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Heads of Health, Recreation and Police Departments Present Annual Reports to Lawrence Township Council

The recent retirements of two police officers and the potential retirements of 12 more officers between now and 2013 pose a significant staffing concern for the Lawrence Township Police Department, Chief Daniel Posluszny noted in his report to council.

In addition to the news that for property owners in 2011 in Lawrence Township and the , several other newsworthy exchanges took place during the Lawrence Township Council meeting held on March 15.

*   *   *

Council awarded a bid in the amount of $291,446.25 to S. Brothers Inc. of South River for the reconstruction of certain sections of Bakers Basin Road and the paving of the entire length of the road, from Brunswick Pike (Route 1) to the Hamilton Township border. A total of $41,446.25 of the cost of the work will come from a previously-adopted Lawrence Township capital ordinance, while the remaining $250,000 will be paid by a grant from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund. A total of 14 companies submitted bids for the project.

*   *   *

To better illustrate, as previously discussed in past council meetings, the significant drops that have occurred in recent years in the assessed value of ratables in the township resulting from the depressed economy and real estate tax appeals, Township Manager Richard Krawczun distributed to council members a document listing the “Top 20” property assessment reviews that took place in Lawrence during 2010 and thus far this year. The document showed the changes in the assessed values of the properties and the resulting impact on the municipal tax collection.

Quaker Bridge Mall showed the largest change: dropping from an assessment of $90 million to $46.1 million. That decrease of nearly $44 million in assessed value has resulted in a loss of about $342,385 in tax dollars for the township. Another $12.7 million drop in the total assessment of the four separate “anchor stores” attached to the mall – J.C. Penney, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Sears – means another $99,162 less in taxes going to the township. Downward adjustments to the assessments of the 264 residential units in the Liberty Green development and the Bristol-Myers Squibb property also have cost the township $95,563 and $94,778 in taxes respectively.

Krawczun also distributed a document explaining how the state’s 2 percent tax cap affects this year’s municipal budget.

(Copies of those two documents distributed by Krawczun can be viewed from the PDF box above.)  

*   *   *

In an effort to help council members review the , the heads of the township’s health, recreation and police departments presented their annual reports to council during the meeting.

“As most of you know, most of the services we provide are mandated by the state Health Department under the Public Health Practice Standards. There are a few items that are mandated by the [state] Department of Environmental Protection. And some of them are mandated by local ordinances,” Carol Chamberlain, township health officer, said as she began her presentation.

She proceeded to talk about the many services provided during 2010 by the Health Department. Some of these were:

  • 138 marriage licenses, four civil union licenses and 1,448 certified copies of vital records were issued
  • 305 food establishments were licensed, with 347 routine inspections and 105 re-inspections performed
  • 28 public bathing places (pools) were licensed, with 80 inspections and 23 re-inspections conducted
  • 214 “public health nuisance” inspections and 514 re-inspections were performed
  • 67 septic system inspections were conducted and seven septic system plan reviews carried out
  • 10 inspections and four re-inspections of massage establishments were performed
  • 23 child health conferences were held, with a total of 161 children seen and 191 immunizations administered
  • 1,489 immunization records were audited from 23 preschools and seven schools
  • 151 “reportable diseases” were investigated
  • Annual blood-borne pathogen training was provided to 96 at-risk employees (police officers, firefighters, etc.)
  • Four seasonal flu clinics were held, with 811 immunizations administered
  • 53 stray dogs and 111 stray cats were handled; 27 dog bite investigations were conducted; 494 dogs and cats were vaccinated against rabies; and 1,798 complaints were addressed by the animal control officer.

After Chamberlain had concluded her presentation, Councilman Bob Bostock inquired about the township’s two part-time nurses who each work 20 hours per work and are provided health benefits and participate in a pension plan. “I would wonder, since both part-time positions [combined] are doing 40 hours a week, which is about an average work week, if it might not save some money by going to one full-time person, thereby eliminating the cost of providing two sets of benefits and pensions for what is, in essence, 40 hours a week, one full-time person.”

He asked Krawczun to analyze what savings could be had by going to a single full-time nurse instead of two part-timers and to research what a per-diem nurse would cost for those occasions when more than one nurse would be needed. Chamberlain was asked by Mayor Greg Puliti to document how many instances typically occur that multiple nurses are required.

(A copy of the Health Department’s 2010 Annual Report can be viewed from the PDF box above.)  

Steve Groeger, the township’s superintendent of recreation, gave his report next. “The Recreation Department consists of three divisions – the Recreation Office; Special Events; and the Office on Aging. Our role is to provide recreation and leisure activities for all the residents of Lawrence Township through those divisions. We reach 3-year-olds taking swim lessons and we have 90-year-olds at the Senior Center who we’re providing programming for there. The Recreation Office last year did just over 4,000 registrations for our programs.”

