Summit Council Approves Joint Dispatch Center Agreement; Council Goals Draw Some Dissent; Portuondo Ends Term on Governing Body

Credits: TAP Staff

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Common Council on Tuesday placed its stamp of approval on an agreement that will set the parameters for the establishment of a joint emergency dispatch center with New Providence.

The center will be located in the New Providence Municipal Complex.

Councilman Patrick Hurley, chair of the public safety committee on the Summit council, said the agreement is one of the final steps in the establishment of the center, noting that it will make possible selection of a six-member management committee that will include council members from both municipalities and other officials.

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Hurley added he expected to see a schedule sometime next month for the hiring of staff and planning for renovation of the building to be used for the center.

He estimated initial costs for the first year to be about $350,000 for each of the two founding municipalities.

Although the joint operation will enable better “interoperability” of emergency dispatch services for the two communities and “significant savings in capital expenditures” Summit and New Providence would have to make in the absence of the center, Hurley cautioned against speculation that it would bring a great deal of savings in manpower costs.

Summit Councilman Thomas Getzendanner said Tuesday that the new center would relieve the Summit police and fire departments of some supervisory responsibilities over dispatchers and thus result in manpower cost savings. Hurley disputed this assumption.

Getzendanner and Councilman Robert Rubino both called for some type of “initiation fee” for communities that may join in the operation after its initial establishment.

Hurley, although supportive of some type of consideration for the founding members, said he did not want to discourage other communities from joining the founding consortium in the future.

Summit Council President Richard Madden urged the city’s council members to adopt the ordinance and accompanying resolution establishing the center as they were presented on Tuesday, but said the city’s representatives on the management board could refine the details at a later time.

Hurley said he expected the center to be in operation by the end of next year.

In another action, the governing body adopted its goals for 2013 with Getzendanner casting the lone dissenting vote.

The councilman said the goals were too general. He called for enumeration of specific austerity measures such as aiming for a flat tax rate increase, decreasing of the city staff from 201 to 190 and a city-wide revaluation.

However, Dave Bomgaars, the chair of the council’s finance committee, noted that while many on the council agreed with many of Getzendanner’s points the majority had decided not to incorporate them into the governing body’s goals.

He added that many of Getzendanner’s specific points about administration of the city staff probably would be addressed in the 2013 goals of City Administrator Christopher Cotter to be presented later this month.

Hurley did say, however, that he would like to see more specific savings targets and goals for the municipal staff included in future council goals.

On another matter, Cotter presented the council with an “after-action report” on the city emergency management system’s response to Superstorm Sandy and its plan for future disasters.

He noted the report included 38 items with specific responsibilities assigned to each “annex” coordinator to be completed during the first or second quarter of 2013.

The administrator said Getzendanner’s $325,000 initial estimate of the cost of Sandy to the city to be correct, but said additional overtime and other costs that came in later pushed it closer to $350,000, with the final cost possibly running as high as $500,000.

Cotter noted, however, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) probably would reimburse Summit for much of its personnel and equipment costs due to the storm.

He also urged residents to log onto to register their personal claims with the federal agency.

Residents also were urged by Cotter and by Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo to register with Nixle so they could receive updates on storms and other emergencies through the police department and other city agencies.

Cotter added residents could register with Nixle through the Summit Police Department or He also cited the valuable role played by Code Red in alerting residents to weather and other emergencies.

In a related matter, the council voted for establishment of an Emergency Management Task Force to be chaired by Hurley with the current volunteer assistance of resident Henry Bassman.

One of the main missions of the task force, Hurley said, was to help “educate and integrate” the public into risk assessment and enhancement and identification of stakeholders and the city’s vulnerabilities and their response to these.

He added additional volunteers would be sought throughout the city to help the task force move forward in planning not only for weather and other disasters but for other calamities that the might target the city such as terrorism.

The councilman said he expected a report by the task force around July 1 of next year.

On the same topic, Councilman-at-Large Gregory Drummond said, in response to the lack of communication from Jersey Central Power & Light Co. during Sandy, the city should not pay its current $21,000 electric bill.

Madden, replied that, if the council were to take such an action it might be a signal to all of Summit’s residents to withhold payment of their bills, resulting in about a $1 million loss to the company.

He added that he wasn’t sure what the penalty would be for such an action on the part of the city.

Getzendanner said it might be more advisable for the city to take action against the utility in hearings before the Board of Public Utilities.

City Solicitor Joseph Scrivo also said it probably would not be advisable to withhold the payment of one of the city’s bills.

However, Portuondo, citing the lack of implementation and planning on the part of JCP&L during the storm, joined with Drummond in voting against the payment of bills.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last of Portuondo’s current term, since she decided not to seek another term this year after serving three years on the governing body and does not expect to be at the December 18 council session.

Albert Dill, Jr. was elected in November to replace Portuondo.

Drummond, who said he had served with Portuondo on two committees while on the governing body, praised her for her leadership and service. The other council members joined in the praise for the outgoing councilwoman.

On another matter, resident Anton Evers, a member of the Briant Park Conservancy, reported to the council that Union County had agreed to match a $275,000 state grant for a number of improvements planned in the park.

Evers added, however that the group would be seeking further grants and donations to complete the entire park project, including dredging and reconditioning the pond.

He said the cost of the entire project could reach as high as $6 million.

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