SOUTH PLAINFIELD - In the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine, South Plainfield officials and employees of the borough are hard at work to assure the town runs smoothly. All departments in Borough Hall are operating in order to meet the needs of residents, however, to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, residents are encouraged to call or email if they need to reach a borough department. If the situation needs further attention, an in-person appointment can be scheduled. The Council Meeting on Monday, April 6 will take place at 7p.m. as scheduled. The public will not be allowed access to the building, however, the meeting will be accessible via Webex.
"Almost three weeks ago, we went to a modified schedule for Borough Hall and the residents are handling it well," said Mayor Matthew Anesh. "Most have become accustomed to the current operating model. Hopefully, it's not for much longer, possibly for another month or so, but I think residents understand. All the departments are available for residents. Even with the limited hours, residents can leave a message, and they will get a call back."
The Clerk's Office is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 8a.m. to 12p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 12p.m. to 4p.m. The Court Office is open for tickets to be paid on Mondays and Fridays from 8a.m. to 12p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays 12p.m. to 4p.m., and Wednesdays from 8a.m. to 4p.m. Residents who need to reach someone in the Tax Office can call and speak with someone or leave a message or email and will receive a prompt response, however, in-person appointments are not available for the Tax Office.
"Every Department is manned," said Glenn Cullen, South Plainfield CFO. "There is a person in every department. We're trying to provide whatever services we can and the residents have been great. We really think that we've been able to deliver what we feel is reasonable while keeping everybody safe. We're trying to keep the staff safe as well as residents."
"Our philosophy from the beginning of the quarantine is we didn't want to officially shut down or close Borough Hall," said Anesh. "We thought it was important that residents have the ability to reach out to myself, Glenn Cullen and our department heads to get answers to questions they have. It's just as important to get the essential services done that can still be accomplished. So that's the model we've been operating under for the last three weeks and that's going to be the model going forward."
The busiest departments at Borough Hall this time of year is the Building and Zoning Departments. Contractors and residents are able to reach the Building Department via phone or email, and by appointment. It is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9a.m. to 1p.m.
"The Building Department is allowing people to get affidavits and Certificates of Occupancy (COs)," said Cullen. "People can drop off plans for the building department or zoning. The Building Department is doing inspections if they don't have to go inside, unless it's a large commercial building where there's enough distance, but a lot of that activity has slowed down."
A lifeline for many seniors is the Senior Center, which has employees available to take phone calls for concerns or to be a friendly voice to connect with. Social Services and Meals on Wheels are continuing to function.
"We're distributing close to 70 meals a day now with Meals on Wheels," said Cullen. "We're leaving meals on people's porches and everyone has been very grateful. When the shut down first started, we actually had a school that donated 500 chocolate milks that would have gone to kids at school if school was in session. We were able to include them in the Meals on Wheels, and they were a big hit."
After much consideration, the decision was made to close the Southside Dog Park and tennis courts at Putnam Park.
"We know that people are suffering from cabin fever, and we also know they have to be safe," said Cullen. "One of the considerations that Mayor Anesh took into account with closing the tennis courts and dog park is that we haven't had the best weather the last couple of weeks. Now that the president has extended things until the end of April and the governor has said he thinks this will go into the middle of May, the concern was raised that if we get an 80 degree day on a Saturday, the dog park is going to be overwhelmed by residents, and they're not going to be able to keep that social distance precaution."
"I think if people are thoughtful and deliberate in what they do, I think we'll be able to navigate through this," said Anesh. "But they've got to be smart in adhering to the guidelines that are not only being put out through us, but through the state, the county and federal government."
The Police Department has been working multiple shifts making sure officers are scheduled in the most optimal way to keep officers safe. Since the public schools are close, they were able to provide cleaning supplies allocated for the buses to the police department to help keep the officers safe.
The Department of Public Works is working in small crews every day and are on hand for emergencies. Recycling has been operating normally to make sure neighborhood recyclables get picked up and employees are following social distancing guidelines.
The borough and the Board of Education have been working to keep the public informed. Anesh and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak have appeared in a series of videos to help boost morale while spreading valuable updates.
"Primarily, we're trying to leverage FaceBook and Twitter to get the information out to the public," said Anesh. "I would remind you if you're not on FaceBook or Twitter, the Borough website has all the videos and updates. The school's have been great. They've been a great partner in this. We've had a great relationship with the Board of Education, but Dr. Lishak has been especially helpful in that manner. She's done a great job trying to raise morale and also get some good information out there."
As the situation progresses, Anesh says they will continue to alert the public to updates. In the meantime, Borough Hall will continue to operate through phone and email contact, and in necessary cases, by appointment.
