MANCHESTER–The following is a transcript of Manchester Mayor Michael Fressola’s annual “State of the Municipality” address.
It is that time of the year and for me it’s the 14th time as your Mayor, I am fulfilling this obligation. With unbelievable nation-wide fiscal conditions our concentration this past year and a half was to focus with a “status quo” mentality. With substantial reductions in state aid and decreases in other revenues, combined with dramatic increases in almost every item of cost to the Township, the thought of achieving any substantial accomplishments appeared unattainable.
Despite all of the stumbling blocks thrown at us, our departments continue to excel and improve to the benefit of our entire Township.
Our Police Department under the extremely capable leadership of Chief Brian J. Klimakowski and an outstanding staff, reported the following:
On October 1, 2012, we completed our on-site evaluation as part of the “Law Enforcement Accreditation” program. Following our on-site, the evaluators made formal recommendation to the Commission that the Division is awarded this prestigious honor. Due to Super Storm Sandy, the Commission meeting has been scheduled for mid-February. We will receive our actual certification at that meeting.
As part of the accreditation program, the Division of Police has developed and/or implemented over 46 new policies which will strengthen the organizational structure and will provide a solid foundation for officers. These policies will also enable the Township to better defend against civil litigation.
The following is just a partial list of outstanding accomplishments of this Department:
- Received a “Best Dressed” award in March 2012
- “DARE” car was awarded 2nd place at the state conference
- In May 2012 completed first “Auxiliary Police Academy” and graduated 6 new auxiliary officers
Above is only part of a long list of the Police Department’s improvements and accomplishments.
Our Municipal Clerks Department led by Sabina Skibo, had a very difficult year with the movement of elections from May to November. “Sandy” hit at election time; electricity went out requiring polling places to be moved, transportation was provided and the Clerk’s office was opened as a polling place for displaced voters and military personnel.
The Clerk and staff have spoken at various club functions and provided service to homebound or hospital bound throughout the year. They have continued to host Regional Day School students to work in the Clerk’s office and enjoy a wonderful working relationship with that school’s staff.
Our Division of Purchasing/Personnel under the very excellent leadership of Maureen Kumitis, I believe, had another successful year. The Division of Purchasing/Personnel is unique to all other divisions within the Township in that this division does not deal with the public at large, but rather interdepartmentally in all areas relating to purchasing and personnel. A significant challenge in this area has been in the development of interdepartmental relationships. Although this is and always will be a continuing issue with promotions, retirements, etc. The greatest challenge seems to have been in effecting changes necessary to remain in compliance with state and federals laws.
Our Personnel Division has continued to streamline the Workers Compensation reporting procedures. They are working with the departments to ensure timely reporting, and are also working with the Safety Committee to reduce the overall injuries by instituting tool box talks and providing the necessary relevant training before injuries occur.
In another area, the Purchasing Division continues to evaluate requisitions to ensure we are purchasing goods and services in compliance with the Local Public Contracts Law, local vendors whenever possible, and always at the most advantageous price.
Our excellent Tax Assessor, Martin Lynch, completed the town-wide reassessment for tax year 2013 in-house at a savings of at least $250,000 compared to the cost of hiring a revaluation company. A plan to conduct annual reassessments will also minimize the cost and any changes to individual property owner’s taxes should be less drastic compared to reassessing less often. The annual reassessment will also greatly reduce property owner’s need to file assessment appeals since the property tax assessments will be more accurate when compared to actual market value.
Diane Lapp, our Chief Financial Officer/Director of Finance, completed another successful year, and has set for her department some outstanding goals for 2013. During the calendar year, they upgraded our time tracking system from TIMETRAK to Visual Computer Solutions Systems Software. The new system was more complicated at first, but delivers a more efficient accounting of time management as well as streamlining payroll processing. The reporting module enables management to create reports based on need rather than being able to access only pre-canned reports.
This is the first year the Chief Financial Officer of Manchester created and submitted the Annual Debt Statement and the Annual Financial Statement to the State of New Jersey. In the past, the auditor has completed these statutory statements.
The Finance Department applied to the State to transition from a State Fiscal Year budget to a Calendar Year budget.
