Residents need Rec services

Council reiterates its plan to restructure, not to cut department


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  • Photo by Linda Smith Hancharick Interim Administrator Robert Casey and Senior Services Coordinator Gail Kahler address the township council Wednesday night about the services provided by the department. Employees in the department received Rice notices so that the council could discuss restructuring positions.



By the numbers
Seniors participating in programs provided by township
2013
1216 enrolled
391 unduplicated (participated in just one program)
36 counseled in Medicare issues
Jan. through May 2014
636 enrolled
288 unduplicated (participated in just one program)
17 counseled in Medicare issues

Residents love the services offered by the township's Community Services and Recreation Department and they made that clear Wednesday night as they packed the township hall amid fears of big cuts to programs and staff.

Earlier this month, the township council directed the administrator to cut $100,000 for the remainder of the year from the Rec Department with those amounts more than doubled for next year's budget. Senior citizens and families with young adults in the P.R.I.D.E. program were especially vocal about losing access to the services provided. Many employees of the department were there as well, having received Rice notices, allowing the council to discuss job changes.

"It was never the intent to shut down the Recreation Department in the township. No one ever stated we were ending it. It is a restructuring."
Councilwoman Michele Dale

Mayor and council clarify
Due to a death in her family, Mayor Bettina Bieri was not at the last council meeting nor at the budget session when the council decided to make the cuts to the department. She explained Wednesday that she has long supported leaving the Hillcrest Community Center and moving township programs to the Police Athletic League building, which the township owns, and the new library when it is built, in an effort to save money. However, she clarified that she never wanted the programs to be cut.

"At no point did I ever want to eliminate the programs or get rid of the department," said Bieri at the start of the discussion.

Council members, too, said their intention was to analyze the costs and see where the township could save money, not to end the department's existence.

"It was never the intent to shut down the Recreation Department in the township," said Councilwoman Michele Dale. "No one ever stated we were ending it. It is a restructuring."

The council instructed the administration earlier this month to cut $110,000 from the Community Services and Recreation Department budget for the remainder of 2014 in addition to the $75,000 in cuts already made during the budget process.

The township currently leases space at Hillcrest from the West Milford Board of Education for $67,000 each year. A previous long-term contract between the two gave use of the building to the township for $1 per year with the township responsible for maintenance costs.

Senior services explained
Gail Kahler, Senior Services coordinator for the township, spoke to the council and explained what programs and services she provides to seniors. She listed the programs - from art classes to Zumba Gold - and the number of participants. But it is the services she and Patti Gillis provide that seniors most need. They help many seniors muddle through the bureaucracy of Medicare and programs such as PAAD (Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled), HEAP (Home Energy Assistant Program) and SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program), to name just a few.

The PAAD application, Kahler said, is 11 pages long.

Dale asked if any of these services are offered in the county. Kahler said HEAP is run from Totowa; SHIP and PAAD are run through Trenton. Kahler said she requested that a representative from Trenton come to the township to provide assistance but was told it was too far to travel.

Interim Administrator Robert Casey said the county doesn't have the people to do outreach. He did suggest that maybe neighboring towns had similar programs.

Pride in P.R.I.D.E.
West Milford's P.R.I.D.E.. program is a source of pride for many. It is also a vital tool in teaching life skills to many who are developmentally challenged. One mom, Debra DeLucca, said her son, Brian, loves going to the P.R.I.D.E. program.

"He is social and he likes his life," said DeLucca. "He is a very valuable person and he loves going to P.R.I.D.E. "

If she didn't have the program for her 21-year-old son, he would have to go to a program in Clifton or Sparta, which would cost a lot in bussing.

DeLucca praised the staff at P.R.I.D.E., saying they have devoted their lives to these young adults.

"Their existence is valued and celebrated," she said.

Her other son uses many of the other recreational opportunities offered by the township, including the skate park and Bubbling Springs.

"I have never missed an election"

Many senior citizens came out for the meeting too. Richard Wirth spoke on behalf of many. He explained that the township pays for the transportation for trips that the two senior groups in town take. His group, the Golden Jet Setters, hasn't even used all of the funding allotted to them, so the township has benefited from that.

"We don't have a senior building like other towns," he said. "We don't want one."

What they do want are the services provided by the department to the seniors, including those given by Kahler.

"Please help us," he said.
He also noted that he's lived in town for 19 years. "I've never missed a single election."

Costs for programs were "alarming"

The Rec Department also provides programs for kids through adults from outside vendors.

“They (the numbers) were, in fact, alarming,” said Dale about the costs to the taxpayers for the outside programs.

In fact, the township has been subsidizing these programs to the tune of over $200,000 each year.

What do you think? Is restructuring the department the way to go? Should the township look to the county, state and surrounding communities to share the services? Let us know at westmilfordmessenger.com.

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