Fanwood Council Discusses Shared Court Services

By SUSAN ALACCHI
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

FANWOOD — Mayor Colleen Mahr complimented the Fanwood Department of Public Works (DPW) at Monday’s borough council meeting for its hard work during the storm earlier this week. She asked that residents be patient while doing the “snow dance” of digging themselves out and then having the plow dump snow and block them in.

A moment of silence was held in solidarity with those who have been impacted by Covid-19.

A discussion took place on sharing municipal court services with other municipalities. Borough Administrator Rayna Harris explained that Al Mirabella, Scotch Plains township manager, had sent a letter requesting a study of sharing court with four towns. Those towns would be Fanwood, Scotch Plains, Westfield and Garwood. Mr. Mirabella asked Fanwood to put forth a resolution to become part of the study, with a professional company to analyze the feasibility of doing this.

Mayor Mahr said she feels this would be a good way to save money. Councilwoman Katherine Mitchell mentioned the difference between having a full-time versus part-time municipal court. Councilwoman Erin McElroy Barker said that the Administration and Finance Committee discussed this and that Susan MacMullan, the municipal court judge, is willing to give her insight into the proposal. It was decided that this will be brought up as a resolution at the next meeting.

There also was a discussion of court security. Judge MacMullan has asked for “Covid-friendly” barriers on the dais and for litigators, said Ms. Harris. Court Divisions said sessions will be held in-person “soon,” she said. Mayor Mahr also mentioned that since the council meets in the court chambers, council members need to think about what it will take to create a safe environment for the council to use as well.

Chief Financial Officer Fred Tomkins mentioned that the deputy court administrator retired last year and was not replaced. The current court administrator is due to retire in July. He said the borough needs to have someone trained to take over when the administrator leaves. There is a question as to whether the borough should have a part-time deputy as it has had in the past or if the position should be made full-time.

Next, they discussed the zoning officer, who was hired at eight hours a week. However, he has been working more than 16 hours on average. It was agreed that a resolution must be made to change the zoning officer’s hours.

Councilwoman Patricia Walsh said there is a resolution to make Lieutenant Marc Gottlick in charge of the Fanwood Police Department because of the retirement of Captain Kevin Grimmer effective February 1, 2021. Ms. Harris explained that this must be put in as an ordinance because there is no line item for this position. Councilwoman McElroy Barker pointed out that although the ordinance must go through two readings, the salary can be retroactive.

The council discussed joining the Hunterdon County Education Service Co-op. Mr. Tomkins said there is no cost involved. It is a purchasing co-operative, so there is no reason not to join as it would give Fanwood better pricing.

Another ordinance discussed was the New Jersey Infrastructure Financing for Sanitary Sewer Infrastructure Improvements. Mr. Tomkins explained that the state has an infrastructure bank financing program that allows municipalities to finance things related to sewers. The state finances and underwrites the cost of borrowing the money. Since Fanwood is doing sewer projects, the borough can finance some of the costs through this. It also can help with costs for DPW purchases. Mr. Tomkins said the state picks up half the interest cost so it is an incentive for Fanwood to use this.

The council discussed using a consent agenda at the meetings. Mayor Mahr explained that Fanwood had used it in the past but moved away from it. She pointed out that this format would be a way to streamline the meetings because items already discussed at agenda meetings can be bundled into a consent agenda, reading the title of the item. At that time, a council member can pull an item for further discussion and continue with the consent agenda.

Mayor Mahr also brought up standing committee reports. Going through committee reports “is not necessarily to report out what you will do in two weeks,” Mayor Mahr said, but to share with the council any progress or concerns and to give council members “a heads up on things that are coming our way.”

Councilwoman McElroy Barker asked if the committee reports would be a time to put forth a potential consent item. “Absolutely,” Mayor Mahr said. “I want the council to feel free” to mention “things percolating out within your committees” that may require action.

The council then went into executive session. The next Fanwood Borough Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m.

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