HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Mayor Doug Tomson said it is not the fault of the township that evening and weekend hours at the township library have been curtailed, blaming a dispute with the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey over sign-in procedures designed to help contact tracers if necessary.
Tomson is also angry that library representatives, including the SCLSNJ administrator, are blaming the limited hours on the township when inquiries are made by patrons.
The SCLSNJ operates a branch of the library system in the Peter J. Biondi Municipal Building at 379 South Branch Road; the SCLSNJ is a tenant of the building, but has balked at complying with a sign-in policy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The building was closed to the public at the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis in March, but municipal employees continued to work in the building and provide services.
On July 6, 2020, the Re-Open Hillsborough Task Force and Township Officials re-opened the building to the public for normal hours of operation, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. One of the many safety measures put in place to protect the public as well as the employees of the building, including those employees of the SCLSNJ-HB is contact tracing.
Every individual who enters the building for any reason is required to sign in at the main entrance. The purpose of this practice is to assist public health officials should there be an exposure that involves any visitors to the building. These practices are in direct response to the ongoing guidance from the Somerset County Freeholders regarding contact tracing as well as that of directives from the Governor’s office, according to Tomson.
During a public health crisis, such as COVID-19, local decision-making regarding matters of public health is under the guidance of the Township Health Officer. While operating under an Emergency Declaration, it is the Office of Emergency Management Director, John Sheridan, in accordance with regulations promulgated and set forth by the State Director of Emergency Management, whom shall be empowered to issue and enforce orders relative and necessary to protect the health, safety and resources of the residents of the municipality, according to the mayor.
During the planning phase for reopening the building to the public, the Reopen Hillsborough Task Force - which included a member from the SCLSNJ-HB - met to discuss necessary safety precautions to be put in place as well as requiring all visitors to sign in to the building.
The SCLSNJ’s legal counsel advised against collecting patron information due to confidentiality concerns. The SCLSNJ then decided it would not provide coverage for the sign-in desk beyond the operating hours of municipal offices, which limited their hours of operation to coincide with those hours of the building, according to Tomson.
Patrons' privacy should be protected. However, there is currently a public health pandemic and cases in New Jersey are on the rise. It is under the Governor’s directive to conduct contact tracing. The goal is to keep patrons safe. It is through the collaboration of the Office of Emergency Management and the Township’s Health Officer, that the safety precautions are implemented at the Municipal Complex, according to the mayor.
“As the pandemic continues to unfold, contact tracing remains to be an important aspect of keeping individuals safe. It is critical that this contact information is gathered at the onset of symptoms, illness or positive test as time is of the essence when this information is needed to be retrieved,” said Hillsborough Township Health Officer Siobhan Spano.
“Unfortunately, the Library System has offered options that would impact public safety and delay contact tracing,” added Tomson.. "Locally, the Township and the Hillsborough Branch of the Library have had and continue to have a tremendously collaborative successful working relationship.
The sign-in policy was instituted to ensure both employees of the building and visitors are safe, according to Tomson. The Health Officer is the single point of contact for contact tracing for the municipality as a whole, including agencies that operate within the Township - including the Library System.
People are dying from this virus. Contact tracing remains a directive from the Governor and the New Jersey Department of Health. It would not be prudent to have Library staff conduct contact tracing, as the Library staff has not been trained in contact tracing and therefore should not be responsible for gathering and analyzing this sensitive information. Tomson said..
“It is imperative that when contacted individuals provide accurate and complete information to our contact tracers so that we can protect all of our residents. This is a fluid situation and things may change as more information is obtained. Be sure to check your email and return calls when necessary,” said Hillsborough Township Health Officer, Siobhan Spano.
“All of this withstanding, the Township remains hopeful that the SCLSNJ will make the necessary accommodations to resume pre-pandemic operational hours soon," Tomson said.
"As I mentioned previously, it is disheartening however, that when individuals contact SCLSNJ to inquire about the hours of the SCLSNJ-HB, they are being told that it is Hillsborough Township who is prohibiting the weekend hours and limiting residents library access, which is totally not the case,” Tomson added.
The township’s attorney and SCLSNJ’s attorney have had conversations in an attempt to resolve this ongoing issue, but that has yet to happen, Tomson said.
Last month, the Township received a letter from a resident expressing her displeasure with the limited hours. In Mayor Tomson’s response the details of the Township’s opening plan were provided as well as contact information for the County Library Administrator, Brian Auger.
This resident then shared Mr. Auger’s response with the Township, in which he pointed blame on the Township for the limited hours.
“The response provided to a resident on behalf of the Library administrator was disrespectful and not a response conducive of a community partner. Hillsborough Township has always been more than willing to accommodate, assist and foster favorable relations with the SCLSNJ, obviously and especially with the Hillsborough Branch.” Tomson responded, adding that the SCLSNJ is misrepresenting the safety precautions put in place by Hillsborough Township to protect municipal employees, SCLSNJ-HB employees and those visitors to the township building.
Should the SCLSNJ comply with the contact tracing requirements currently established, Hillsborough Township would welcome opening the main entrance to the building for extended and weekend hours to accommodate SCLSNJ-HB visitation, according to Tomson.
“We remain hopeful that a resolution will be reached at some point, but in the meantime, the Township felt it necessary to provide the facts of the situation to our residents. And we continue to modify our operations to keep our residents and employees safe and healthy, and while abiding by the directives from Trenton, we would hope and expect that partner agencies would do the same,” Tomson said.
If you receive a call from Hillsborough Township Health Department regarding your activities, please return their call promptly. Your cooperation is extremely important. If you have tested positive or if you receive a call from someone you know who has tested positive, please contact the Hillsborough Township Health Department immediately at 908-369-5652, Monday through Friday 8 am until 4:30 pm, or email during non-business hours to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you test positive, you can be contagious even if you do not have any symptoms. Just as a reminder, all positive tests need to be reported to the Health Department. Coronavirus Resources and Information CDC Information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html Local Information: https://hillsborough.311.town/