"We don't foresee the Borough Hall's mode of operation changing until we're fully recovered," said Anesh. "I don't think we're going to get any more restricted than what we're at now. It seems to be working and the residents seem to be okay with it. We haven't heard really any complaints. Most people are understanding and just appreciate that they can still reach the departments and get that essential work done."
Cullen says the financial impact that quarantine has inflicted upon the world has inevitably impacted and will continue to affect South Plainfield.
"We're affected by a lot of things, for example, next week, I'm going to roll over $7.8 million dollars in short term notes so what goes on in the financial markets affect South Plainfield," said Cullen. "Those notes are for a variety of projects, roads and other projects we've done in the past that we're rolling over. So, in addition to what impact this is going to be in our budget, there are operational aspects to take into account from a financial perspective."
Anesh says he is confident South Plainfield will not only survive this challenging time, but will help one another along the way and beyond.
"This is a community like no other," Anesh said. "I may be a little biased since I was born and raised here, but I have witnessed the strength of the schools, the civic organizations, the local government, all facets of the community. We always say this is a close-knit community. We may be 25,000 people, but we act as if it's everybody living on a small street and you know your neighbors and you recognize everybody."
Anesh and Council have kept a close watch over South Plainfield with daily conference calls with state officials as they oversee the needs of the community.
"This is my work from home place," said Anesh. "I've been in Borough Hall from 8:30a.m.-6p.m. for the last three weeks and plan to be here for the rest of April. We are in touch with the county daily either through email or text or phone calls. We have a list of scheduled calls with the county. Also, we've had a number of calls with Pallone's office as well as Senator Booker and Menendez."
"Every afternoon we receive a phone call from the county regarding how many residents have tested positive," said Cullen. "We're told what their age is and now they're telling us whether they're hospitalized or not."
Anesh says that the town has been receptive to the restrictions that have been put in place by the state and county. Businesses have been cooperative in closing or reducing their hours of operation and procedures.
"Our hope would be that even if we start to see some of the numbers of COVID-19 cases trickle down, that people don't relax the social distancing guidelines and the hygiene reminders about washing your hands and not touching your face," said Anesh. "Everyone needs to stick with that until told otherwise. As long as we can keep adherence to the guidelines, I think we'll continue to make sure we flatten the curve along with the state and the rest of the country in a quicker manner."
Anesh says if the set guidelines can continue to be followed, extreme measures like restricting access to the park or other facilities can be avoided.
"We want to make sure that people have the opportunity to enjoy some passive recreation," said Anesh. "We don't want to get to the point where we're telling people they have to be locked into their house and then really clamp down. If people are consistent, and they're thoughtful and really adhering to those guidelines, I think that we'll be in good shape."
South Plainfield's first responders and numerous essential workers have stepped up to help in so many ways. From the health professionals and first responders on the front lines to the grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, mail carriers and so many who operate behind the scenes to keep life sustained.
"The first responders have done an awesome job in navigating us through this, but there are so many folks that are in the healthcare industry like the local doctor's office, nurses, doctors that are our every day," said Anesh. "And really when you look at it today, people that are in other critical positions working in the supermarkets and pharmacies. These are people of all different age groups and walks of life who are providing great service to residents and the greater area as well."
"I'm so proud and happy with the way our residents and employees have handled such a difficult situation," said Cullen. "This is a town that has been through a lot and are always there for one another during the most difficult times."
"It's just amazing how people come together all the time, but when it's needed the most, I think there's no other area that you'll find that has the dedicated volunteers, residents and professionals that we have here in South Plainfield," said Anesh. "That's what makes us special, it's that mix that comes together and everyone just does things for one reason, to make sure that South Plainfield shines and prospers. So we couldn't be prouder of the job the residents have done and really the larger community, everyone who lives here, works here and is part of daily life in South Plainfield. We couldn't be prouder of the job that they've done, and we know that will not going to subside anytime soon."
The South Plainfield Borough website contains all the contact information needed to reach each department of the borough www.southplainfieldnj.com. Residents can also call the main number 908-754-9000, and follow the prompts to reach a specific department. The number for the South Plainfield Senior Center is 908-412-1517.
Since hours of operation are varied for all departments, residents are asked to leave a message if their call goes to voice mail, and they will receive a reply in a timely manner. For convenience, TAPinto South Plainfield has provided a complete list of phone numbers for Borough Departments.
The Council Meeting is scheduled for 7p.m. on Monday, April 6 and can be viewed on Webex. Please click here for detailed instructions about how to access the Council Meeting and how to participate.