Council reviews proposed police and fire spending

RS-police and fire shieldsDeputy Fire Chief Daniel Schaffener told the Township Council the federal SAFER grant now paying the salaries of four Robbinsville career firefighters, which had been due to expire this month, now has been extended until Nov. 16.

The proposed fire budget provides the $23,153 in municipal funds needed to cover the salaries of these four firefighters for the time period between Nov. 16 and Dec. 31 when there are no federal funds left, Schaffener said.

Overall, the Division of Fire’s proposed 2013 budget of $1,842,415 is down about $34,000 from current spending levels, Schaffener said, and the department continues to hold the line on firefighter overtime, which had been a problem in prior years.

“The SAFER grant actually does keep that (overtime) budget down,” Schaffener told the council on March 14. “Basically our minimum staffing is three, and with the SAFER grant we can staff at four so when any one person is off on a shift we can drop down to three and not incur any overtime.”
The National Fire Protection Association recommends at least four firefighters be on a responding engine, and the SAFER grant enables the Robbinsville Division of Fire to meet that standard except on days a shift is short-staffed because someone is out.

Mayor Dave Fried said it is his goal to keep the four new firefighters on staff in 2014 even though the federal funds that have been paying their salaries will no longer be available.

During a separate review of the Police Department’s proposed $2,904,102 total budget, which is 2.9 percent higher than the current year, Council President Ron Witt asked Chief Marty Masseroni about a “trend” of declining revenues from traffic summons. Specific dollar amounts were not mentioned, and the draft budget documents that council members are working from have not been released to the public because the budget has not yet been formally introduced.

Masseroni and Lt. Michael Polaski said the revenue decline is caused in part by the fact that the department is short three officers due to two medical leaves and another personnel issue. The 24 police officers left are spread thin responding to emergency calls and crimes, leaving less time for issuing traffic summons.

“All of those arrests, those crashes (require) two officers at a time (and) with one shift, (there’s) only three or four guys on the road, so we’re doing the best that we can, but there’s no simple answer,” Polaski said.

The Police Department is planning to replace some older model weapons and three cars this year, and it also faces higher costs for ammunition, Masseroni said.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has purchased 1.3 billion rounds of ammunition recently, which has made ammunition scarce and more expensive for police departments to purchase, Masseroni said.

In a separate action taken at the March 14 council meeting, the governing body voted to approve a memorandum of agreement with Local 344 of the Robbinsville Superior Officers Association (SOA), which provides 2 percent raises annually for each year of a three-year pact. The contract, which covers seven ranking police officers, will expire Dec. 31, 2015.

The SOA contract, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, will save the township money in health benefit costs because it establishes a $300 co-pay for hospital admissions and a $100 co-pay for outpatient stays, according to Business Administrator Joy Tozzi. Another concession is that new hires will have to pay 35 percent of the cost of their health benefits when they retire, she said.

The costs associated with the raises in the SOA contract were already factored into the Police Department’s budget request and mirror the increases provided for patrolmen in the four-year pact reached with PBA Local 344 last summer, Tozzi said after the meeting. Two percent raises are also being given in 2013 to the career firefighters in Local 3786 of the International Association of Firefighters and the public works employees in Teamsters Local 35. New multi-year contracts with those two unions were reached in early 2012.










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