Berkeley Heights Council Discusses Snow Ordinance Enforcement

January 23, 2013 at 7:11 AM

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – A new snow ordinance and a salary ordinance for this fiscal year were the primary topics of discussion at the Tuesday, Jan. 22 Township Council meeting.

The snow ordinance provides for police to determine if cars should be towed from streets when they present a problem for plowing and salting. Its main purpose is to ensure safety, but four members of the public felt it to be too ambiguous in determining how much snow, sleet, hail, ice or freezing rain would be too much for a car to remain parked on one of the public streets.

The ordinance does not specify an amount. It states, “Snow (which also includes the other precipitation) accumulation means whenever snow has fallen and the accumulation is such that it covers the streets or highways of the Township of Berkeley Heights.” Just how much will be up to police to determine. The ordinance provides residents with one hour after the existence of any “accumulation” to remove their cars.

Police Chief Michael Mathis said last year, when the ordinance came up for the first time, that police would knock on doors to request residents to remove their cars before ticketing or towing, and he repeated the same pledge on Jan. 22. He explained that because something is at police discretion does not mean the officers will always be strict.

Councilman Edward Delia brought up two analogies. “Police use discretion on every law they have,” he said. Then asked the public to consider police discretion when it comes to ticketing for speeding or careless driving, which he said are not strictly enforced but left to the officer to decide.

The other primary concern was the inclusion of a provision for jail time if the ordinance is disobeyed.

According to the ordinance, “Every person convicted of a violation… shall be subject to a penalty of not more than $50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 days, or both, in addition to the costs associated with the removal and storage of the vehicle…”

Mathis said that punishment is up to the judge, not his department, but there are many laws that provide for jail time, including illegally parking, where jail has not been chosen as the appropriate punishment. He noted if someone is a regular offender, then perhaps the judge might elect that option to make a point.

The ordinance was successfully introduced, with Councilman Thomas Pirone voting “no.” The public hearing and adoption is scheduled for the Tuesday, Feb. 5 meeting.

Pirone said, “It poses problems for people leaving town for a few hours… It poses an undue burden on residents and businesses.” He noted his daughter’s birthday is in January. If snow were to arrive during her birthday party, he said cars would not be removed from the street and “nobody would be leaving” the party.

The salary ordinance was discussed at length, largely because the majority of the council was concerned that a two percent raise would disenfranchise employees who are not union members. The union contract stipulates a three percent raise, but the contract is in its last year. The ordinance does not cover union members.

Councilman Craig Pastore explained this is a budget issue, not a union issue, and the council must stick to a two percent cap overall to remain within the two percent increase in the budget allowed by state law.

The salary ordinance is a range. Pastore said the maximum of the ranges provided for are all within the two percent cap in the ordinance he has drafted, and would allow even three percent with the exception of one person, who is already earning over the maximum established. He said he adjusted that maximum to allow for a three percent raise. Although the ordinance is for people who are not members of a union, council members wanted to be “fair.”

Township Administrator Amey Upchurch said there are 19 employees not covered by a union contract. Of those, 10 are paid by the library, which has already granted three percent, and the Recreation Commission. Nine employees would be covered by the salary ordinance.

Pastore’s version will be introduced at the next council meeting.

Along the same line, the council voted unanimously to hire an assistant director of public works for a salary of between $55,000 and $65,000. The department has been short of people for quite some time. This position is already included in the salary ordinance and has a job description. It will not be a union job.

Upchurch said the new assistant would help DPW Director Robert Bocchino, “offload” some projects from his duty list and relieve him of recycling responsibilities.

Bocchino asked the council to add two part-time inspectors, one for plumbing and one for building. He said the positions have been vacant for some time. The township has been advertising for part-timers for $25 per hour but no responses have been received.

There is currently a third party doing these inspections. That company receives 100 percent of the fee charged and the township adds on an additional 15 percent to cover its expenses for the inspections, Mayor Joseph Bruno said.

Upchurch said the salary survey she did in preparation for the ordinance indicates hourly subcode officials make an average of $41.88 per hour. These people are classified as part-time professionals.

Pastore said he feels the range should be between $20-$40 per hour if the person is licensed. The council agreed that Bocchino could start looking, applying that range.

Council President Kevin Hall said, “It’s also logical that people be put on the clock.”

All members of the council are in favor of that, for everyone. Both hourly and salaried employees will be punching a clock as soon as one is purchased.

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