BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- By a vote of 3-2 the Township Council passed a resolution authorizing a shared services agreement with Union County. The Feb. 4 vote also assured the employment of Joseph Graziano as the part-time director of the Department of Public Works. Graziano is the head of the DPW for Union County.
Voting against the resolution were council members Gentiana Brahimaj and Manuel Couto. Voting for the resolution were council members Jeanne Kingsley, Alvaro Medeiros, and Susan Poage.
Stephen Yellin, a county employee, abstained.
When it came time to vote, council members gave brief explanations of how and why they were voting.
Brahimaj said she was voting no on the resolution, “because we are still on the fourteenth month of this agreement and it wasn’t until 6:50 p.m. last night that we received a three-page email with some information regarding a path forward as far as what the program is.” There will now be a monthly report, which will include details of when chipping will start, roads will be paved, when the street sweeper will be out there, when potholes will be filled, etc. She said when she was campaigning she received complaints from residents on those topics and more. In addition, Brahimaj said she was concerned no one had checked out other options, including sharing a DPW director with another town for 15 or 20 hours a week, rather than the eight hours a week the township is getting under this agreement. “I don’t feel cutting resources to the residents is acceptable to me.”
Couto said last year he wanted a full-time DPW director -- after speaking to Joe this year, he believes “Joe is a great worker and a great manager” but he still wants someone who can give more time. “Eight hours is not sufficient in my eyes.” He said the township has been blessed with “unseasonably warm weather,” but would vote no because “this temporary solution should have been researched a little bit more.”
Kingsley said while there were growing pains on both sides in 2019, “I think things have been worked through … We are fortunate to have very senior staff in our DPW that know what they are doing and have been here a long time” and that Graziano lives in town “and is very senior.” In addition, in the last five weeks, the council and mayor have worked hard and hashed “out a long term plan where we can take advantage of keeping and promoting our long term senior staff and utilizing and using a county official” who is a resident. She said with the new building going up, the arrangement will have to be looked at again, and “I think we will allow our guys to move forward. I am voting yes.”
Medeiros said for all the reasons Kingsley enumerated he would vote yes. He noted the township is sending one of the DPW employees to a training program to become certified. The course, which takes 18 months, begins on Feb. 24, he said.
Poage said this “shared service with Union County is a win - win for us,” especially since Graziano lives in and is committed to Berkeley Heights. She called a yes vote the “only fiscally responsible decision” for the township.
Yellin, who is a county employee, abstained from voting.
Energy Aggregation Ordinance Tabled
In other business, the council tabled the introduction of an ordinance which would authorize the establishment of a government energy aggregation (GEA) program for the township.
Kingsley was the first to speak against introducing the ordinance. She said “I am not in favor of something that has an opt out clause,” which is difficult and possibly confusing. The ordinance would force people to change their energy contractor without them being aware of it, she said. Letting people in town know of the switch requires a lot of work on speaking the information on the part of the town and will use a lot of its resources, she said. People can opt into the program themselves she said, and voted against introducing the ordinance.
Brahimaj and Couto agreed with Kingsley and said it required more public input.
Medeiros suggested the ordinance be tabled, adding there could be a “better explanation” of the program given.
Yellin made a motion to table to ordinance, it was seconded, and the council unanimously voted to table the ordinance.
If it were adopted, the township would “serve as the lead agency of the GEA Program, and in that capacity … manage the program” including executing an electric distribution company aggregation agreement with the JCP&L and solicit proposals from third party suppliers for the provision of electric generation services for residential customers. This should, in theory, reduce electric rates for all who participate. There is a requirement that a larger portion of the energy purchased be generated by renewable sources than is currently required in the New Jersey Renewable Portfolio Standards.
To learn more about this program, visit the BPU website here