The Revenue Collection Division has been through a year of many changes. The town has gone through a transition from a fiscal year budget to a calendar year budget. The office was required to send out tax bills in a different manner and timeframe. They also were required to hold a second tax sale before the end of 2012. Also, there were over 2,000 tax appeals that needed to be processed and adjusted due to a declining housing market and economy.
There was a new hire for the tax clerk position. And regretfully, the announcement of retirement of the deputy tax collector after 31 years of service.
As of June 30, 2012, our tax collection rate was 98.77%. The Revenue Collection Division is exceptional in their efforts to maintain such a high rate.
The Finance Department goals for 2013 include the following:
- Maintain an audit with zero findings
- Cross train personnel for optimal performance
- Continue to investigate various avenues of investing to promote enhanced revenues for the Township
- ADP Payroll System and Excel training as needed for staff members
- Replace computer software for Billing, Reporting and Accounts Receivable
- Replace computer software for Purchasing and Accounting
- Transition the Western billing to the Revenue Collection Division at Town Hall
- Renovate the Revenue Collection Division to allow more personnel in the office
- Credit card acceptance throughout Town Hall with no additional cost to the Town for such service
- Bid out banking services
I believe we have one of the finest Senior Service organizations in our State led by Brenda Sloan. Manchester Senior Services provided residents 60 years or older with 11,224 units of Information & Assistance, 6,969 units of Benefit Screening and 7,563 units of Transportation within the last year.
Manchester Senior Services can provide you with Information & Assistance on Local, County, State and Federal programs. Some examples are: Adult Day Care, Assisted Living Facilities, Caregivers Resources, Home Delivered Meals, Homemaker Services, Hunger Relief, Long Term Care Facilities, Rebates (Property Tax Relief Programs/ Homestead/ Senior/Veteran/ Disabled Veterans), SHIP (State Health Insurance Program), Veterans Services, PAAD (Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled) and Home Energy Assistance.
When a resident is not sure what programs they may be entitled to, a Benefit Screening is completed by a Senior Services Caseworker to determine what program the resident may be entitled to according to income.
Medical Transportation is provided to doctors or medical facilities located in Whiting, Manchester, Brick, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Silverton, and Toms River. Appointment time with doctor must be between 10:00 a.m. till 10:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. till 1:30 p.m. They provide transportation to residents who are ambulatory/semi-ambulatory/wheelchair-bound.
Our Board of Adjustment reviewed and heard a total of sixteen applications. Seven were totally approved; seven were approved with conditions to be met; one was denied and one was withdrawn, that was the skilled nursing facility which occupied much of the Board’s time.
Our Data Processing Division under the able leadership of Josh Schnoor, had a very successful year. Year 2012 saw many accomplishments, both organizationally and in the realization of new endeavors. Early on, the Division was moved back under control of the Administration. This was proposed as a precursor to moving towards one cohesive Data Processing group for the entire town. It would include all Police technical needs as well as the Administration’s. During the Fall this reorganization was complete and we began to operate as a single unit. Our members are being cross trained on both sides to give us a more robust support group. This was a brilliant move which has been very beneficial to the Township and its employees.
Spring of 2012 saw a new time management program deployed. Police Officer Scheduling System/TIMES was another group effort between Police and Administrative employees. It required importing and tweaking of existing data as well as the implementation of many networking components to ensure proper operation across all satellite locations. This included having high speed internet installed at our Eastern Service Area offices as well as the Western Service Area pump station. Next we set up Virtual Private Network connections at these locations which would allow for the new time clock kiosks to communicate seamlessly with the servers at Town Hall. Implementation was a complete success; Police Officer Scheduling System/TIMES has been running flawlessly ever since.
For the Department of Public Works garage, Data Processing was instrumental in helping to set up a new Work Orders/Inventory Control System. This included adding a WiFi network to the garage to facilitate using handheld barcode scanners to easily manage inventory. This program can be accessed via any web browser connected to the internet.
Lastly, an overhaul of the Township’s website was completed in 2012. The new site is more dynamic, allowing for changes on the fly from any web browser. It allows for Facebook, Twitter and Rich Site Summary feed connectivity. It contains a calendar of upcoming events, a Mayor’s blog section and a host of forms that can be downloaded and filled out online.
Plans for improvement of all systems in 2013 include additional education, and upgrading of systems and equipment.
