EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ — Calling it a nonpartisan issue that would not involve taxpayer dollars, East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen responded to charges from a local radio station that there was anything political or wasteful about his desire to offer free swim lessons to township residents.
Spurred by the three separate incidents in the township this year that have resulted in the drowning deaths of six people, Cohen is trying to arrange for the availability of swim lessons on a first-come, first-serve basis in East Brunswick for both adults and children.
"We have had a series of unfortunate, tragic events, and I thought maybe we could do something to provide lessons to people who don't have access to swim lessons or the ability to pay for them," Cohen said. "Three people died when a child fell in the water and two adults did not know how to swim. Many adults do not know how to swim or are afraid of the water, Before the end of the summer, we are looking around at other programs and are still investigating the possibility of doing this. We have to figure out the cost and determine what kind of funding we can get so that it is not something taxpayers would have to pick up cost of."
The mayor's goal is to have the lessons in place before the end of this summer.
"We'd like to do something as soon as we can," he said. "We have a pool in town and we have a lot of people who have volunteered to teach classes. A lot of people have even offered to pay for the funding for it."
Cohen said that, regardless of how the lessons end up being funded, they won't be on the taxpayers' dime. On Tuesday, that mayor came under fire by talk radio station Jersey 101.5, whose hosts were criticizing the mayor because they were under the impression he would be using tax dollars to fund the swim lessons.
"I heard 101.5 dissing me for using taxpayer dollars, but the use of taxpayer money, that was never the plan," Cohen said. "We were always going to raise money through volunteer organizations. I think that it was clearly meant with good intentions, and that it might benefit people. To make something political out of this isn't right. I am a physician and I try to take emotion out of it and look at things empirically.
"This is a terribly sensitive issue," the mayor said. "How could you politicize this? I didn't think this was anything that could be taken as anything but a decent attempt to help. How it could this be seen as anything other than what we were saying? Thinking you we are using taxpayer money for this is wrong. That's not our intent."
A 13-year-old drowned in East Brunswick Municipal Pond in January. In June, a family of three, including two adults and an 8-year-old girl, drowned in a backyard pool. Last week, a 4-year-old drowned in another swimming pool tragedy in the township.