes.”

After the council expressed its willingness to fund a full-time GIS employee, Vornlocker said he would “work it into the proposed budget.”

Kramer and Councilwoman Roz Sherman (D-Ward 2) were against creating a part-time mechanic’s helper position, but they were outvoted by the rest of the council.

“We’re putting in four police officers, we’re putting in a GIS employee, we have to draw the line somewhere,” Kramer said. “We’re not going to make money on this, we’re going to spend money on this.”

The part-time helper would do tasks such as run errands and perform simple procedures such as oil changes, freeing up the other mechanics for the bigger jobs, Vornlocker said. This would translate to township vehicles getting back on the road sooner, he said.

“It doesn’t make it more efficient in a dollar sense, it makes it more efficient in a service sense,” he said.

The part-timer would work 25 hours a week, with a salary of about $25,000, he said.

Department heads also made a number of capital project requests. Among them:

Police: Six vehicles, including an unmarked vehicle for the detective bureau, four SUVs and one Ford Expedition for the emergency services unit. Also, a replacement for the department’s H/V/AC unit and the second phase of the department’s carpet replacement.

IT: $300,000 in equipment, including iPads for construction inspectors and planning and zoning board members for meetings, security upgrades for the public works building, a replacement of the township’s audio system that will allow live streaming of meetings in the council chambers and replacement of telephone hardware in the municipal building.

Construction: 1 new vehicle.

Public works: A dump truck with a plow, and pickup truck with a plow and a mechanic’s truck.

Water utility: An emergency utility vehicle and a replacement pickup truck with a plow.

Open Space: $150,000 to sew lines in Middlebush Park for three practice soccer fields. This would come from the township’s open space fund.

Vornlocker said he hoped to be able to present a budget to the council at its March 10 meeting.

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