Column as submitted by Toms River Councilman Jeff Carr:
On October 23rd the Council met for the last time before Hurricane Sandy. Little did anyone know what we would be faced with in the weeks to follow. The meeting started, as it usually does, with honoring resolutions and presentations. Vaughn Fortuna was recognized for his achievement of obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout. There were several presentations focusing on Veterans Day including readings by the winning students in the Veterans Day essay contest. Several Police officers received promotions and were recognized along with their families.
Much of the remainder of the meeting involved conducting the general business of the Township. This included typical agenda items such as authorizing the refund of overpayment of taxes, authorizing raffle events and approving various resolutions for accepting and releasing performance guarantees for several projects within the Township. The complete agenda can be viewed on the Township website, www.TomsRiverTownship.com.
Just a few days following this meeting the East Coast was hit by Hurricane Sandy. From that moment on, we would all be tested. Our lives would never be the same. It took the efforts of many people including our Public Works staff, Police Department, and Emergency Management Office to accomplish what was done throughout the storm event. Since this article is to update our citizens on the Council, I will limit my discussions to just that area. However, the efforts of those involved should not go unnoticed.
Since the storm, there has been a hurricane meeting held every morning at Police Headquarters. The focus of this meeting was to coordinate the efforts of all of the departments and organizations involved. Updates from utility companies, the Governor’s office, police, fire, Mayor’s office, as well as many other areas of concern are discussed. Updates are issued as necessary. Due to the Public Open meetings Act, only three council members are able to attend each meeting. Attendance at the meetings is rotated so that every council member is given the opportunity to participate. Minutes of the meetings are circulated daily to keep everyone updated.
The next council meeting following the storm was a light agenda. We felt that it was important to act only on necessary business items and focus the meeting instead on the needs of the Township residents that were severely impacted by the storm. As elected officials is it our responsibility to govern the Township, with the best interest of the citizens always in mind. The Council members are all residents and taxpayers. We have family and friends that live within the Township. Our children are or have gone through the school system. The effects of Hurricane Sandy have impacted our lives as well as those we serve, our family and our friends. Councilman Whittmann suffered minor flood damage and damage to a vehicle from a fallen tree. Councilman Sevastakis lost his house to severe flooding and has relocated his family. My brother is living with me until he can go back to his home on the barrier island. Other Council members and Township staff were impacted as well.
Understanding the impact that the storm had on our community, the meeting began with an update on the storm progress. A presentation of the storm damage assessment was given by the Township Engineer. The Public Works Director updated the public on the efforts being made for the significant volume of trash removal. The Police Chief discussed the access and security measures being implemented on the barrier island. Representatives from FEMA and NJNG were also in attendance to present updates and answer questions from the public.
On Friday, November 16th, Council held an emergency meeting. Two significant resolutions were approved. The first resolution adopted was to approve a special appropriation of $35,000,000 for the recovery efforts of Super Storm Sandy. The emergency appropriation will be provided for in the budgets over the next five years in amount of $7,000,000 annually. The Township anticipates that a significant portion of the expenditures will be reimbursed through insurance claims and FEMA.
The second resolution adopted was to award emergency contracts for FEMA-reimbursed debris removal, a FEMA reimbursement coordinator and FEMA reimbursement monitoring services. The vendors under these contracts are approved by the State of New Jersey and/or the County of Ocean which eliminated the need to go out for bids which would have delayed the process.
As we begin the process of rebuilding and repairing, the Township and Council will be looking for ways to expedite the process and minimize the impact to homeowners and taxpayers. We anticipate that some portions of building permit fees may be waived. The building department will expedite permits and will be open longer hours. Policies are being reviewed and adopted to allow the rebuilding of homes and businesses in kind so as to eliminate the unnecessary burden of the typical review process. While our community, and certainly the barrier island communities, may never be the same, we will rebuild and we will be better. We will be faced with many challenges and tough decisions in the following months to come. We are committed to making the necessary decisions to allow our Township to begin the rebuilding process immediately and lessen the impacts to our residents, our taxpayers, families, friends and businesses. It will take time but, we will survive, we will be better, we will be stronger!
On behalf of the Mayor and Council, we wish you a very joyous holiday season. Don’t forget to visit the Township website for additional information. As always, I would welcome your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ward Councilman Toms River