By Chris Concannon
Gloucester City News
Recent layoff notices issued by Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek to all Borough employees was the subject of an animated Council Meeting January 31.
Filipek was adamant about certain elements of these layoffs, in stating that he and members of Council are going to do everything they can to avoid them as they did last year.
The Mayor went on to say that with regard to the municipal budget, the Police Department actually comprises 42 percent of the total annual budget.
A previously-published Gloucester City News article listed that figure at 50 percent.
Filipek also said he met with all department heads, as well as Municipal Judge Nicholas Trabosh, about the layoffs, adding that some of the longer-tenured staff have already agreed not to take pay raises this year.
Filipek reiterated prior remarks about staying under a state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, but cautioned that they will not know how Bellmawr’s taxes will be affected until Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) issues new budget numbers in March.
Bellmawr lost more than $275,000 in aid last year, and the consensus among the governing body is that it may happen again.
Under committees, Councilman John Bollinger commented on the recent arrest of a 24-year-old male, who was charged with trying to meet with a local 13 year-old female.
Councilman Jim D’An-gelo said Public Works has been out eight times so far for snow removal, adding they have reached the $40,000 mark for salt and sand supplies.
Councilman Lou Di Angelo remarked on a recent $33,000 dividend check the Borough received, saying it will help ease their coffers brought on by the recent speight of snow and ice storms.
Filipek said the municipal insurance is still going up by 5 percent.
The mayor also commented on the condition of Borough Solicitor Robert Messick, saying that Mr. Messick had not suffered a stroke, and that he is recovering well.
The public forum got interesting when a number of residents approached the Borough Council to express their concerns.
Resident Frank Esposito is dead-set against a county-based police department, and said, “You can’t put a price on public safety.”
The Mayor went on record by saying that he is publicly against the countywide police and fire departments, currently in the planning stages.
The proposal was initiated by the Camden County Board of Freeholders, and, although municipalities are not mandated to sign on, several mayors have already come out in support of the measure.
Filipek also noted that he has not signed anything in terms of intent. It bears noting that Council members concur with the Mayor’s opposition.
Resident Kathleen Ryan also commented on the potential layoffs, expressing her wishes to Mayor and Council in an impassioned statement. Her father recently fell victim to county layoffs issued by the Freeholders.
Ryan said the community is overtaxed, and that Bellmawr’s youth will grow out of control without being watched over if any police officers are laid off.
The Mayor assured her that no Borough services will be affected if the layoffs become a reality.
Resident Donald Bowers questioned the purchase of a new street sweeper (Resolution #01:50-11), along with other layoff-related issues.
DiAngelo said the existing vehicle is 17 years old.
D’Angelo said other older Borough equipment is being replaced, as it was cost-prohibitive to continue to maintain aging equipment.
A lengthy discussion followed between Mr. Bowers and the Council about police salaries and other Borough issues.
Resident Chris Cummings then took his turn at the microphone. He is the President of PBA Local 375, which represents Bellmawr police officers.
He said that communication has to begin again in terms of contract negotiations with the Borough, adding he wants to be involved if layoffs become an issue.
Mayor Filipek responded by saying that he is not sure what the Governor is going to cut.
Resident Donna Britz commented on Borough taxes, noting her mother cannot afford to live in town.
Filipek stated that taxes are supposed to be frozen for senior citizens.
Steve Magpiong, a Bellmawr resident and educator in the Voorhees School District, asked if the budget could be opened to the public.
It was clearly stated that the budget is already a matter of public record.
The Mayor said that the Bellmawr Senior Citizens as a group were to give back their portion of budget monies.
He also said that for each Bellmawr budget dollar, 50 cents goes to the Board of Education (BOE), 26 cents goes to pay Borough taxes, and 24 cents goes toward paying county taxes.
Councilman Bollinger added that all residents pay the same in taxes.
In other business, Filipek commented on the leveling of the old gas station at Browning Road and Black Horse Pike, adding the former IGA site is set to come down any time.
Robert Swanson, attending the meeting as a resident (he is also a sergeant with the Bellmawr Police Department), asked what was to be done with the old fuel tanks at the former gas station.
He was informed by Council that they would not be a problem.
All agenda business was unanimously approved, with the following of note:
Resolution #01:49-11, which authorizes the purchase of a new refuse packer, in a shared services venture with Mt. Ephraim Borough.
Resolution #01:50-11, which authorizes the purchase of the new street sweeper mentioned earlier in the meeting.
Resolution #01:51-11, authorizing an agreement between the State DOT and Bellmawr for police traffic control at the Black Horse Pike and Benigno Boulevard.
An additional resolution, #1:52-11 was added to the agenda, regarding shared services agreement records management.
The next Bellmawr Council meeting will be Thursday, February 24.
For information, contact Bellmawr Borough Hall at (856) 933-1313, or on the web at bellmawr.com.