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Council Confronts Challenges with Deer Removal, Senior Housing Budget

Expect the unexpected: SP Town Council faces lack of solutions for rapidly growing deer problem and an surprise deficit at latest meeting.

Council Confronts Challenges with Deer Removal, Senior Housing Budget

Tuesday’s Scotch Plains Town Council Conference meeting gathered local officials and regional experts to discuss matters of great importance including deer management, leaf removal, and the Senior Housing Corporation budget.

The Council also heard public comment and presentations from Chief Mahoney and Assistant Engineer Joe Timko regarding Sunset Place safety and development. A story on that matter will follow. Council members also engaged in a heated debate regarding a joint municipal study that would examine the implications of a potential Scotch Plains and Fanwood merger. Read more about that particular discussion .

Director of Public Works, Kevin Ward presented an update on the fall leaves and October snow storm clean up. He stated that as of now, all available trucks and vehicles are canvasing the south end of town. He noted that there are “just a handful of streets” left in the area of Raritan Road and that he hopes to be finished with this first round of clean up by early next week.

In response to inquiries regarding the length of time it has taken to clean up Scotch Plains streets in the aftermath of “Snowtober,” Ward stated that “the volume is three times the amount it was last year. That shows how fast we moved through this.” He also noted that he cannot conclude when the DPW will finish the second and last round of fall pickup, but urged residents to leave excess branches on their property for spring pickup.

“We are very proud of our staff. We had very few absentees, added extra ground personnel, and suffered limited mechanical difficulties and limited wear and tear on the vehicles,” Ward stated.

Councilman Bo Vastine spearheaded a discussion on the dangers associated with driving while leaves overflow in the street. The Council will be tackling the subject of leaf removal and safety during a series of special workshops next year.

Michael Michalszyn, who sits on the Board of Scotch Plains’ Senior Housing Corporation was accompanied by the organization’s management company representative, Ken Schaden to present a preliminary report on the corporation’s budget.

Michalszyn shocked the Council by estimating that the Corporation will be carrying a 10,000 dollar deficit for 2011. According to Township Manager Christopher Marion, the deficit for 2010 was close to only 3,100 dollars.

Like her fellow Council members, Mayor Malool stated that “we were led to believe that the deficit was supposed to be in that ballpark” noting that the monthly reports given carried no indication that the deficit was that high.  

Michalszyn stated that starting January 1, rent will increase by 1.5 percent and that this will bring in an additional 13,000 dollars of revenue. When asked by the Council if rent could be raised any higher to cover part of the deficit, Michalszyn stated that rates are established with the needs and capabilities of those who are housed; most are living on a fixed income and cannot pay more. In fact, some residents pay only what they can which is sometimes as low as 200 dollars a month.

He added that uncontrollable events such as vacancies that occur after a resident passes away add strain to the budget. The Corporation will continue to search for grants or third party funding to help ease the burden of a large deficit on the town of Scotch Plains. The Council will vote on this matter in late December.

Dan Bernier, Director of the Division of Parks and Planning for Union County gave a presentation on deer management. Bernier stated that in 2010, the Cranford Rod and Gun Club was used to handle deer removal in the Ashbrook Reservation, but was unable to remove enough deer due to the heavy amounts of snow. This year, nine members of the Oak Ridge Sportsman Association will be handling deer removal.

“According to forest ecology, a healthy forest should have 20 deer per square mile. A damaged forest where vegetation needs to grow and recover should have 5 per square mile. Spotlight counts now suggest that we need to remove 151 deer from the Ashbrook reservation, but our goal is to remove 60 this season.” Bernier explained.

 Council members expressed their concern for residents who are at risk due to deer roaming in residential areas. Bernier stated that it is illegal in the state of New Jersey to hunt within 450 feet of a residence. However, neighbors can arrange to hunt deer in residential areas if neighbors get together to sign a waiver and local laws do not prohibit such action.

Although several council members brought up the possibility of approaching owners of large areas of land on the south side with this intention, the Council still worried that the deer problem in Scotch Plains would go unsolved for another year.

Councilman Glover stated that “for every step forward, we’re taking two back… you could remove eight deer from my backyard on any given day.”

Bernier offered some alternative solutions to warding off deer as to minimize property damage and road accidents.

“Deer have become acclimated to life in suburbia and they like it better, spending more and more time in residential areas. Alternative solutions include using landscaping that does not attract deer,  or chemical deterrents found at gardening center,” he stated.

 In terms of accident reduction, Bernier suggested that Scotch Plains look into purchasing reflectors for roadways noting that grant money can be obtained to cover installation costs, “but they have to be properly installed and maintained like any other public infrastructure.

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