UCCF 4/16/15: 2015 Budget

By John Bury | April 20, 2015

2015-301 Resolution Introducing and Approving the Annual budget of the County of Union fro the Fiscal year 2015
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Official Explanation:
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Citizen Response:
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UCCF 4/16/15: Watchung Stables Privatization

By John Bury | April 19, 2015

2015-295:  Authorizing competitive contracting to procure services for the Operation and management for the Barn and Rings at Watchung Stables in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:11-4.3(a)
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UCCF 4/16/15: Rahway River Park Stadium Full Coverage

By John Bury | April 18, 2015

In anticipation of a lot of questions on the Rahway River Park Stadium project this handout was provided by the county at this freeholder meeting though there remained questions:
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Citizens against the stadium provided this aerial view of the project:
Overhead View (2)

UCCF 4/16/15: Who Asked for Rahway River Park Stadium?

By John Bury | April 17, 2015


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Projects need to move forward, regardless of what the vast majority may want, to keep paying the piper through the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA) and their general counsel DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, LLP (DeCotiis):

  • Galloping Hill Clubhouse: $421,198
  • County Courthouse: $275,286
  • County College Building: $547,115
  • Child Advocacy House: $403,856
  • Juvenile Detention Center: $479,073
  • Linden Library: $448,4536
  • Linden Firehouse: $551,4502
  • Solar Panels:$1,282,985

Those numbers are not the cost of the projects but rather the fees DeCotiis has been paid by the UCIA through March 4, 2015 in connection with those projects.  How do they manage to get so much money?

Since 2009 individual DeCotiis lawyers (all who live outside of Union County) have donated a total of $30,000 per election cycle in equal installments to the campaigns of county Democrats, all who have won. On June 3, 2014 DeCotiis extended this practice with 20 DeCotiis lawyers donating a total of $2,600 ($130 each) to the campaign of Samson D. Steinman for Mayor of Rahway and $10,000 ($500 each) to Miles Mojica Baker & Giacobbi – Rahway Democrats.  All won easily. Now it’s payback time for that money.

UCCF 4/16/15: Juvenile Detention Center Chaos

By John Bury | April 16, 2015

Sixteen hour days, multiple OJIs (On-the-Job-Injuries), short-staffing, and overcrowding at the Union County Juvenile Detention Center were all brought to light tonight:
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The official response:
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Watchung Stables Privatization?

By John Bury | April 16, 2015

On tonight’s agenda:

Resolution 2015-295: Authorizing competitive contracting to procure services for the Operation and management for the Barn and Rings at Watchung Stables in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:11-4.3(a)

This was discussed at the April 9, 2015 agenda setting meeting:
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The obvious questions:

  • Where are the savings to taxpayers coming from if there will be no layoffs?
  • Will the private sector company that will be running the Barn and Rings do it for so much less that their costs will be covered by using that much less hay (or whatever other raw materials it takes to run a Barn and Rings)?
  • What other duties within the county can someone who has been working in a stable easily transition to?

Who’s Malpracticing Here?

By John Bury | April 10, 2015

On March 26,2015 this resolution was passed unanimously:

2015-268: Approving the Medical Malpractice Liability policy for Dr. Raymond Lanza, at Runnells Specialized Hospital, with Princeton Insurance Company, Princeton, New Jersey, for the period of May 1, 2015 through May 1, 2016 in the amount of $13,642.69.

which almost mirrored a resolution passed unanimously on May 8, 2014:

2014-395: Approving the medical malpractice Liability policy for Dr. Raymond Lanza, at Runnells Specialized Hospital with Princeton Insurance Company, Princeton, New Jersey, for the period of May 1, 2014 through May 1, 2015 in the amount of $13,642.69. (This policy represents a decrease of $1,515.52 from last year’s policy).

and led to the obvious question about why the policy premium did not go way down after the nursing home portion of Runnells was privatized and Dr. Lanza only had duties as the medical director of the Cornerstone Psychiatric unit:
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Yet on the application submitted for the 2015 policy Dr. Lanza’s office in Warren is named when asked to list “all locations where you currently will be working for which you are applying for this insurance coverage”:

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and McAulley Hall is listed a facility where Dr. Lanza practices as Medical Director:

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Union/Morris Budget Comparison – 2015

By John Bury | April 10, 2015

Back at nj.com I did comparisons for 2008,  2009 and 2010 of the Union and Morris county budgets and did 2011 and 2013 here.  Both counties serve about 500,000 people though Morris, with a larger land mass and a county library, seems to do it for a lot less. Here is the 2015 update comparing the budget introduced by Morris County this week with no tax increase and the Union County Executive Budget with close to the maximum tax increase allowed by law.

