On Tuesday night, the River Edge Council approved along party lines using the bulk of the available Open Space Trust funding toward the salary and wages of a handful of DPW employees. The remaining $15,000 was allocated to the Recreation Commission while for the second year in a row, Shade Tree and 9/11 did not receive any funding.
In late , the Council heard presentations as the borough's committees and requested up to $251,739 well above the available $163, 509.45 amounts. The 9/11 Memorial Commission sought $6,450 to maintain the Memorial Gardens outside of the . Recreation asked for $35,773 while Shade Tree presented a proposal for $11,000. On behalf of the DPW, borough administrator Alan Negreann requested that the bulk of the Open Space Funding, approximately $148,177 go toward the department's salaries and wages and other expenses.
One item removed entirely from the discussion of Open Space allocations was a matching grant of $46,000 toward Cherry Blossom Park. The borough has yet to receive notification if they will receive the grant so the decision was made to not set funding aside at this time.
"I think the requests from the committees and commissions were modest this year in terms of the environment," Councilman John Cannon said. "I know why we're doing this with DPW, but I'm nervous this will turn into a crutch for us and the traditional projects such as repairing the tennis courts or Brookside Park will go to the wayside. Our DPW is the best in the County but this is year number two of doing what Alan [Negreann, Borough Administrator] has termed as a budget gimmick."
The 2010 Open Space Trust Funds were used last year to fund part of the 3.5 DPW employee salaries that related to the maintenance of the borough's parks. The maintenance includes mowing and seeding the grass, distributing mulch around trees, and laying down clay at the Veteran's Memorial Park and the Kenneth B. George ballfields.
"If we don't have someone to put down clay or mow the lawns, what's the point of having the flowers and trees," Councilman Alphonse Bartelloni said. "If we had a Recreation Department with workers it wouldn't be a problem but it's our DPW that maintains the parks. It doesn't matter if you give Recreation all the money in the world, if there is no one to maintain the parks then what's the point. We need to do what is needed to fund the DPW to maintain the parks."
When it came down to a vote, Democrats Cannon and Sandy Moscaritolo voted against funding the entire DPW salary request. Republicans Bartelloni, Johnny Porco and Paul Cordts voted in favor. Councilman Edward Mignone was absent from the meeting.
With the bulk of the 2011 Open Space Trust funds going to the DPW salaries, the account was left with $15,332 that could be split between Recreation, Shade Tree and 9/11.
"I make the motion we give the $15,332 to Recreation as they are vital to the town," Cannon said. "The other groups have survived with nothing before, but if we give nothing to Recreation it will decimate them."
Cannon's motion was approved with Porco casting the lone 'nay' vote as he wanted the remaining amount to be split between the three groups.