Frank Leanza, the Secaucus town attorney, said the Secaucus Public Library was of particular concern to the group - a matter that will be resolved when the new library is constructed. The groundbreaking for this is due within the next few weeks.
In a consent agreement monitored by the court, the town agreed to complete the study to determine which buildings needed to be brought up to meet disability standards. But the study, according to Town Administrator Anthony Iacono, has yet to be done and the court is getting impatient with the delay.
In November, 1992, the town authorized a study of its buildings to see how much work was needed to bring them into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Under federal law, businesses and governmental agencies must provide means for disabled people to access public meeting halls, offices, and other facilities. The changes fall into two categories: physical and procedural. While the town did many of the procedural changes since 1992 - included rewriting job requirement descriptions, the physical changes lagged.
Town Hall is nearly barrier-free. It was designed to meet accessibility requirements under the 1973 accessibility law. It has a ground-level entrance, an elevator and a ramp accessing the meeting room on the first floor. But questions remain about various other buildings.
The study proposed in 1992 would have identified barriers that might keep the disabled from accessing various parts of public meetings, the Town Council sought to have a study that would look at entrances, meeting places, officers, restrooms, public phones, water fountains and other public accommodations. The 1992 physical study was either not done or incomplete, and the town - to meet the demands of the court settlement - contracted for another study in 1997 at the cost of $15,000.
Unfortunately, Iacono said, the man hired to do this study died before starting the work. The town then looked to have Boswell Engineering do the study, but the council balked at the $40,000 price tag. So the study was never done.
Under pressure from the court, the Town Council voted to hire at $66,000, Rivardo, Schnitzer and Capazzi, the Cliffside Park firm that designed the new library. Iacono said the firm recently hired an expert in the area of public access laws.
Iacono also said the town will have to designate someone as a complaints officer, similar to the equal opportunity officer that towns must have in order to hear complaints from disabled residents. "But that's just a matter of naming someone," Iacono said.
Bus delivery delayed
The delivery of a new jitney bus - paid for by a federal grant - will be delayed for the third time. In May, Mayor Dennis Elwell along with Deputy Mayor John Reilly received the keys to the new bus from Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th Dist.) and NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey A. Warsh as part of NJ Transit's "Community Shuttle Program."
The Community Shuttle Program is an initiative that enables communities throughout the state to offer jitney bus service to their residents who use NJ Transit trains and buses. The use of shuttles improves access to local train and bus stations while easing traffic congestion, alleviating the need for the construction of new parking facilities and helping to cut air-pollution.
As part of the deal, NJ Transit will provide a shuttle bus to Secaucus. The town will pay nothing for the vehicle - valued at $70,000. But it will be responsible for maintaining it, supplying the manpower to operate it, and making certain stops during peak hours, such as covering the NJ Transit trains.
The program would allow the town to charge a fee for the service, which would be used to offset local costs of maintaining the bus and paying the drivers. Adams said the cost would likely be $1 per ride. Since the town's Department of Public Works also does auto-repair, maintenance will cost less.
The problem is, NJ Transit wanted to wait to have all the jitneys manufactured at once. But the date for delivery - set originally for last August - was pushed first to September, then to April 2001, and now, according to Iacono, the bus won't actually be delivered until next August.
Elwell said the town has applied to the program again for a second bus.
"This doesn't mean we'll get it, but we've applied," he said.
Meanwhile, as a requirement for receiving the federal grant, the town must adopt federal drug and alcohol testing guidelines for employees who will be driving the bus. The town currently follows state guidelines. Iacono said there are minor differences. State and federal requirements call for random, lottery-style testing.
"But the federal regulations tend to be more stringent, very close to zero tolerance," Iacono said. Iacono has been attending classes on the new policy. The town council voted on Jan. 9 to change it policy to meet the federal standards. The new policy must be in place by April 13.
Asking to take back the raises
Claiming the recent raises issued to principals and other high administrators in the Secaucus school system have set a bad example for the rest of the town's employees, Mayor Dennis Elwell has issued a letter to the Board of Education asking that the raises be rescinded.
"While I believe our School Administrators are doing a top-flight job, I believe it's necessary to review the appropriateness of the raises the school board granted," Elwell said in his Jan. 8 letter. "Our schools already exceed the state average for administrative costs by nearly 40 percent."
Under negotiated contract, the superintendent of schools, the board of education administrator, three school principals and the assistant principal at the high school all saw significant increases in their salaries.
The contracts, approved by a unanimous vote of the Board of Education on Dec. 14, increased the salaries of Huber Street School elementary school principal Pat Cocucci and Clarendon School elementary school principal Ralph Merlo. Both saw a rise in salary from $102,000 to $123,000 by the third year of their contracts. Pat Impreveduto, principal of the high school, was elevated from his current salary of $107,000 to $129,859 by the third year.
Elwell said he believed these raises would "undermine the confidence" the town has won among residents and the progress the town has made in negotiating with its own unions to keep raises at about 3 percent a year.
In a follow-up telephone interview, Elwell said the reverberations of the school pay hikes have been felt in Town Hall. While the department heads' union agreed at a Jan. 8 meeting to keep to the contract it has already negotiated, the seven-member union was sharply divided.
"We've decided to honor the negotiations we've already made," said Charlie Schumacher, spokesperson for the department heads, although he said union members were concerned about the large salary increases given to the school administrators.
"We're hearing from people in and out of town," said Mayor Elwell. "I've received two calls from other mayors who want to know what is wrong with our school board."
School board officials, who were scheduled to meet on Jan. 11 at their regular meeting, stood by the raises when contacted, claiming the administrators got what they deserved, keeping pace ahead of the teachers and supervisors whose raises help boost the administrators' salaries in order to keep parity. Although Board President William Millevoi said the board sought to keep the raises under 10 percent, Elwell claimed that even that was three times as high as town department heads got, and an unreasonable raise in times when the economy seems uncertain.
"I believe these exorbitant raises threaten the willingness of our taxpayers to support future needed initiatives for our children," Elwell wrote in his letter to the board. "I am concerned that these raises will be a detriment when our taxpayers are asked to support future school board budgets."