Job Opening For Substance Abuse Program Sparks Debate

Municipal Alliance Van (Photo by Sara Grillo)

HOWELL – The Howell Township Municipal Alliance is looking for a part-time coordinator after its full-time coordinator vacated the role last year. But issues surfaced at the recent council meeting over the county grant used to fund the alliance.

The Howell Alliance is a state-mandated substance abuse program that works within the community to prevent drug addiction, underage drinking and tobacco use. The alliance boasts dozens of prevention programs, and last year provided Narcan, an overdose reversal medication, that saved 29 lives.

“The county recognized that Howell has the best alliance probably in the county. By far our membership is high and very dedicated.” said Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro. “We understand the concern Howell is facing, that quite frankly is killing our children.”

The coordinator position, which was occupied by Ralph Hoffman for the past 16 years, has been taken over temporarily by Howell Police Officer Michael Pavlick, a detective in the Crime Suppression Unit.

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Mayor Theresa Berger said that during recent meetings held about the alliance, it was agreed the coordinator should be a 29-hour positon with a salary of $30,000 for the year. The role had been previously a full-time position with benefits.

As acting coordinator, Officer Pavlick shared concerns over this suggestion, saying there are salary and hours guidelines in the county grant Howell receives that funds the alliance.

“What I understand is that the salary provided through the grant is $37,000. That’s how much money has been given to the township in the salary.” said Pavlick.

Pavlick also said the grant has specific guidelines on the amount of hours the coordinator needs to spend on four federally funded programs, including Howell Day and the Heroes & Cool Kids mentoring program.

This adds up to a total of 873 hours—15 hours a week—that the coordinator needs to spend on those four programs, in order to receive the grant. Pavlick said that means 15 out of the coordinator’s proposed 29 hours are already dedicated.

These are just four programs out of nearly a dozen others that are run primarily by volunteers said, Pavlick, who has also served as an alliance volunteer. He said he worries there won’t be enough time to run everything else.

“I understand budget time is important and that it’s important to save money, but in light of the heroin epidemic that there is in this state, and the fact that Governor Christie has dedicated his entire year toward it, how do we go backwards? Because that’s what this is,” said Pavlick.

The board unanimously agreed to keep a coordinator on board, but despite Officer Pavlick’s concerns, pushed for a part-time employee based on its success in neighboring towns.

“I don’t see what difference a few hours a week would make, because we’re not talking about half time,” said Councilwoman Pauline Smith. “It takes hands and bodies. One person, a few more hours isn’t going to make up for what all those volunteers do.”

According to township Chief Financial Officer Louis Palazzo, Howell receives a grant from the county of $45,310 to fund the Municipal Alliance. That money is then cash matched by the township at 25 percent.

There is also a separate cost center within the municipal budget that last year made up for the portion of Hoffman’s salary that was not covered by the grant.

  Palazzo then estimated that last year’s budget for the alliance was around $75,000, but with health benefits and other employer costs, that number likely could have reached $100,000.

Mayor Berger asked to see a description of the four federally funded programs, as well as a copy of the grant.

Councilman Robert Walsh said there are still a lot of options on the table, including hiring two part-time coordinators at $25,000 a year. That would provide the alliance with more man hours while using less taxpayer money.

“I think there are a lot of talented, talented people out there that would relish the opportunity to have a part-time job like that for $25,000 a year, and that would be a tremendous asset both financially and for the effectiveness in our alliance organization.” said Walsh.