The mayor and council unanimously passed a resolution hiring Ptl. Anthony W. Pruchnik, formerly with the Seaside Heights Police Department, as a part-time special police officer position at a rate of $12 per hour. "It's a special town," noted Mayor Lawrence Cuneo following his receiving the oath of service in February with his parents by his side and Chief Reece J. Fisher looking on.
This month, the borough passed a resolution hiring Ptl. Russell Okinsky as a part-time special police officer at the same rate. [A photograph of his taking the oath of service is not available with apologies as we were unaware of the hiring at the time and missed this particular meeting to catch an Ocean Gate meeting at the same time.]
Councilman Matthew Abatemarco supplied the police operations report for January 2015. Totals for the month reflected response calls and reports including 194 motor vehicle stops, 121 administrative calls, 20 alarms sounded, 12 for general weakness, 9 disturbances, 8 domestic issues, 4 erratic drivers, 4 prisoner transports, 4 medi-alerts, 3 prisoners, 2 odor investigations, 2 noise complaints, 2 suspicious person reports, 2 keep the peace calls, 2 hang ups, 2 reports walked into the station, 2 calls for wires down, 2 missing persons calls, 2 calls for CPR in progress, 2 well being checks, 2 special responses, 2 breaking and entering reports, 2 fire alarms, 10 suspicious vehicle calls, and 2 lift assists. Medical-specific responses included 6 overdoses, 5 first aid squad calls, 4 fall victims, 1 stabbing (a laceration to a thumb), 2 bleeding/lacerations, 2 unconscious, 2 respiratory and 2 cerebrovascular accidents (CVA) - strokes.
A professional standards summary report form submitted by the police department for all of 2014 reflected zero complaints filed against the department and its personnel.
Chief Fisher was commended by Mr. Abatemarco for acquiring a $7,560 grant through the New Jersey Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund (DDEF). Via state statute, police departments are "entitled to $95 of the $100 surcharge resulting from a drunk driving conviction in their community," with at least half the grant used "for overtime patrols, checkpoints or court proceedings related to drunk driving enforcement."
As a result of the grant received by Chief Fisher, body cameras would be purchased for all borough police officers.
Chief Fisher reported that field training time for Class II special police officers, two of which were hired by the borough this year, were being increased from two weeks to four to six weeks as he felt the earlier training period to be "insufficient" for them to "get used to the boundaries, the map, the streets and the work ethic."
"Two weeks is where they get a map and a set of keys and are told to drive around," he said. "Those days are over - from a liability perspective we can't do that. We have to turn out a better trained Pine Beach officer. Not a better trained police officer - a better trained Pine Beach officer, and that takes a little more time to do."
Chief Fisher also updated the governing body on department operations since his entrance in January.
"Operationally, everybody's getting along downstairs - from my expeditions around town off shift, they have been more in town, less on the highway, which is what I like to see and which was my request coming in," he reported. "I think more in town, less on highway is going to deter something, as we get to the summer months, where that's going to be a factor."
"The highway will become more of a special enforcement detail for us rather than a routine sitting post," the chief continued, adding that prior incidents involving officers and vehicles injured and damaged by highway stops were not worth the risk. "I think it's more important for residents to see patrol cars riding around town than a quarter mile strip of highway, and so far the officers have been very responsive. The sergeants are working well together and it's real good - all good so far."
The Pine Beach Police Department is now the owner of a U.S. Army Humvee, the common name for military High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV), acquired from nearby Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst by Chief Fisher. Its main purpose in Pine Beach will be to allow improved response in winter storms through its four-wheel drive system when snow becomes too prohibitive for normal roadway vehicles.
Mayor Cuneo reported attending a ceremony at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9503 in Berkeley Township this month where Pine Beach Ptl. Robert King was "selected as an outstanding law enforcement officer... for his actions on Route 9 this summer."
"It was a nice ceremony they had," he said, pointing out that members annually join the borough for Memorial Day services. "It's a good group of people there."
New Pine Beach OEM Organized; Newman Seeks Larger Budget
The Pine Beach Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was organized for 2015, including Kevin D. Simon, coordinator; Keith Brown, deputy coordinator; Lawrence W. Cuneo, mayor; Barry Wieck, council liaison; Stephen Bortko, public works; Robert Wenteler, fire chief; Mary Jane Steib, CFO/business owner; Joseph Hipple, first aid squad representative; Thea Kratochvil, alliance coordinator; Lynn Hargrove, public information officer; Michael Sedlak, water department superintendent. Meeting dates will be April 13th and September 14th at 6:30 pm in borough hall. The purpose of the office is to coordinate emergency response to any borough-wide disaster or hazardous material incident.
During the February 23rd work session meeting, Mr. Newman asked for help from the governing body with understanding the initially budgeted figure for the department, which until this year was under the leadership of now-retired Chief Sgro and the police department, but was now "basically starting all over" as a "separate entity." Chief Financial Officer Mary Jane Steib was not present at the meeting.
"Last month, [Ms. Steib] said that our OEM budget was only $400," reported the councilman, noting that Mr. Simon had produced a report for the new department, listing needed items to get started and continue through 2015. "I have copies of just the food bill done under OEM last year that exceeded $556, I think it was - so my question was why did we already undercut the budget already?"
Borough Clerk Charlene Carney replied that part of the OEM budget was covered by a grant not included as part of the budgeted funds but are reimbursed to the borough.
Mr. Newman stated that many of the requested items for this year included a lot of "one-time costs" of equipment and office supplies necessary to operate on a basic level but that the police department, when it was in charge, already had.
"We need to discuss increasing the budget," he said. "I just think $400 is unreasonable."
