Berkeley Heights to Delete Bulk Pickup to Fund Tree Removal, De-Snagging of Township Streams; Fire Department, Engineering, Cable Broadcasters Review Budgets
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 • 6:54am
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ--Due to the large amount of tree trimming to be done around the township and in streams flowing through the township, much of it still left from Hurricane Sandy, the Berkeley Heights Township Council on Tuesday gave its approval to allocating $110,000 for these items in the public works budget. The money would come from elimination of township-wide bulk pickup of residential waste.
Council President Kevin Hall suggested adding the tree removal item, citing the widespread power outages in the township during last fall’s superstorm caused by trees falling on utility wires.
Council members and Mayor Joseph Bruno agreed with Public Works Director Robert Bocchino that the $110,000 allocated to the annual township-wide bulk pickup should be used for tree removal. They also said that trash contractors were willing to negotiate with homeowners to remove almost any item of residential waste, even if the homeowners have to pay an extra price for the service.
In addition to the electrical outage concern, the governing body also cited the flood hazard from downed trees in residential areas and particularly in several small streams that run through the township.
Bruno said the township probably can remove most of the debris from streams using its own crews, even if it has to sign agreements with contractors for more advanced equipment to remove the larger trees and other debris.
In response to a concern by Karen and John Carlini of Eden Court about flooding in front of their home from the Passaic River, Councilman Craig Pastore said, though the township could handle clearing of the streams on its own, it would have to enlist the help of Union County and neighboring communities and counties to remove debris in the river.
A rundown of mutual aid responses by the township fire department in the past year, especially 27 calls to Plainfield, drew a number of questions to Fire Chief Tony Padovano from Bruno and the council members.
Padavano reported that Plainfield drew the largest number of mutual aid responses from the Berkeley Heights volunteer department, followed by much smaller numbers from Elizabeth, Summit, New Providence, Chatham, Union, Kenilworth and Cranford.
Padovano also said the township had 50 incidents of mutual aid last year from other municipalities.
He noted, however, that, due to its large number of structure fires and perhaps because of staff reductions in its own paid department, Plainfield drew more mutual aid responses from Berkeley Heights than did any of the other communities to which the township department responded.
Although he said that a receiving community does reimburse a sending community for fuel expended and equipment losses during mutual aid, he could not put a number on the total cost to Berkeley Heights of responding to Plainfield.
The chief said the township department has little choice but to respond to mutual aid calls in the Queen City rather than limiting its response to communities geographically closer to it because Union County is divided into sectors and Plainfield is in the Berkeley Heights sector. He also said state statute requires mutual aid response from communities in the same area.
Padovano added, however, that Elizabeth Deputy Fire Chief Lathey Wirkus, county mutual aid coordinator, has been reevaluating the mutual aid sectors due to location of the county dispatch center outside of Elizabeth.
The chief told the governing body that, although he requested $30,000 for vehicle maintenance, he could live within the $28,340 limit set for the item by the township chief financial officer, but was concerned with the amount of maintenance required on a pumper engine that was purchased in 1995.
He said the pumper was not due to be replaced until 2015, adding that New Providence recently paid $650,000 to replace one of its pumpers. He estimated Berkeley Heights could get $50,000 for the outdated pumper.
Although Padovano said a $5000 expenditure was necessary to replace the department’s Pulse Ox meter, which measures the effect of possible carbon monoxide poisoning on fire victims and firefighters working in smoke-filled conditions, Councilman Thomas Pirone said he thought the equipment was unnecessary because it did little to change treatment for possible carbon monoxide exposure.
The councilman also said no other department in Union County uses the meters.
Padovano promised to provide greater substantiation to the council to back up the need for the meter.
Requests by the township’s volunteer rescue squad for repair of a roof soffet on the headquarters building and paving of its parking lot could be met by the engineering department in the course repairing other township facilities, Bocchino said.
He also said equipment maintenance continues to be an expensive item for engineering and public works, although the township has replaced a number of outdated vehicles over the years. At the request of Bruno, he promised to provide a list of the number, make and year of all current township-owned vehicles and to make a greater effort to auction off vehicles no longer used so the township does not have to pay insurance on them.
The public works director also said salt used in snow removal continues to remain costly--rising from about $49 a ton last year to about $70 a ton this year. He said he would look into the use of brining solution to pre-treat roads during storms to reduce the need for salt.
Nick Schiavo, who chairs the township communications committee, requested $5,000 in capital funding to help install camera systems in the municipal building that will help the Governor Livingston High School audiovisual department record important municipal meetings such as those of the governing body and the planning board.
Schiavo said three cameras would be operated by a new control panel and meetings would be taped, edited and rebroadcast on cable television from facilities at the high school about three days after each meeting. The delay, he said, was necessary partly because the high school teaching staff members doing the editing had to do so when not teaching classes.
He said Governor Livingston students gain valuable experience in operating audiovisual equipment when taping various programs.
Responding to calls from the governing body for improvement of the current microphone system in the municipal building, Schiavo said a major improvement probably was not worth the expenditure because it is possible the township government would be moving to a different facility in the near future.
Bocchino said he would have a member of the township staff look at ways to improve the current microphone system.
Shiavo also said the television hookup, now called “Governor Livingston TV,” is seeking to become “Berkeley Heights TV” and to expand its program schedule to involve more participation by local businesses and citizen groups.
Among the current programs the committee is seeking to expand, Shiavo noted, is “This Week in Berkeley Heights”, which is partially sponsored by The Alternative Press,
Speaking about a number of improvements in the township website, webmaster Charlie Ptatt said one of the goals for the site for the new year is to increase township response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
He also noted the improved website has saved money by allowing residents and officials to download meeting minutes and agendas, the township newsletter and recreation department applications from the website rather than having township employees provide hard copies of these documents.
Pratt said a township resident has been financing webhosting for the site in the past but may not continue to do so. The cost of webhosting would only be $6 per month if the township were to pay for it, he added.
The webmaster projected the only other possible cost of the website would be $90 for an external harddrive to backup the site.