RARITAN, NJ - There were almost as many children as there were adults in attendance at the Raritan Borough Council meeting last week.
All of the kids were with there with their moms, who came to weigh in on whether the town will be running its summer camp again this year.
In the past, the borough ran a 10-week camp, operating from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., from the end of June through August 30 at Frelinghuysen Park and Children’s Pool.
The pool camp for children ages 5 to 10 cost parents $125 per week and the pool/sports camp for children age 5 to 13 was priced at $200 per week. Comparable programs at privately run camps could cost hundreds of dollars more per week, according to an argument made by one of the moms at the meeting.
“I’m a single, working mom,” she told the council. “I can’t afford a private camp.”
Other moms, including resident Kellyann Gallagher, spoke about the quality of the Raritan Borough camps.
“It’s the right fit for our children,” she said. “It had that small-town feel. The counselors were caring and the kids built great connections.”
Resident Kerry Youngman, whose children attended the camp for the past two years said, “my children are really upset. It would be a huge disservice to the people in town not to have a summer camp.”
Raritan successfully ran the camp in 2018 and 2019, giving about 15 to 16 kids per week a place to play, swim and make friends while school was out.
Councilman Pablo Orozco said the camp has been held for at least the past four years, but only the last two were of concern at the last council meeting. In a telephone interview, he said the camp has been a huge success.
"When I was the liaison to the recreation department, I never received even one complaint about camp," he said. "Instead I heard only praise."
Based on that, Orozco said, it was one of his campaign promises to try to expand the camp program.
According to Mayor Zachary Bray, the question about whether to continue the town-run camp began with Andrew Sibilia, the borough’s new recreation director.
Sibilia, a lifelong Raritan resident and former councilman, took on the part-time job on Jan. 5. Father to three children ages 16, 14 and 11, Sibilia was motivated to expand the sports and programs available to Raritan’s youth.
One of his first tasks was to look at what the borough is currently doing, determine how to improve, add or delete programs and verify that everything is being done to code to ensure safety and diminish liability.
“As a former councilman, my focus is on protecting the taxpayers, and liability exposure is a concern,” Sibilia said.
He said that since the information and policies relating to the camp are not on file, he turned to the borough attorney, Bill Robertson, and a risk management expert for advice.
Robertson announced at the council meeting that while very stringent standards have to be meet by privately run camps, municipally-operated camps are not obligated to adhere to them. However, Robertson suggested that it would be beneficial for the town to meet as many of the state administrative code requirements as possible.
“Every effort should be made to be in compliance,” he told the mayor and council.
Just some of the requirements Roberston mentioned were to have an experienced director; run background checks on counselors and staff; have a written emergency plan; have procedures for children requiring medications; have first aid supplies; hire a certified lifeguard at the pool; and have an inclement weather plan.
What was unclear at the council meeting was how many of those policies and procedures are already in place.
Amy Urbanowicz, the camp director for the past two years, was at the meeting, but didn’t directly address the council. Instead, from her seat, she offered minimal information about how the camp operated.
One of the moms in attendance also spoke from her seat saying that it would make sense to sit down with the list of code requirements and determine how many of those items are already in place.
Councilman Paul Giraldi agreed. He asked Roberston to provide a copy of the code to Urbanowicz.
“We need to see what we had and what we need to do,” Giraldi said. “Right now we’re just guessing.”
Orozco said he views the camp as a program put in place to help residents who can't afford private camps.
"Everything we do, even having people walk into a council meeting poses a risk, a liability," he said. "As a governing body, it's our job to weigh the benefits against the risks."
After the meeting, a group of moms met with Urbanowicz and offered to help her write the policies that would be needed to cover the town’s liability and keep the children safe.
There is a lot of work to be done before a final decision on a 2020 camp program is made, but time is running out and a determination could be made at the March 10 council meeting.