In an effort to be more accessible to working residents who are rebuilding their Sandy-damaged properties, Toms River officials have proposed the creation of a part-time disaster recovery ombudsman position.
The appointee would serve as the public's liaison to state, federal and local government agencies as rebuilding continues, according to the ordinance creating the position introduced by the Township Council this week.
"We have so many homeowners in our township right now who are looking for a go-to person or staff," said council Vice President Maria Maruca. "To create this position for a short period of time to help them through this process is well-needed."
The ombudsman — someone with the necessary construction and recovery experience, the council said — would work four weekdays, mostly after normal business hours and on Saturdays to make it easier for residents to have their questions addressed. As a part-time position, the ombudsman would work no more than 19 and a half hours each week.
In an address at the council's reorganization meeting in early January, Council President George Wittmann said that creating the position was one of his goals for 2013.
"I think the ombudsman position will be a good thing for the town," Wittmann said this week. "It will help relieve some of the burden we have on the building department and the engineering department. At least there will be someone you can go to at night and on Saturdays to ask questions and to try to get your questions answered."
Business Administrator Paul Shives said that compensation for the position likely will end up in the $30-40,000 range. The township would fill the position sometime in March should the ordinance pass on second reading at the Feb. 11 Township Council meeting, as a notice and publication requirement must be met, Shives said.
Ortley Beach resident Pat Lazlo expressed concern to the council that a part-time ombudsman would not be able to handle the amount of reconstruction inquires the township currently is handling. Like some others in the audience, Lazlo has been waiting for days for a phone call to be returned. Taking more time off work is also difficult.
"They should have flex hours in the engineering department, code enforcement," she said. "It's not fair. You need to have more people on."
The ombudsman "has to be flexible," Shives said. "A lot of the time we see the ombudsman coming to you."
"At least they'll be able to record what you want and you can see someone in person and hopefully they can get your information and get back to you with an answer," Wittmann said.
At some point the ombudsman may have office hours in Ortley, either in a trailer or at a township annex planned for the A&P complex, Shives said.
The position will be terminated once administrators feel it is no longer necessary, according to the ordinance.
In December, the township hired a part-time temporary records assistant to help the clerk's office field requests for documents.