BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is still working its way through Bridgewater Township, as reported at the most recent meeting of the town council.
Councilman Michael Kirsh reported at the April 16 meeting, which was again held remotely, that there have been more than 250 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Bridgewater.
“We offer our prayers for a speedy return to full health,” he said of those who have become ill.
That number includes at least 25 deaths in the township. (As of April 21, according to the town website, those numbers had jumped to 273 confirmed cases and 30 deaths in total.)
The council offered its prayers for those lost, along with prayers for first responders, health workers and all those who are troubled by current conditions. Options are available, the council said, to aid those who are suffering from depression, what with state orders for citizens to remain at home except to obtain food or medicine.
“These are extraordinary times,” said Kirsh. “It may get worse before it gets better.”
Kirsh also pointed out, as the council’s liaison to the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District, that the school system will continue to use distance learning. Its 11 school buildings, shuttered since mid-March, will remain closed by state order until at least May 15.
“(It’s a semester) no one will soon forget,” said Kirsh.
Meetings for the township’s planning and zoning boards have been canceled through the end of April, while forms for the national 2020 census are still being accepted online, by mail or by phone.
“Some funding decisions for a disaster like this are based on population,” Kirsh said.
He added that, in the past, people would have been dispatched to households that have not responded to census requests, although that is not considered practical in the current climate.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla said he echoed Kirsh’s comments regarding town residents, first responders and municipal staff.
Councilman Timothy Ring said he had participated in a recent Office of Emergency Management meeting, led by Bridgewater Police Sgt. Jamie Edwards, who is now the permanent head of the township’s OEM after previously serving as the interim manager.
“He’s working extremely hard, along with many individuals,” said Ring.
The councilman also offered his thoughts and prayers to all those who have been directly affected by COVID-19.
“Hopefully we’ll see some light at the end of the tunnel,” added Ring. “We will work through this as a community.”
Council President Howard Norgalis spoke of Somerset County putting out food collection boxes, and said that Bridgewater’s municipal building could put out its own boxes to collect donated items.
Norgalis also recognized Bridgewater resident and Holocaust survivor Margit Feldman, who passed away recently at age 90 due to the coronavirus.
“She was an articulate and passionate woman who shared her story to anyone who would listen,” he said.
Pappas, who filled in as Moench’s representative at the meeting that evening, said the first item on his agenda was a letter that had been sent to Gov. Phil Murphy and state legislators. It was about the challenges township governments have faced due to COVID-19, and appreciation for Moench’s leadership.
Also mentioned was a township resolution, authored by Kirsch, that expressed the council’s disappointment regarding the lack of federal funding that has been awarded to the township so far regarding the pandemic.
Bridgewater Township is also working to assist its businesses through the municipality’s Office of Constituent Relations. A questionnaire for small businesses is available on the township website at bridgewaternj.gov.
“We’re encouraging people to avail themselves of (local) businesses,” said Pappas.
Concerning road projects in the township, in light of the ongoing pandemic, Pappas said they are a focus of the municipal administration and the council, as is the pursuit of various engineering firms to assess Bridgewater’s roads. He added that he will review documentation received on that matter and will get back to the council, hopefully within a month’s time, to help move these projects forward.
Kirsh asked Pappas about a traffic study concerning Route 202/206 in Bridgewater, and said he wanted to know if the township will retain control of that study once it is completed. Kirsh also commented that meaningful traffic results are limited now, with less people traveling due to the coronavirus.
Pappas replied that there will be a delay in capturing data, as the fewer number of vehicles traveling along Route 202/206 at present cannot be counted.
“That’s reality,” said Pappas.
Norgalis added that it will be “many months” before life returns to normal.
Several members of the public contacted the council during the meeting. One question posed was about the revenue the township is losing in hotel taxes and the Bridgewater Commons P.I.L.O.T. (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), due to COVID-19 shutting down non-essential businesses.
Norgalis said he will reach out to that caller following the meeting, but painted a somewhat bleak picture.
“With the mall shut down, there’s not a lot (of money) coming out,” said Norgalis.
He added the same is true with local hotels, with people currently not traveling.