Town Council Candidates: Right Sizing Government (Q#6 from MyVeronaNJ)

Question 6: What is the appropriate staffing level for a town like Verona and what would you do to get us there?
Jack McEvoy:  Verona has gone through many staffing changes over the past two years. A number of employees have recently retired while we’ve seen moderate growth in other departments. The answer to the question is really based within the question itself. The use of the word “appropriate” is key.

Any employment changes must be based upon need as well as an understanding of the contracts we have in place and the statutory laws that guardian those contracts.

When necessary services and appropriate maintenance of departments are lacking, we must revisit the hiring process. However, in circumstances where we are overstaffed or when certain roles have become obsolete or unnecessary, then rehiring for those phased-out roles would be wasteful and unnecessary.

Verona provides its citizens with a number of excellent services. Some come from our workforce directly while others are procured from outside contractors where staffing questions aren’t at issue. We must examine which service would be sensible to offer vs. those we may receive and offer to others via shared service agreements.

Our Department of Public Works has experienced recent attrition due to the retirement of some employees but we’ll need to make sure that the remaining force in place meets demands. DPW oversees the roadways, the recycling center and the leaf dump on Commerce Court among a myriad of other functions.

For some that don’t know, DPW is on call for Verona 24/7. They respond to many emergent needs as well as daily maintenance of our township’s roadway and infrastructural framework. A facet of that department that people don’t readily recognize is that DPW also help with Fire and Police emergency responses by blocking dangerous roadways, moving road and tree debris and responding, in some cases, to residential emergencies. With an aging infrastructure, like our water mains, many of us can attest to DPW actually going into neighbors’ homes to help with flooding and other upsetting disasters like fallen trees on houses or house fires. We need to make sure that their department is properly staffed to ensure they can meet the needs of all of our residents. Regular department assessments will determine whether staffing expansion would be appropriate.

Aging infrastructure of our buildings is also a concern and requires daily attendance to maintenance before the problems become more expensive and expansive. Therefore, regular assessments are also appropriate for the staffing of our Buildings and Grounds Department.

There are other departments that bring revenue to our township. If the situation arose where hiring additional staff would enable us to increase revenue, then there would be no question as to the appropriateness in doing so. Whether those hired are full time or part time employees should be determined by an appraisal of the overall long-term benefits.

In terms of our very capable administrative services, we have seen staff reduction born out of both retirement and technological automation of services. Tax and water bills can conveniently be paid online and new system-wide accounting software has brought further efficiencies to our staff by networking all input into one single database. These advances have appropriately curbed the need for further hiring.

Verona’s Recreation Department has grown recently. Some of this due to consolidation of other departments, where staff has been moved to the Rec. Department and others have been brought in to help with field scheduling and maintenance. This is a department that may need some further inspection and assessment because it encompasses a wide variety of roles. As a Council member, I would want to ensure that efficiency is being properly met in this department.

Under former management and past Councils, Verona’s Police Department was whittled down to 24 officers. New management and the present administration brought that level back up to one that is more consistent with our needs. We now have 30 officers.

Alongside of our property taxes, Verona’s neighborhoods have unduly expressed to me that public safety of our roadways is as equally important an issue. It’s no secret that Verona has traffic, speeding and pedestrian safety issues and we need sensible changes to be implemented as soon as possible. In order to contain our risks and to seek cooperative application of safety practices there may very well be a practical need for us to consider expansion of the Verona Police Department to include an officer to deal directly with these crucial tasks.

Verona currently has a Public Safety Committee comprised of residents who’ve struggled to see their multitude of concerns brought to actionable change. This Committee currently has a Council liaison, a position that I would very much like fill, but should be restructured to also include a Police Officer liaison.

Townships surrounding Verona have formed committees solely for pedestrian safety purposes and each includes a police officer liaison. All of our roadways are interconnected and we are all experiencing the same dangers. It’s time for Verona to become included in and benefit from joining those essential networks.

Management of Verona’s workforce size will be a balancing act based upon the needs of our growing community. And while I’ve been happy to see certain departments work more effectively and efficiently without new hiring, we must always consider the expense, both long-term and short-term vs. the benefits that would be derived for all of us when we consider expansion of our township workforce.