Councilman Richard "Ritty" Polhemus agreed, and Mr. Newman added that "even if we gave [Mr. Simon] half this, it's a hell of a lot more than $400."
"Most of it seems to be really uniform related and foul weather related, which I can see where Kevin has nothing right now, so some of those items he would definitely need," said Mr. Polhemus.
"This right here was submitted," continued Mr. Newman, showing a request for paper supplies in late December. "It's now the end of February and we don't have simple paper supplies for OEM, so my question is, who's running the town? This is a problem - it goes right back to last year when I got elected, in the December meeting before I took office in January, I asked for safety gear for our public workers [and] we didn't get the stuff until December of this past year. Why did it take a year to get safety gear? Who's holding up the money or who's holding up the paperwork?"
"Whoever it is should be accountable for it," he said. "This is bullcrap! I don't know why it takes so long to get pens and paper. I've been here over a year [and] some of the things I've seen go on - stuff gets dragged on, gets dragged on, gets dragged on. Some of this stuff is viable, I can understand some of [it] because it's not important, but some of it is important."
"It's just like, I have no idea how this town didn't get caught for as many years that the town's been operating chainsaws and stuff like that from public works that they didn't have safety gear," the councilman continued. "This town is so lucky it didn't get hammered with [Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)] violations! So what else are we doing wrong or what else is being held up that we can be liable for all because somebody doesn't want to pay a bill? I would expect answers in the next meeting why we can't get some of this stuff paid for or provided for."
Ms. Carney answered that Mr. Simon "can also come up here, we have how many things in our closet" for office supplies.
"My point is he submitted it, it's done - he did what he's supposed to do," replied Mr. Newman.
"I know personally I've asked [Ms. Steib] for many, many things," added Councilman Barry Wieck, noting a part of a public works truck borrowed from Toms River that had not been paid back in three months.
"Three months is not acceptable," he said.
Mr. Newman agreed, adding that two months for OEM supplies was "long enough."
At the late March work meeting, Mr. Newman stated that Ms. Steib had a lengthy discussion with him about the ordering process in the time since this meeting and that she "really educated me - we must have spoke a half hour. She told me what's going on."
Fire Company Funds Debated
At the March 23rd work session meeting, Mr. Newman asked that the governing body consider a increase from $1,000 to $2,500 in contributions to the volunteer fire company in order to cover the deductible in the event of damage to equipment, including the fire trucks.
Mayor Cuneo and several council members present questioned the increase, stating that they had recently funded a new vehicle for the chief and are likely still paying off the last fire truck purchased for the company.
"I only bring this up because last year I got information from the company that runs our fundraiser [that is] mailed to every house" that reported $16,000 collected from 288 homes reflected less than half the residents in town supporting the volunteer emergency organization, Mr. Newman said. "That's pretty poor - we all know costs keep going up and up and the fire department's monetary funds are lower and lower."
The councilman, who is a member of the fire company, stated that the money was needed to maintain services, including the two fire trucks and chief's vehicle.
"It is a vital part of our community, to provide safety and well-being of the entire community," he continued, adding he did not want to see the department become "another shared services agreement with Beachwood," as is currently done with the Beachwood First Aid Squad. "If we give a little more to help out and at the same time figure out ways to get the word out to the community, to get more houses to donate - if ever we had to go to a fire district [which requires taxation for its funding], Beachwood and Pine Beach or Beachwood, Ocean Gate and Pine Beach - our taxes would skyrocket."
"I don't think it's a big stretch," the councilman concluded, referring to the increase to cover the insurance deductible.
"I give the fire department all the credit in the world for doing what they do, and I would love to sit here and fund everything - absolutely," replied Mayor Cuneo. "But there is a separation between the fire company and the borough, and there always has been, and there always will be because of the way the two charters are set up - you have to remember that. It's two separate organizations that work together. If they're looking for more money, I understand that times are tough."
Mr. Newman stated he was proposing the increase because of damage received by one of the fire trucks the previous year that required repair.
"We provide funding for the trucks, and they're their trucks - not our trucks," said Mayor Cuneo.
Mr. Newman asked whether he was certain they were not registered to the borough, and Councilman Robert Budesa stated he didn't think they were.
Mr. Polhemus stated that "everybody realizes emergency services - fire, first aid and police - are vitally important for every town. The question is how to find the money to allocate - other towns have different budgets and things of that nature."
Mr. Newman agreed as to the vital service of the fire company, adding, "I think it's money well spent."
Mr. Budesa stated that the fire company was selling some of its property with plans to construct a new building, but that the funds were "not sufficient to do what [they] want to do... which doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling from the perspective of being on council. I don't know what the answer is, it's not like we don't give them a lot of money."
He added that if an assessment could be made in taxes on private properties, he would support it, but that legally they could not do that with how the borough and fire company were currently organized.
Councilman Matthew Abatemarco said he didn't feel a $1,500 increase for what was being asked was "a ton of money."
"To put everything else in perspective, since 2001 we've given them - not including the gas or the [insurance] or anything else - about $515,000," said Ms. Steib.
Mr. Newman requested a printout of those contributions to bring back to the fire company.
"I don't begrudge the fire company anything, but we've got to look at the number," said Mayor Cuneo. "If we put the money in, let's see where the budget comes out."
"Surplus is down - that's what I use to offset expense - and I just got from Charlene a request for $2,600 worth of equipment for beaches, and it doesn't include lifeguards," said Ms. Steib. "Fifteen hundred doesn't sound like a lot, but put enough together... I'll put $1,500 in and come in with the budget and then we'll have to see who's cut."