Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

My Photo
Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

First Aid Squad Should Get First Priority

Getting priorities straight seems to be a genuine difficulty for the current borough administration. The First Aid Squad, a group of dedicated volunteers who give of their own time, often answering calls at all hours of the night, have been repeatedly ignored and disrespected by Mayor Frank. For months, she failed to return any of the squad members' phone calls to the point that they had to resort to drastic measures--parking an ambulance on Raritan Avenue with an "Out of Order" sign--to get her attention.

The Squad's annual stipend from the borough has remained the same for sixteen years at $26,000 even though state law allows as much as $35,000 a year. In 2006, the Squad had to wait until December to get its $26,000. Several grants were promised by the mayor only to evaporate into thin air after Borough Administrator Nick Trasenta left his position without completing the application processes.

What is outrageous and downright obscene is the fact that when the mayor wants money to fund her pet projects, she has no problem finding it and allocating as much as possible. Highland Park taxpayers are subsidizing a $35,000 salary to the mayor's friend and political supporter for her new position as director of the Redevelopment Agency. That same Redevelopment Agency has been given $50,000 a year by the borough since 2005 and an additional $50,000 loan to be repaid at an indeterminate time when the agency "starts making a profit."

Why do we need a paid Redevelopment Agency director to oversee projects that solely involve property owners redeveloping their own properties? Why do we need to spend several thousand dollars in litigation against property owners who do not want to be in a redevelopment zone?

And that does not even take into account the additional Business Improvement District (BID) tax of approximately $1,000 a year to all business and property owners in the BID zone. That money is going toward outrageous patronage spending--$17,500 to a public relations firm, $12,000 to an event planner, and $70,000 to a Main Street director who went $3,000 over budget in 2006, an amount that will be assessed to business owners in the BID district.

The Redeveloment Agency meets about 10-12 times a year. In contrast, the First Aid Squad volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 (or 366) days a year. Yet the Squad members are among the most unappreciated group of volunteers by borough government. If we had no volunteer First Aid Squad, we would have to rely on a mutual aid agreement with another municipality, which would cost far more than $35,000 and would very likely lead to longer response times in the event of a crisis.

Any day, any one of us may need the First Aid Squad, and when we call, they will be at our doors within minutes. Squad volunteers give Highland Park residents first priority, even over their personal lives. At minimum, borough officials should reciprocate with respectful and timely communication and a stipend of the full amount allowed under state law.

What is more important, redevelopment or available emergency first responders? The choice of what to fund and how much to fund it speaks volumes about an administration's priorities. As of now, those priorities need serious reconsideration by our elected officials here in Highland Park.