 

OVERVIEW………………….….UNION………………….MORRIS
Total Appropriations…………..492,032,907…………..329,532,416
Less: Surplus…………………..(20,000,000)………….(25,750,000)
Less: State/Fed Revenue……(106,123,268)………….(68,049,350)
Less: County Revenue….……(29,805,751)………….(17,833,310)
Amt. Raised by Taxation……..336,103,888…………..217,899,756

APPROPRIATIONS DETAIL…..UNION………………….MORRIS
Salaries……………………….165,064,152……………106,347,807
Debt Service……………………65,777,365…………….40,192,230
Insurance……………………….70,094,565…………….38,002,578
Social Security…………………11,300,000………………6,953,000
Pensions……………………….27,665,166……………..14,018,143
Other Expenses……………..152,131,659……………124,018,658
TOTAL………………………..492,032,907……………329,532,416

Further comparing 2008 to 2015 we see both budgets going up by about 12% over that period but in the amount to be raised by taxation one county has a blip.

Total Budget…………………….UNION………………….MORRIS
2008……………………………..437,757,959…………..294,298,045
2015……………………………..492,032,907…………..329,532,416
Percentage Change…………….+12.40%…..…….…….+11.97%

Taxes…………………………….UNION………………….MORRIS
2008……………………………..251,657,663…………..193,480,382
2015……………………………..336,103,888…………..217,899,756
Percentage Change…………….+33.56%…..…….…….+12.62%

Note that Morris County also uses their Open Space tax (which they routinely cut) to acquire Open Space. Compare that to Union County which consistently raids their Open Space ‘trust’ fund for their regular budget and plans to continue as long as they can get away with it.

Funny things happened when a judge ordered Union County to submit their Emergency Operation Plan for the court to review – case to be heard April 6th 9 am

By Tina Renna | April 6, 2015

Update: Rescheduled for Wen., April 8th, 9 a.m.

During the April 23, 2014 hearing for Union County Police Lt. Richard Puschel in the matter of his being disciplined for taking home a generator, Andrew Moran, the county’s Public Safety Director, disputed officer Puschel’s claim that Union County had no emergency plan in place and he and other officers were left on their own to safeguard the public and public property.

Even though county owned equipment was destroyed after Hurricane Irene, according to Lt. Puschel the county still had no plan in place to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Moran testified under oath that the county has a countywide emergency operation plan in place and it is located on the county’s X Drive implying that there is no hard copies available.

Does a plan really exist, and who has access to it besides Moran, are questions the UCWA believes the public had a right to know.

After attending this hearing which was opened to the public, I placed an Open Public Records Act request for the plan. I reminded the county “The Record had successfully sued NJ Transit for their Emergency Operation Plan, and in fact NJ Transit now publishes their plan on their public website.” The county refused access. I then filed a law suit with the help of attorney Walter Luers.

During oral arguments held in Union County Superior court on November 21, 2014, Judge Camille M. Kenny ordered Union County counsel, Brian Trelease, to submit for her review the Countywide Emergency Operation Plan. Trelease principally argued that there is a basic plan in place with 16 annexes which deals with all emergency issues and is an internal guide for law enforcement. Also, the entire emergency plan could not be released because the Attorney General had not issued any regulations regarding the disclosure of emergency plans.

Judge Kenny appeared cool towards the County’s argument and observed there is a strong public interested to have access to the county’s plan to deal with emergencies given the fact that Union County residents have suffered through two hurricanes in recent years which had a devastating impact.

Judge Kenny then ordered Union County to produce the plan to the Court for review.

On January 5, 2015 Judge Kenny issued a letter stating she had reviewed the county’s Emergency Operations Plan as submitted to her (although not the compact discs). She wrote in part:

“I am uncertain as to how the County can assert an exemption for the entire contents of the large Redwell (folder) you provided. Indeed, some materials appear to be publically – disseminated brochures; the first “annex” is a resolution adapted by the Freeholders.”