He said the department “provides a wide range of programming for residents,” including various athletics at different levels (instructional, recreational and competitive), art and theater programs, and gardening and nature activities. “Summer is clearly our most busy time, but we’re busy throughout the year. We have Fall activities that include tennis lessons and swim lessons and indoor field hockey. In Spring, we have our lacrosse program, which each year is growing 10 to 15 percent. During the summer, we have our camps and we’ve added evening activities for the kids.”

“One of our most successful programs is our swim team. We have 150 kids that swim competitively. It’s an opportunity for a lot of families that can’t afford some of the highly intense swim programs. It’s been very successful. We started with 15 kids and we’re now up to 150,” he said, speaking of the .

He spoke of the mandatory criminal history background checks that the Recreation Department performs on volunteer sports coaches and managers, and of the permits the department issues for the rentals of township athletic fields and picnic grounds. He also spoke of the department’s efforts to regularly update the township’s website – something which he said will only increase given the fact that beginning this Fall the township will no longer mail out to residents the Recreation Department’s catalog of events, programs and activities. That will save the township more than $3,000 in postage costs. The current Spring/Summer catalog was mailed out earlier this month and can be downloaded via the township website. The Fall/Winter catalog will similarly be available from the website, with some print copies available for pickup directly from the municipal building.  

Groeger also detailed some of the special events that are held each year in town, such as Community Day, and the daily and weekly events that take place at the Lawrence Senior Center like the nutrition program.

“As you all know, . It hasn’t seemed to impact our registration. Our registrations are coming in at very close to the same level. Our programs are very reasonable. People feel that they’re getting value out of what they pay for,” Groeger said. He noted that the Recreation Department had operating costs for its programs and part-time staff of about $300,000 last year and collected “almost identical revenue” through fees and grants. Those fees and grants, however, did not cover the department’s six full-time staff members.

After Groeger had finished his presentation, Bostock asked him what criteria he uses to determine whether or not to discontinue a program that has dwindling interest from the public.

“It’s a case-by-case basis. An example is we are no longer running a men’s basketball league and part of that is the numbers had started to drop off and we were starting to get more non-residents in. And quite frankly that seems to more of the case with our adult programs. There doesn’t seem to be as much interest from Lawrence residents to have adult league play. We no longer run flag football for the same kind of thing – we weren’t getting the numbers,” Groeger answered. “We also work very hard to keep the numbers up by modifying programs.”

Lawrence Township Police Chief Daniel Posluszny next submitted the police department’s 2010 annual report.

He started out by talking about so-called “index crimes,” which are those major crimes that police departments throughout New Jersey must report to the state police and the FBI for tracking. He offered statistics comparing the frequency of crimes like rape, robbery and assault from 2009 to 2010.

Crime

2009

2010

Percent of Change

Homicide

0

0

0 %

Rape

10

3

- 70 %

Robbery

19

19

0 %

Assault

148

151

+ 2 %

Burglary

96

93

- 3 %

Larceny – Theft

656

717

+ 9 %

Vehicle Theft

31

16

- 48 %

Arson

14

9

- 36 %

Total

974

1008

+ 3 %

Posluszny’s report (a copy of which can also be viewed from the PDF box above) also includes a breakdown of other non-index crimes, such as alarms, criminal mischief, domestic violence incidents, drug offenses, drunk driving cases, forgery and frauds, investigations, traffic accidents and dozens of other categories.

The chief noted that Lawrence Township police officers responded to 50,615 calls for service during 2010, including more than 15,700 911 calls from residents and visitors to the township.

He said general-assignment detectives conducted 667 investigations in 2010, compared to 569 in 2009, while the township’s two juvenile detectives carried out 352 investigations in 2010, up from 262 in 2009.

He said the department’s evidence officer handled about 3,100 pieces of evidence and recovered property during 2010. He reported that in 2010 officers responded to 1,564 traffic accidents in 2010 (up from 1,447 in 2009), with the worst locations for crashes being the Brunswick Circle (66) and Brunswick Pike (Route 1) at Franklin Corner Road (53).

The staffing of the police department is an area of concern, according to Posluszny, who noted that with the recent retirements of two officers on Feb. 1 the department is now down to 65 “sworn” officers.

“There are currently three other officers who are have the ability to retire but are still working. In 2012 we’ll see three more officers who will reach the years of service necessary to retire. And in 2013 we’re looking at six more officers that could retire,” he told council.

In his annual report, he noted that it takes about one year to hire and train each new officer.

In December, the to study the police department’s staffing and resources. That study is currently underway.

“It is sobering the number of potential retirements we have coming up over the next three years,” Bostock said. “I’m glad we got that consultant in to do that study to see if there might be some ways to handle this. But I think that the most important thing to emphasize is, in my view, the Number One function of local government is public safety. And nobody is more important than our police department for ensuring that Lawrence Township is a safe place in which to live, work and travel through. So whatever we do going forward – I’m sure everybody will agree – we’re going to make sure that we still maintain the very high level of professionalism and expertise and dedication that this force has so that we can continue to be safe. Because if people don’t feel safe, nothing else matters.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with you and I know the officers on my department agree with you also. I think it’s going to be imperative that we stay that way for the viability of our town,” Posluszny answered.  

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