The Pennington Borough Council met on Monday night to discuss public health, property tax deadlines, and a change in leadership for Borough public safety.
The first issue to come before the Council was a presentation by Montgomery Township Public Health Officer Stephanie Carey, who serves as health officer for all three Hopewell Valley municipalities.
Carey indicated that Pennington has approximately 15 positive cases of COVID-19; four residents have died. She noted that those who died were “mostly associated with a long-term care facility” and said that, statewide, long-term care facilities constitute about 40% of COVID deaths.
Carey explained the next tasks for public health officials are identifying all people infected, isolating them, and completing contact tracing. In other words, she said, “we have to find everyone who is sick or potentially sick and everyone they have been in contact with and that’s when quarantining takes place. And those individuals are monitored through their quarantine. And if they get sick, we contact trace them too. That is ultimately how you stop the transmission of this virus.” Carey explained that while this method has been historically common, it has never been attempted at this scale.
She indicated that New Jersey currently has about 100 contact tracers and has the intention to get up to 1,400 contact tracers within the next month. She said that one contact tracer is needed tevery 6,000 residents, and while hiring professionals at this scale may be costly for municipalities, “investing in public health is how you reopen the economy.”
Mayor Lawver then read a Proclamation for William Meytrott on the occasion of his retirement after 22 years as Director of Public Safety. The proclamation details Meytrott’s years of public service – from his service in the marines and many years on the Raritan Township police force, to his time in Pennington and many other accomplishments. Meytrott said he was deeply humbled by the proclamation and has enjoyed his 22 years in Pennington.
Lawver presented another proclamation for front line workers, recognizing the efforts of, firstly, healthcare workers “but beyond that to workers at essential retail establishments, delivery people, gas station workers, postal workers, and others” who he said are “truly are the unsung heroes of this crisis” He concluded by expressing his “sincere gratitude to these heroes.”
The third proclamation of the evening was to recognize that May, 2020 is “Older Americans Month.” Lawver urged residents to recognize older adults as essential and valuable members of our community.
Most Township committees did not meet this month due to the pandemic. However, some items of note include:
Council member Kit Chandler reported that the Economic Development Committee is talking about how local businesses are faring and will be brainstorming with Hopewell Borough and Hopewell Township about how to support all the businesses in the Valley.
Council member Beverly Mills noted that the Pennington Library has a “One Stop Resource Page” that includes which local businesses and restaurants are open, other useful links and information, and a call to the public to archive the community’s experiences with COVID-19.
In a very close vote, the council voted to extend property tax payments until June 1. For background, click here. Lawver emphasized that while the Governor’s order allows municipalities to extend the tax grace period, it did not extend the time frame by which towns must pay the county and school district.
Council member Glen Griffiths said he thought the grace period is not meaningful because if residents are struggling on May 1 they will still be struggling on June 1 and that it puts the Borough in the untenable position of capitalizing the school district and County.
“We just don’t have the money,” he said. “We are the mouse collecting taxes for the elephant.”
Mills, however, said: “for some people, a grace period is still a grace period and it could make a difference.”
The Council vote was split and Lawver broke the tie in favor of extending the grace period saying that he thinks the extension will not have a big impact on Borough finances. “I think we will get 90% [tax collection] by the 11th and the few people who need a little bit of time will have it until June 1,” he concluded.
Doug Pinelli was appointed to serve as Borough Chief of Police, replacing Meytrott as Public Safety Director. Pinelli has been a member of the force for many years. The decision to move from a public safety position to a formal Chief of the Department was the result of ongoing conversations over the past three years as the Council contemplated Meytrott’s eventual retirement, explained Lawver. Having a police department headed by a chief provides greater flexibility and efficiency because the chief is a sworn officer and can perform more duties than an administrative officer, Lawver further explained. He said that an ad hoc committee set qualifications for the job, wrote a job description, interviewed applicants and Pinelli quickly rose to the top.
Lawver further explained that the position is probationary for two years, because it includes a requirement that Pinelli must complete four leadership and police supervision courses. The salary during the probationary period will be $109,000, increasing to $115,000 once Pinelli has completed training.
There was heated discussion about Pinelli’s salary. Council member Charles “Chico” Marciante said: “it is not enough – this guy is protecting the lives of the people in town.” He was informed by other members of the Council that the salary is competitive and that Pinelli had already accepted the offer. After the unanimous vote approving Pinelli’s appointment, Pinelli thanked the Council for the opportunity and said he was looking forward to working with everyone in the Borough.
Several other ordinances were discussed and approved. Highlights included:
An ordinance to extend food establishment licenses for three months was approved. Lawver described it as “one way to assist small businesses”.
An ordinance to phase out the use of single-use plastic bags, which was carried over from the April 6 meeting was approved. The ordinance calls for six months of public education about the environmental effects of single-use plastic bags and a ban starting at the end of that period. It was approved unanimously.
The next Pennington Borough Council meeting is scheduled for June 1 at 7pm.