CENTRAL JERSEY: Police takeover study to be revealed next week

By Vic Monaco, Managing Editor
   A consultant’s study to determine the feasibility of East Windsor taking over police coverage in Hightstown, begun in the summer of 2008, will be revealed next week at meetings of both governing councils.
   Brian Valentino, of Patriot Consulting, said this week that his firm’s 60-page report will include recommendations, in the plural sense, and will stick to the original scenario of the township Police Department potentially becoming the borough’s law enforcement agency.
   Details of the report remained confidential this week as members of the Borough Council and Township Council were expected to get copies late in the week.
   Asked if the study will provide options such as different levels of coverage, Mr. Valentino said, “The recommendations are specific and within the proposed plan” and look at “all possibilities.”
   Borough Council President Larry Quattrone, who sits on a committee that worked with the consultant, called the report “the biggest thing in years.”
   ”It took longer than it should, but it’s finally where it belongs,” he said. “It’s very thorough.”
   East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, who also is on the committee, and Mr. Valentino have said the study has been complicated and exhaustive.
   And the consultant added Wednesday, “Of all the police studies we’ve done — for dozens of towns — this group of people have been the most comprehensive in wanting to understand the entire scope of the study and helping us determine recommendations that address all the needs of the residents of both towns.”
   He added, “I think that’s why you saw it take so long.”
   The group he referred to is a committee comprised of three council members from each town, including Mayor Mironov. The other members are Borough councilmen Walter Sikorski and Jeff Bond and East Windsor councilmen Perry Shapiro and Marc Lippman.
   Mr. Valentino said he expects his presentations to take about 20 minutes each and for there to be a period of an hour or so for questions after each. However, borough sources said there is a chance Mayor Bob Patten, who runs the council meeting, may not allow questions because the borough attorney can’t attend Monday’s meeting.
   The Borough Council meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday; the Township Council meets at 8 p.m. Tuesday; both at their towns’ respective municipal buildings.
   The two towns began talking about police consolidation in 2006 with the impetus being skyrocketing police-related costs in Hightstown, which now apparently stand at more than $2.3 million annually.
   The borough department employs 22 full-time workers, including 14 officers, plus two part-time court officers. The township department has close to 50 officers.
   The towns’ councils chose Patriot, based in Monmouth Beach, in March 2008, and the study began in August of that year after the state provided a $45,873 grant to cover the entire cost. At that time, the study was expected to take 110 days to complete.
   However, the study was expanded in Feb. 2009 to include the towns’ court systems, with another $10,000 from the state. At that time, it was expected to be done in April 2009.
   In December, Mayor Mironov said she was hopeful the study would be made public “by the beginning of the year.”
   Another consultant’s study — commissioned by the private group, The Greater Hightstown-East Windsor Improvement Project, and released in early 2009 — said total consolidation of the two towns could save $1.8 million a year. It recommended a local study panel but no action has been taken in response.
   Asked if there should be concern of a similar fate for this report, Mr. Quattrone said: “I’ll say what Brian (Valentino) told me, ‘It always becomes political.’”
   He added, “No matter what happens, it goes to a vote and not just here, but also in East Windsor. Who knows what will happen?”
   In the end, Mr. Quattrone said, the new report won’t be ignored “but it could be shelved.”
   Mr. Valentino, when asked if the sound of relief in his voice was an indication the study has found that such a change in police coverage is financially feasible, said, “No. I can be relieved either way.”
   Mayor Mironov declined to comment this week on the pending presentations, referring questions to Mr. Valentino.
   Mike Theokas, the Borough Council’s liaison to police, said Tuesday that he had yet to see the report, but he didn’t expect it to be too complicated.
   ”The bottom line here is what would it cost us versus what it costs us now,” he said.
   He and Councilman Quattrone added they expect there to be much public discussion to follow in the coming weeks.
   ”There is no plan to vote on it Monday as far as I know,” Mr. Theokas said.
   ”There’s no reason for closed sessions anymore,” Mr. Quattrone said.
   Mr. Valentino said the contract he has with both towns requires him to continue to “be available to them as they consider our recommendations,” but the state grants contain “no prescription for what happens next.”
   Police Chief James Eufemia, who previously said he had been kept in the dark during the study, did not return calls seeking comment this week. The head of Hightstown’s police union, David Chenoweth, previously said the amount of time the study was taking had lowered police morale. He could not be reached for comment before the Herald deadline.