BRICK – The public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 affected every aspect of life over the past year, from the way people live and interact with each other, to the economic, political, religious and financial systems everywhere.
Locally, the coronavirus affected the 2020 Public Safety budget where $127,648 in overtime pay was directly related to the pandemic, said Police Chief James Riccio, who presented the Public Safety 2021 Budget during a recent virtual council meeting.
In 2020, the department requested $20,971,000 for salary and overtime for some 140 police officers, clerical staff and support personnel. Of the $1,125,000 that was earmarked for overtime, $931,246 was used, which included the unanticipated $127,648 cost mentioned above.
Chief Riccio credited Township Safety Officer Ron Gaskill with keeping detailed records, which enabled the police budget to recover some $260,000 of associated pandemic costs from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). Additional monies anticipated being approved in the near future, he added.
In 2020, there were over 95,000 calls for service, including 1,814 fire calls and 9,551 EMS calls, he said.
“As you know, in 2020 we were faced with a unique set of challenges brought on by the pandemic,” Chief Riccio said.
“Of course, our greatest challenge was continuing to do our job while trying to keep our workforce healthy,” he said.
Despite the risks, the police chief said that the police department continues to handle the crisis professionally and tirelessly, and does whatever has been necessary to serve the residents of Brick.
The Department of Public Safety is comprised of several areas of responsibility. In addition to traditional police services, the department is also responsible for managing police dispatchers, the special police, emergency medical services, emergency management, crossing guards, and a number of community oriented programs.
Those include the Police Cadets, school-based drug education programs, Neighborhood Watch, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and more.
The Public Safety Department has 277 employees, which included 140 sworn officers, communications operators, EMS personnel, crossing guards, Class 1 special police, 16 civilian clerical staff, a civilian deputy emergency management coordinator, a radio technician, and a fleet maintenance worker.
Some are part-time workers, which are used to support the full time staff members and to reduce overtime costs, Chief Riccio said.
In 2020, the budget for the Public Safety Department was about $26 million, which was part of the township’s $105 million spending plan.
Chief Riccio said that the majority of the budget line items would remain the same in the 2021 spending plan, including the requested amount of $1,125,000 for overtime.
“Although I do not anticipate a significant increase in overtime spending, I need to plan for situations which could arise, such as weather events and any other large-scale incident, which could result in a need for overtime,” he said.
Despite unanticipated events, such as the pandemic, homicides and other large-scale issues, the police department managed to remain well under budget for the past four years, he added.
Some adjustments were made to the 2021 budget, based on the previous year’s spending or those required based on the current collective bargaining agreement, Chief Riccio said.