Tuesday, March 17, 2020

KPN Memorandum to Mayor and Council Members 2020 March 17

                                 Lawrence Township - Interoffice Memorandum


Mayor and Council Members


Kevin P. Nerwinski, Esq., Municipal Manager


Township Response to Coronavirus Pandemic


March 17, 2020


Kathy Norcia, Municipal Clerk and David Roskos, Municipal Attorney



Please accept this memorandum as an update on the Township’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic as of March 17, 2020 at 12:15 PM.[1]  I provide the date and time to this report since this is a very fluid situation which requires flexibility and modifications to decisions already made.

1.    Municipal operations will be suspended on Thursday and Friday for the next two weeks (except for essential personnel).  As a result, the Municipal Building will be closed to the public and employees will not be allowed entry on these days.  Department heads are working with their staff for at home-work assignments, if possible.   Three days on and two days off may continue until such time as the health crisis dissipates to better provide for the safety of our employees and the visitors they interact with.  This decision was made to reduce the movement and interaction of people within the buildings for an extended period of time, but also provide enough time for us to maintain operations.  Closing down completely is simply not an option at this time. 

During our days of operation at the Municipal Building, we have closed the front entrance and the South entrance from public access.  Access to the building is ONLY through the North Entrance.  We have hired a temporary receptionist and positioned him at a desk so that each person entering the building registers (providing name and contact information). We are doing this to provide us with a record of all persons in our building at any given time should the need arise to contact them if a positive Covid-19 person has been confirmed to be in our building.   We also are making available information on preventative actions to take during this health crisis.  Employee parking is in the South parking lot, and the public parks in the North lot.  The Municipal Building will be locked by 5:00 pm Monday through Wednesday. 

2. The Senior Center is closed except that we will be continuing the Nutrition Program with designated times for meal pick-up.  The information will be posted prominently on the exterior of the building and on all social media outlets and in our Senior Connect that we will make available for pick up and distribution.

3.   Recreational programs have been suspended until further notice.  All fields used by the various sports clubs will be closed until April 14 (with the potential for further delay if required).

4.    Our Health Officer and her staff have been working non-stop during this crisis.  As you know we have two confirmed Covid-19 cases at this time.  These patients will be monitored by our Health department, and I am told they are extremely cooperative with all set protocol.  At this point, there is no need to increase the staffing in this department, but we are prepared to do so if necessary.

5.    Our Chief of Police reports to me throughout the day.  His department and operations are all running normally.  Yesterday, the State of New Jersey acted to designate all Class III Officers to Class II status if the municipality needs additional police presence or is experiencing a more than normal decrease in manpower.  Class II officers have very much all the same power and authority as a police officer.  Funding for engaging Class II officers to serve in our department is available.

6.    Our Director of Emergency Management reports to me throughout the day.  Although there have been some staffing issues, they have been addressed and we are in good shape right now.  The EMTs are performing exceedingly well and our career and volunteer fire fighting departments are ready to provide responses to issues as they arise. 

7.     Our CFO keeps me updated on our municipality’s financial situation.  At this time, there is no immediate adverse impact to our finances due to this crisis.  With the market tanking, we should, however, expect less income on our investments which will affect future budget decisions. 

We received approval from the State of New Jersey to access funding from our Storm Recovery Reserve (formally known as snow removal) to apply to additional costs associated with this crisis.  In addition, we have modified our 2020 budget, and increased the tax from 1.7 cents to 2.0 cents.  This additional monies are designated for use if and when necessary for Coronavirus response.  Should we not use this additional funding, it will be returned to surplus with the ability to use it at as a credit for future budgets.  Introduction of the 2020 Budget will be tonight.

All Coronavirus expenditures will be designated with the Covid-19 coding.  As a result, we will have a record that will form the basis for any application for federal or state relief if and when that opportunity arises.

8.   We have suspended all committee meetings at this time.  We did have a Planning Board meeting last night and there will be a brief Zoning Board meeting tomorrow night.  But my sense is that future meetings will be canceled until further notice.  We must have our council meeting tonight.  The introduction of the 2020 Budget must be done tonight due to the deadline.  I do imagine that State action will cause a rescheduling of the budget process but we are proceeding in compliance with the present regulations.  Although we have a plan to get through this meeting tonight, I will be exploring other options for our next meeting.   The obvious hurdle is ensuring adequate public participation in compliance with OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act).  But we will work through it.

9.   Public Works will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the next two weeks except for essential personnel (i.e., mechanics…to keep all municipal vehicles operational).  Greg W. is working on a plan to meet the services expected by the community, but I believe the services we do provide will be subject to modification for a new normal until the crisis dissipates.

10. The Court is closed for the next 2 weeks as ordered by AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts).  The staff, however, will work as scheduled like other municipal employees.

11.  Tax and Sewer collections.  We are working with our credit card company to temporarily eliminate the service fee for those paying by credit card and, when we receive confirmation of this, we will take the steps necessary to inform the tax payers and promote the use of the credit card option to reduce visits to the office.  The Tax Collector is also looking into extending deadlines for payments to promote people to mail in their payments should the credit card payment not be an option. Authorization for any extension must come from the State. Additionally, we are on the last step of having the bank approve our ACH module to allow tax payers another option to pay without mail or on site payment.

12. Tax Assessors office is modifying its work by working directly with residents and business owners to perform assessment via “virtual assessment” (i.e., pics of areas to be assessed and measurements being provided by the tax payer, etc.) eliminating on site visitation temporarily.

13.  Our Bureau of Vital Statistics (i.e., marriage licensing, etc.) will be engaging in a shared service agreement with another township for continuity of operations should staff be unable to perform duties to the virus.  We are fortunate to have a full time staff member performing this work and a certified back up already, but the State is mandating this shared services plan and, of course, we will comply.

14.  Social media posting continues throughout the day providing important information and updates.  I am continuing to keep residents informed by engaging them on the various community FaceBook pages and through my blog.

15.  I have asked our Municipal Attorney to look into the necessity for our municipality to declare a state of emergency on the local level.  At this point, I do not see a need or justification for it.  Heath, Finance, Public Safety are all in a good state at this time.  He will report back to me on this issue.

16.  I have met with all of the Department Heads on multiple occasions throughout the past week to game plan on expected issues and problems, and to ensure the continuity of operations within their departments.  I have made each Department Head a stakeholder in our municipality’s response to this health crisis, and they have responded with professionalism and commitment.  I also went from department to department to personally address our employees to keep them informed as to our plans, the importance of the work that we do for our community, and our commitment to keep them as safe as we can.  All have responded favorably.  I know this dialogue must continue because this crisis will continue for an extended period of time.  

     I will work from this memo for future updates by highlighting additions to the text. 

[1] Presently implemented actions not prior actions taken.

1 comment:

J Michael Littwin, III said...

I went to the Municipal building on Monday. People were signing in with out leaving a phone number. Hoping this have been addressed.

My Deepest Apologies to Rich and Frankie and their families.

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