Toms River offices have been "inundated" with requests to help residents since Hurricane Sandy struck, and while officials are aware that many are eager to return to their homes, the process must be completed safely.
Departments ranging from the clerk's office, building, engineering and legal have been taxed as residents seek help and officials navigate the recovery process, officials said at the Township Council's meeting Tuesday night.
"We have been — the word is inundated, to be honest — with requests, particularly in the building department. People are rebuilding from the hurricane looking for their old records. Some records are several years old, some are decades old," said Township Clerk Mark Mutter.
"Every department in this township is stressed right now," said Council President Mo Hill. "Every department head is working at 120 percent."
As a way to help ease the burden, the council approved the hiring of a part-time temporary records assistant at $14 per hour with no benefits, Mutter said. The new hire worked at the township as an unpaid intern over the summer.
"The Clerk's Office has been inundated with the access permit program and everything else so we agreed to hire this young lady on a part time basis," Hill said. "She's familiar with the office. She did this last year on an unpaid basis."
Mutter said that the township is trying to help residents as best it can to find the documents they need to get the recovery and rebuilding process going.
"She's there to help us through this crisis," Mutter said.
Hill said that the township is in "full-out recovery mode."
"Which means all hands on deck and then some."
While the council president understands that frustrated residents — some of whom spoke out at the meeting — want access to their homes, officials want to ensure that the recovery and rebuilding process is handled safely.
"We're working expeditiously, and we're doing everything very safe. No one in Toms River has been killed, and to my knowledge there have been no fires because we turned the electricity on too soon," Hill said.
That recovery process includes 42,000 tons of debris removed from damaged Toms River properties, according to Public Works Director Lou Amoruso. Since the council's last meeting at the end of November, $1.5 million in debris removal and trucking costs were paid. At that November meeting, $2.5 million in removal costs were paid, Hill said.
Texas Drive resident George Shuck spoke during the meeting's public comment portion and complimented the police department's efforts following the storm, but said that more officers are needed and funding should be put toward that department.
Hill said that the mayor and business administrator have met with state agencies and are seeking aid from New Jersey to help fund the restaffing of the department.
"We're looking to get up to a full level and full staffing at the police department," he said.