March 26, 2018

Gottheimer talks challenges with local law officials

NEWTON — With the April 20 budget approval deadline rapidly approaching, municipalities across the state are once again working to find the right compromise between necessary spending and taxpayer obligation. On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., met with local law enforcement representatives and officials to discuss policy and possible funding alternatives for addressing school safety, the opioid crisis and other pressing issues.

The event, held round-table style at American Legion Post 86 in Newton, attracted approximately 40 PBA delegates from local municipalities as well as representatives from county and state level organizations.

Pete Stilianessis, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officer’s Association, said the discussion represented an important step toward improving communication between elected officials and first responders.

“This is not about party lines,” Stilianessis said. “This is about protecting this district and making sure that all of us sitting in this room have access to the resources that we need to do our jobs.”
The two-fold purpose of the roundtable event, Gottheimer said, was to first identify the greatest areas of need within the community and then to discuss responsible funding options that could help to expedite real solutions.

“It’s no secret that I think our taxes are too high at every level,” Gottheimer said during an interview with the New Jersey Herald. “For a long time, a lot of our towns have been looking to their taxpayers to support capital improvement projects and equipment that could be provided through grant funding. We have to start taking the initiative at the local level to understand what kind of opportunities are out there.”

Historically, Gottheimer said, the Fifth Congressional District has only seen a 33-cent return out of every federal dollar spent.

“We need to start collecting a better return for our investments, even if we need to claw it back,” he said.

Other states like West Virginia and Mississpippi, Gottheimer noted, see considerably higher federal returns of $4.23 and $4.38 respectively.

“I have affectionately taken to calling these states “the moocher states,” Gottheimer said. “Basically, New Jersey and a few other states have been carrying the federal burden for far too long.”

The grant process itself, Gottheimer said, can be “somewhat daunting” to navigate without assistance.

“One of my first hires was a new position, the director of return on investments,” Gottheimer said. “This person’s core responsibility is to find every federal grant dollar that we qualify for at the local level and to provide support directly to our municipal leaders in the form of application assistance and congressional backing.”

So far, Gottheimer said, grant programs like Community Oriented Policing Services — an office of the Department of Justice responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by providing salaries for new officers — and the Law Enforcement Support Office — a program that helps to provide surplus vehicles, furniture and supplies to municipalities and departments at significantly reduced rates — and FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters — grant funding that can be used to purchase new safety equipment for first responders — have already had “a very positive impact” on local communities.

“In 2017, the Fifth District was able to claw back $290 per household from the federal government,” he said. “These programs make a huge difference. Our job is to help people learn how to access and benefit from them.”

Sunday’s discussion also allowed officials to express their concerns about the way that state and federal legislation can impact life at the local level.

Larry Doherty, state delegate for the Sussex County Corrections PBA chapter 138, pointed to current policy and procedures as contributing factors to the continuing national opioid crisis.

“Bail reform is responsible for more heroin-related deaths than almost any other factor,” Doherty said. “We’re administering Narcan doses and then turning people back out on the street six hours later because the mandatory treatment that used to exist isn’t there anymore. Really, we’re saving lives, but it feels like we’re just extending the inevitable.”

Officers seated around the hall also spoke to the need for better mental health services, the increased demand for school resource officers in local districts and the desire for more responsive communication during emergency weather situations between power companies and municipal leaders.

Gottheimer said he plans to hold similar discussions in the future in order to keep the conversation going and develop a working time line and address situations as they develop.