RARITAN, NJ - The effects of Covid-19 on all aspects of life – from street design to summer camp - took center stage during the Raritan council meeting this week.
The issue of a 2020 summer camp was laid to rest without a council vote. Through discussion, it was obvious that time had run out for camp this year.
Mayor Zachary Bray introduced the topic, noting that the camp decision had been held over from the last meeting in the hope that there would be some guidance coming from the state.
“Here we are two weeks later and it doesn’t seem like there is too much changing,” he said.
Councilman Pablo Orozco questioned whether the recreation director had been conducting interviews for camp staff.
“I know it’s a long process, so if he hasn’t begun then I guess the decision has been made,” he said.
Bray confirmed that there was been discussions with last year’s camp staffers about returning this summer. However, he noted that the lifeguards had not been fingerprinted or background checked in previous years.
Now with the new safety procedures in place, that has become a part of the process. Bray said regarding the fingerprinting and background check process, “there’s a whole backlog of problems.”
Raritan isn’t the only municipality struggling with this decision. Administrator Dan Jaxel explained that he is on twice-a-week county teleconferences.
“A lot of towns are sharing what they’re doing and they’re kind of holding their breaths with the camps and pools,” he said. “They want some guidance from the state. They don’t want to go full throttle and then find out the governor is not allowing them to open until a later or unrealistic date.’’
Bray was skeptical about whether that would happen.
“It’s important for us to be proactive,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll get guidance from the state in a reasonable amount of time. Ultimately, it’s our decision.”
And so, recognizing that it would likely be impossible to open the camp this year – even if at some point the governor allows for that to happen – the council did move forward with plans for how to get ahead of the procedural curve for the next year.
Attorney Bill Robertson applauded the policies and procedures handbook some borough residents took it upon themselves to write.
“It is extremely well-done and well thought out,” he said.
The structure of the manual covered most of the details about general staffing, facilities and safety measures, although he did advise that it would be premature for the council to adopt the document now. It needs details added about the camp director, Robertson said, in terms of necessary qualifications and employment dates and status.
The attorney also suggested the handbook be sent to the borough’s risk manager for review.
Councilman Michael Patente suggested that the camp director should be hired at least a month before camp begins. The mayor suggested targeting an employment term of April 1 through Aug. 31 for a camp director next year.
Turning their attention to a decision about opening the two borough pools, councilman Paul Giraldi said, “The chance for the camp [to open] may be zero, but maybe the pools could open by August. It’s started to loosen up so we might be able to get a month in with the pool open and do something for the kids.”
Again, the hiring and certifying of lifeguards could be an issue, however the physical pools could be opened up in a day, said Jaxel. The water at the curb has been turned on in anticipation of filling the pools.
It was also that decided the DPW would begin painting and doing maintenance work on the pools and assessing repairs on park equipment.
Resident Carrieann Youngman said she was happy that the pool option is still open and that the cleanup work will be done.
“The pool might be all our children have to look forward to this summer,” she said.
Also on the recreation front, the council unanimously passed a resolution allowing for the refund of baseball registration fees since the season has been cancelled.
Borough engineer Stan Shrek said there is additional thought going into a Transportation Planning Authority grant for the downtown since the pandemic struck.
After a meeting about the emergence centers grant, he said, “It’s interesting how thoughts are changing because of Covid-19. There was an immediate discussion on how the downtown’s been affected, like things we can maybe do for restaurants that have curbside pickup. It’s not really something you would do with a long-term planning grant, but when you start thinking about how the world may be changing with more people staying home and possibly less commuting, maybe there would be more utilization of the downtown during the daytime. I thought that it was compelling and interesting that two months ago we were scrambling trying to find more parking spaces and today they’re talking about maybe making some open space out of the parking spaces we have.”
When the discussion turned to reopening borough hall, the council agreed that while it would be possible to open the building for employees, it was not yet at a point where the public would be allowed to enter. The mayor explained that employees are mostly working from home, but are visiting the building as necessary.
Jaxel noted that many residents are communicating via email and that when he is in the building, he answers phone calls.
Both Jaxel and borough clerk Eric Colvin assured the council that things are not “falling through the cracks,” and that employees are working very hard to be sure everything is getting done.
“From where I’m seeing it, we can keep things as they are,” Jaxel said.
The governing body agreed that risking anyone’s health at this point is unnecessary, and decided to allow municipal employees to continue their current work schedule.
Bray said he expects the governor’s stay at home order to be lifted some time in mid-June and at that point they would need a week or two to prepare for a public opening.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Adele Getz confirmed, “Raritan hasn’t missed a beat, the town is working well.”
Finally, the mayor announced that a banner recognizing front line workers will be put up across the main street.
He also urged residents to put out signs and decorate their homes in recognition of the 2020 graduating class.