BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Township Council reconvened for its second public meeting of the month on Tuesday with talks focusing on the uncollected grants and the possible implementation of the Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP).
Tensions flared early on when Councilman Craig Pastore accused the administration of failing to follow through on its promise to “pursue all possible grants.” The comments were in response to Berkeley Heights failing to receive the Municipal Aid Grant, which the administration acknowledged was a major oversight.
Mayor Joseph Bruno indignantly retorted that the accusation was a “cheap shot” with the mayoral election in the coming weeks. ‘”We did pursue all possible grants—to the best of our knowledge,” he explained.
The lack of an official grant writer compounded the problem, according to Bruno, and he claimed that the possibility of bringing one into the administration would be explored in the future.
Councilman Tom Pirone led the discussion on the possible implementation of the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). While the Council was discussing the program only to bring it to the attention of the public, it could reach the ballot in the fall.
The program rewards unpaid volunteers who have been valuable members of their respective services for over five years, and can be collected once they are separated from the organization. This would give retirement-like benefits to numerous volunteers between the Berkeley Heights Fire Department and the Rescue Squad.
According to Pirone, LOSAP is currently implemented in approximately 3/5 of New Jersey towns, with the majority of those towns having a similar volunteer system to that of Berkeley Heights.
Both councilmen Bob Woodruff and Kevin Hall raised questions concerning that ability of the program to accurately identify those who qualify for the benefit.
“I acknowledge the cause for payment of volunteers,” Woodruff explained, “but I question the individual reporting.” His concern was related to the possible lack of integrity in the reports, which he felt needs to be particularly scrutinized since the program is funded by taxpayer money. Hall echoed this, claiming the sentiment of the program was good, but the practicality of it gave him pause.
Later, the official adoption of the special-permit ordinance introduced in April, allowing the Township to grant these permits for “temporary, non-conforming uses.” Multiple citizens raised questions about the ordinance granting permits for events that the citizens find detrimental, particularly excessively loud events, but the Council assured them that it has full discretion to grant or reject any permit-seeking events.
Other resolutions on the PAL fireworks, payment of vouchers, and granting permission for the Summit Medical Group’s 5K run in October, all passed.
Also announced was the completion of plans for the building of an Embassy Suites hotel near the Connell Corporate Park area, including over 175 rooms and numerous amenities.
The citizen hearing brought about issues of town maintenance, excessive noise level of public events, and the lack of enforcement of garbage pickup regulations.
The meeting also saw the Council recognize the service of Boy Scout Troop 368, who recently gave aid to NBC News correspondent Ann Curry when she injured her ankle on a hike in Harrison State Park, New York.
The Council also withdrew into Executive Session to discuss the contract negotiations and land acquisitions related to Little Flower Church. These talks went on for upwards of 40 minutes.
All of the Council and administration were present for the meeting.