“At this time I am reluctant to turn over the materials without giving the County at least an opportunity to explain their sensitivity. Accordingly, I am directing you to review the materials you submitted to me and reconsider your position as to whether everything in the plan is exempt from OPRA production, or whether at least some parts may be produced without a threat to public safety.”

The County submitted a Vaughn Index to the Court. The Index briefly describes the annexes and attachments of the Emergency Operations Plan and the exemptions from public disclosure. However, it would appear that 31 documents aren’t listed, see next paragraph:

Christopher Scaturo, Director of the Division of Emergency Services for the County Of Union’s Department of Public Safety, certified in part (see the fifth and last page it is entitled “Attachments to Plan Not Available”), and says that the “following documents are unavailable for various reasons; therefore, they are not in the custody of the County of Union.”

Scaturo lists 31 documents by code i.e., BPA-2, etc., and offers no description as to what they might be.

Also, some of the stuff they say is secret can be found on the internet with a simple Google search.

What good is a plan if you don’t have it? Let’s hope Judge Kenney will sort it all out. The matter is scheduled for court Monday, April 6, 2015 at 9 a.m.

If Judge Kenny finds that some of the information in the plan is confidential, she may order that only the truly sensitive information be redacted and that the remaining information be produced.

It’s notable that this task of ensuring the county indeed has an Emergency Plan in place has fallen to the UCWA. During their investigation into the matter of employees taking home generators the Prosecutor’s office never asked for the county’s emergency plan or guidelines on how to deal with a hurricane or how to appropriate emergency equipment. In fact they sought to keep their investigative report secret. The UCWA obtained a copy anyway.

“The misuse of generators by public employees during a time when the public is suffering is offensive and unacceptable,” Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella said in a canned statement at the time.

Yet, the freeholder’s allow this plan sham to go on. Here is who they employee to keep us safe in emergencies:

Andrew Moran County Department Head, Public Safety $118,390

Christopher Scaturo, Director of the Division of Emergency Services, $99,390

Salena Carroll, County Emergency Management Planner, $80,812

Daniel Vaniska, County Police Chief, $140,367

Excerpt from Puschel hearing transcript, cross-examination of Public Safety Director Andrew Moran:
14 Q. You said the County has a countywide emergency
15 operation plan in place, correct?
16 A. Yes.
17 Q. Is that in writing anywhere?
18 A. Yes, it is.
19 Q. Where is it?
20 A. It’s on the — I believe it’s on the X drive,
21 computer drive of the County.
22 Q. And how do you have access to that?
23 A. Through my Union County computer.
24 Q. You didn’t bring a copy of it here with you
25 today, though, did you?
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1 A. No, I didn’t.
2 Q. Did you think it was going to be important here
3 at this hearing?
4 A. Yeah, I did.
5 Q. But you didn’t feel it necessary to bring a copy
6 here?
7 A. No.
8 Q. Does it specifically address the deployment of
9 generators, to your knowledge?
10 A. It addresses the deployment of County resources,
11 not generators specifically.

Tina Renna is a journalist and president of the Union County Watchdog Association. She can be reached at tinarenna@unioncountywatchdog.org.

Juvenile Detention Center may be in a crisis situation – again

By Tina Renna | April 5, 2015

According to a source, who requested anonymity in fear of job retaliation, the Juvenile Detention center is allegedly in a crisis situation due to understaffing caused by the county taking in more inmates from Hudson County which has closed its facility

Officers have been forced to work mandated overtime beginning in November, which escalated in January, they are now exhausted and fearful for their safety as well as the inmates.

From what I’ve heard, the center is mismanaged, understaffed, and there appears to be no leadership for corrections officers to turn to. Employees are fearful to speak out.

It’s shades of Eddie Sinclair Jr. who died at the old detention center on May 10, 2003. The Child Advocate investigated and found that Union County set the stage for Sinclair’s death.

An Open Public Records request shows the following overtime payouts:

October 1, 2014 through December 2014: $174,897
January 2015 through March 2015: $285,029

There is no freeholder liasion assigned to oversee the Juvenile Detention Center or the Jail.