The first municipal capital budget meeting for 2017 was held on March 30th with a large budgeted expenditure going to a new radio system for the borough’s emergency services at a projected cost of $700,000. The three (3) departments that presented their capital budgets were the Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD), the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and the Department of Public Works (DPW).
The capital budget addresses long-term projects that include infrastructure improvements & repairs to streets or buildings, grants, and funding for items requested by departments or other municipal entities.
The meeting had Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey taking part via telephone. Mayor Carl Hokanson was absent due to a previously scheduled political fundraiser. The mayor was not present when the budget workshop was scheduled and approved by council.
The police department had only one item on its budget request titled “Replacement Emergency Communication Radio System for Police, Fire, First Aid, OEM, and DPW.”
RPPD Police Chief Paul Morrison explained the budget item, stating, “The radio replacement, as you can see, is a very large item. It’s the biggest item I’ve had since I’ve been police chief here. However, it’s a very crucial item. The situation has been thrown upon us in the past two years. The county went into negotiations with the State of New Jersey concerning radio towers . . . They struck a deal with Motorola for bringing in a 700MHz radio system which is far and above the radio [channels] that we have currently. The County instituted this without negotiations with any other agencies at the time.”
Chief Morrison described that since then, eight police departments have adopted the new system. Those departments are:
- Elizabeth Police Department
- Linden Police Department
- Rahway Police Department
- Roselle Police Department
- Scotch Plains Police Department
- Union County Sheriff’s Department
- Union Township Police Department
- Westfield Police Department
“Those departments now, as a result, are no use to us nor are we any use to them,” said Police Chief Morrison, “We can no longer communicate with them. It’s a public safety issue to this entire community as well as every one of my officers.”
He used two recent incidents as examples of the need for communication between departments. The first was the explosive device that was left at the Elizabeth train station. The second was the shoot out and subsequent apprehension of Ahmad Khan Rahami, the explosive suspect. In the first instance, RPPD was called in as mutual aid but could not communicate with any of the agencies on-site. IN the second instance, RPPD entered the area where the suspect was located without knowing the status of the apprehension or if he was still at large.
“Unfortunately, if we don’t get this radio system, Roselle Park will be on an island, continued Chief Morrison, “The three towns we use most for mutual aid are Elizabeth, Roselle, and Union . . . We call them, they’re here in an instant to help us with our community. We can no longer do that. If we call their dispatch on the phone they can respond here but once they’re here, my officers can’t communicate with them. It’s certainly a major public safety issue that we’ve been thrown into. The radios are absolutely crucial for the public safety of the town as well as the safety of the officers on the street.”
The current radio system used by the police is no longer maintained by Motorola – according to the police chief – and the maintenance on it is good for another year and a half. The repeater itself is 20 years old.
RPPD worked to have the system upgrade to include the other emergency services since, in the future, that radio equipment will also need to be updated. The County will be offering a match-for-match for the fire department and EMS radio purchases but not for the police department. Radios were quoted at $6,500 a piece.
When council asked for input, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kenneth Blum replied, “As much as I hate to spend money, you have more of a public safety need and issue between your Police, Fire, and EMS as it is risking their lives every day . . . Out of the five we’re surrounded [by], three of them are already there and those are the three main ones that provide us mutual aid.”
Understanding both the cost as well as the need, council approved the police department budget for 2017. The requests originally slated for this year were pushed back to next year.
In order to minimize the impact to taxes, the police department proposed that OEM would forego it 2017 requests. The $55,000 budget for two (2) generator light towers and a cellular solar-powered message sign board were put off for another year.
The only request from the DPW for 2017 was for a new street sweeper for $255,000. DPW Superintendent Mark Pasquale, after his presentation to council, proposed an idea to have him supervise the construction of the proposed new DPW building.
In total, the two expenditures equaled $955,000.
The next capital budget workshop is set for Thursday, April 13th, at 6:30 p.m. in the second-floor conference room of the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.
The departments scheduled to present their budgets include the Roselle Park Fire Department, the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library, and buildings & ground.
The workshop is open to the public and those in attendance will be able to hear from department heads directly and also give suggestions, provide input, and ask questions.