BRICK – 2016 was a year when there were new names in the top leadership of the township, including a new police chief, a new interim superintendent of schools and a new township business administrator.
It was the year James Riccio took the reins from Police Chief Nils R. Bergquist II when he retired after serving in the Brick Police department for 35 years.
Since Riccio took over as police chief last year, he has made some changes, including establishing a police substation on the barrier island where there is always a police officer on duty.
One of his goals was to establish an active neighborhood watch program and now there are four up and running.
He also added a police bike unit which patrols the Herbertsville Park and Maple Leaf Park areas, and that has resulted in several high-profile arrests.
During Riccio’s tenure, the department purchased a climate-controlled enclosed boat from the Coast Guard, effectively doubling the fleet for water patrols.
Thomas Gialanella was named the new Interim Superintendent of Schools, taking over for Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Caldes (who returned to his position as the district’s Educational Specialist), who took over for Superintendent Walter Uszenski.
Uszenski was arrested in May 2015 on charges of theft by deception and official misconduct for allegedly hatching a scheme to provide $40,000 in taxpayer-funded daycare and transportation services for his grandchild, for which the child was not entitled.
Gialanella is a retired administrator and may serve as interim superintendent for a maximum of two years.
New Board of Education members John Lamela, Victoria Pakala and Stephanie Wohlrab took their oaths of office in 2016 and immediately terminated all of the district’s professional contracts and announced that they would begin a search for a new schools superintendent.
Two additional board members were elected in 2016: Daisy Haffner and Melita Gagliardi will take their oaths of office at the January 5, 2017 Reorganization meeting.
Long-time Township Business Administrator Scott Pezarras retired in 2016 and was replaced by a new chief financial officer, John Clifford, who resigned within weeks to take the same position with the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority.
Maureen Laffey-Berg, a township employee who had served as the deputy CFO for eight years under Pezarras, was named as the new township CFO in October 2016.
In other news, the township continued to recover from Superstorm Sandy, four years after the October 2012 cost Brick some $357 million in ratables.
The governing body adopted four detailed neighborhood plans that addresses the reduction of flood impacts on the community by enhancing floodplain management. This action earned points for the township to gain acceptance into The National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS) which Mayor John G. Ducey announced in mid-December.
Participation in the CRS would save a cumulative $671,948 on flood insurance premiums for Brick residents, beginning in 2017, he said.
Another significant event happened in October, when the Visitation Relief Center ‑‑ founded in February 2013 to help victims of Superstorm Sandy ‑‑ closed its doors suddenly without notice.
In 2015 the center, which was affiliated with the nearby Visitation Roman Catholic Church, expanded its assistance to the low-income and homeless of Ocean and Monmouth counties. Ducey said the center was closed by a construction official from the Trenton Diocese after finding out the center did not have a certificate of occupancy and had numerous building violations.
In mid-December Ducey said that the center was looking to reopen at Laurel Square, the shopping center where the former Pathmark supermarket was located.
The mayor also said that the owner of Laurel Square, Brixmore, is in negotiations with two grocery store chains to occupy the former Pathmark grocery store.
The space that was occupied by the former A&P and Dollar Store at Brick Plaza was reconfigured and be occupied by three new stores: Ulta Beauty supplies has already opened; a DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse is currently going through the permitting process; and a well-known clothing retailer has shown a strong interest in the third space, Ducey said.
And finally, the Army Corps of Engineers has announced that they expected to award a contract sometime in December for the beach and dune replenishment project for the barrier island. The Corps received three bids for the project which ranged from $128,820,433 to $178,416,600.
Work on the long-awaited project, which will create 25-foot tall dunes and 200-foot-wide beaches from the Manasquan Inlet to South Seaside Park, is expected to begin in the spring of 2017.