Madison Council Ponders Budget Implications for Public Works, Police and Fire Departments

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Public Works Superintendent David Maines describes his department's needs to the Madison Council.   Credits: Liz Keill
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Fire Chief Louie E. DeRosa shares department statistics at Saturday's hearing. Credits: Liz Keill
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Police Chief John Trevena emphasizes lean and efficient practices. Credits: Liz Keill
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MADISON, NJ – In its second budget hearing for 2012, held on Saturday, Feb. 4, the Borough Council heard from the Public Works, Fire and Police Departments.
 
Mayor Robert Conley announced that budget information is available on the city’s website: rosenet.org. Another hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, when revenue and expenditure updates will be discussed and a town hall format will allow public input. A capital budget meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.  Councilman Robert Catalanello suggested postponing a revaluation discussion for a later date.
 
 
An extensive discussion with Superintendent David Maines of Public Works focused on maintenance of turf fields, followed by snow removal overtime, part time help and standby pay.
 
“They’ll take a lot of maintenance,” Maines said of the artificial turf for the Madison Recreation Center fields. He estimates that four hundred to 600 hours would be devoted to cleaning the turf and preparing it before soccer and football season. ”There’s no resting of the fields,” he said. He noted that the turf has not been down a month yet, so he needs more time to supply a full estimate of costs. In addition, grass surrounds the fields, which must be cut. 

 
Councilman Robert Landrigan suggested reaching out to other towns with similar facilities to learn about the number of hours required and cost estimates. Conley said some savings could be seen through user fees and shared services.
 
Road supplies were also an issue, including costs of snow removal overtime, snow plowing and salting last year. Maines said the department has seen a savings with a GPS system that helps track daily work locations and connecting with employees who may be in various parts o the community.  He also said a brine solution is eliminating the need for salt and is lower in cost. 
 
Councilman Donald Links commended Maines and his department for “forward looking thinking.” But Catalanello, who chairs the finance committee, said, “We need to be very strict on this budget. We should sell equipment if it’s not worthwhile.”
 
Maines said the department saved about $90,000 from not outsourcing certain functions and doing away with middlemen. “Our goal is to save money for the borough,” he said. Madison has also seen savings through recycling for both residences and businesses, including reducing tipping fees. Developing a compost area is also in the works, which could generate revenue. He recommended a total cost of $1.3 million for salaries and wages and $265,130 for maintenance and supplies.
 
Resident Judy Honohan suggested purchasing and reselling containers, with wheels, for residents to use and which would be easily recognizable. Assistant Administrator James Burnet said Princeton has started composting food waste, which could be another consideration.
 
Fire Chief Louie E. DeRosa told the council that his department responded to 1,373 calls in 2011.  “It was a record year,” he said. Among the demands were Hurricane Irene, the late October snowstorm and a plane crash on Route 287.   
 
The department operates with full time and volunteer firemen and welcomes additional members. A stipend of $5,000 is in the budget, which is “not randomly given out,” he said. It averages about $300 per volunteer, enough to pay for a uniform and transportation.
 
Some safety precautions, such as smoke detectors, “slip through the cracks for some residents, especially apartment dwellers.  DeRosa said his firefighters will go to individual homes and help with installation. They also track ‘false alarms’ and after three calls to the same location, will charge a fee. He said pagers and dispatches save $800 a year.
 
Discussion centered on responses to Drew University, which account to about 20% of calls.  Conley suggested the matter be covered in an executive session.
 
“You’re doing a fabulous job and have come in under budget,” Council President Jeannie Tsukamoto said. “Salary and operating expenses are almost flat.” Salary and wage estimates are $1,375,881 and other expenses are recommended at $60,500.
 
Police Chief John Trevena provided an overview of that department, consisting of 26 sworn-in officers as well as volunteers and three civilians on staff.  He said they are operating with a ‘bare minimum” after disbanding some units. He observed that Councilman Landrigan was the coordinator for the emergency management team during Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm.
 
Trevena said savings have been seen by electronic scheduling, eliminating paper and printing costs and anticipating the narrow band for the radio system. “We’re becoming leaner and more efficient,” he said. Revenue comes from Municipal Court fees, fire arms and other registrations.  The 2012 proposed budget is almost flat, just over 1%. Wages and overtime are the biggest items, with plans to reduce overtime. “We’re always looking for ideas,” he said.
 
Michael Piano, representing the electric field, said the vision is for safe and reliable electric service. Four part-time meter readers are employed and less is being budgeted for professional services. Although the October snowstorm costs have been paid, “We’re still removing dangerous branches,” he said.  Maintenance for municipal buildings, including plumbing and heating, furniture, janitorial supplies, electrical supplies and hardware tools is recommended at $74,600.

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