Our Emergency Management Coordinator, Arthur Abline, provided unbelievable service during the “Sandy” event. This office was being called upon to serve as a Federal Emergency Management Agency Distribution Center by the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management via the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management. While tasked with this endeavor it was challenging in the regards of finding a place to operate, how to staff the facility, where to store the items to be distributed and coming up with hours of operation. After spending a few hours at the County Emergency Operation Center all the logistical items were accomplished and the distribution center was opened the following day. This distribution center operated for sixteen (16) days and it was staffed by volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Teams Team for Manchester, volunteers from the Manchester Township School system and volunteers from the Manchester Township Little League Association. During the course of this operation we were able to distribute heater meals, water, blankets and ice to those residents of Ocean County affected by the storm.
A major problem and concern because of the economy is the inability to acquire and stockpile the necessary equipment for handling a disaster situation without having to rely on someone else for the equipment. Hopefully, we can find a funding source to obtain the items needed for sheltering during an emergency.
Cassandra Colgate, our Recreation Office Manager, completed another successful year. The following is a list of major events:
- The Recreation Department was able to provide exceptional services, programs, camps and opportunities for Manchester residents of all ages at reasonable fees
- We had an overwhelming turnout for our annual Easter Egg Hunt
- We were able to bring back the fantastic firework display at the Independence Day Celebration which kicks off our Concert Fest series
- Concert Fest “2012” – A free concert series featuring diverse, renowned artists on Wednesday evening at Harry Wright Lake in Whiting
- The Recreation Department was able to offer a new program called Marine Science Camp which offered a “hands on, feet wet” marine & environmental education experience
- We continue to offer a variety of trips to local theatres which include bus/lunch and ticket at a reasonable fee for our senior community (but not limited to)
- We brought the community together for another successful evening at Manchester’s Annual Tree Lighting and photo op with Santa
Our Department of Inspections, Planning and Zoning supervised by Mike Martin, joined in to help many people left without homes due to Super Storm Sandy. We worked very diligently with realtors and home owners to inspect and issue hundreds of rental certificates of occupancies to give displaced families a home in the first few weeks in the aftermath of the storm devastation.
With the installation of gas lines throughout the Township by NJ Natural Gas, our department had another record breaking year for permits issued and inspections completed for thousands of gas conversions.
Although we are still seeing some new home construction, once the water allocation issue is resolved we expect to see many new single family homes being constructed in Manchester.
The Planning & Zoning Boards approved such projects as a 519 unit apartment complex, industrial park for Manchester businesses, STS Tire Centers, car wash and a Dunkin Donuts bringing long needed commercial ratables to our community.
Tracy Barcus, our Court Administrator, has good news to report. Our Court finished 2nd out of 33 courts in the County regarding year-end backlog. She, her staff and our Judge deserve our compliments.
Our Department of Public Works and our Utility Department headed by Director Stanziano accomplished a number of important projects of great benefit to our residents. The Township was able to realize a savings of more than $400,000 by operating the water & sewer systems in the Eastern Service Area in-house versus the previously contracted service provided by United Water.
Utilizing funding provided through an NJ Department of Transportation grant, the Department of Public Works was able to pave Colonial Drive from Route 37 to Route 70. In addition to the paving of the roadway, concrete curbs and sidewalks were constructed, which now allow for pedestrian and bicycler traffic from Leisure Village West to the Municipal Complex and the Ocean County Library. Additional aesthetic improvements are slated for the future to include benches, shelters and landscaping.
During the recent hurricane, the Department of Public Works was able to maintain uninterrupted water and sewer services in both the Eastern and Western Service areas. Despite power outages on both sides of town, all wells, lift & pump stations, treatment facilities and monitoring equipment remained fully operational through the use of emergency generators; there was never a loss of service. This was noted at a recent New Jersey Water Association meeting, as Manchester was one of the few, if not the only, municipality in Ocean County to maintain normal services throughout this disaster. The Department of Public Works was able to keep pace with the storm. Working under the most adverse weather conditions, Department of Public Works workers were out in full force removing trees, branches and other debris on Township roadways, to allow for the unimpeded response by the police and fire departments, ambulances and other emergency response personnel.
In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not mention our Business Administrator, Elena Zsoldos. A good many of the accomplishments of this past year and a half were due to her leadership, her encouragement of all employees in establishing a cohesive, innovative overall working environment and her tireless efforts aimed at constantly improving our service to our constituents.