Costly deadline blunder at town hall

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    WEST MILFORD-Failure to pass along a deadline notice is costing the town $6,088 in penalties for failing to comply with requirements of the state's Public Employees Office of Public Safety and Health (PE-OSHA). But it could have been far worse, financially, for the town as the original fines and penalties, levied in the spring, amounted to $97,408. Those disclosures came during the Town Council's workshop session on Oct. 5, in which the council voted to pay the state's levy. Township Attorney William DeMarco and Public Works Director Jerry Storms secured a reduction in the fines after telling PE-OSHA that the occupational safety violations originally cited on May 24, 2002, had been corrected, and it was simply a failure by Storms to receive a deadline notice sent to the town offices that resulted in the problem. The violation notice cited a failure by the public works department to have a written policy, as well as procedures and training for employees handling various pieces equipment. It also cited lack of protective gear for employees, said Acting Township Administrator Kevin J. Byrnes. Storms corrected the violations and was developing instructional manuals, but failed to receive the deadline notice sent to the town. When the April deadline passed without materials and notices of compliance being received by the state, it levied retroactive fines and penalties on all four affected public works department locations. The penalties were retroactive for two years. DeMarco first argued the penalties should have applied to a single source, the public works department, rather than each location, and initially succeeded in reducing the penalties by 75 percent. After being shown that the town was in compliance, including completion of instruction manuals, the state reduced the amount further and the council agreed on the payment. A pending ordinance to establish an "office transition zone" in the town faced some debate when Councilman Dennis Kirwan questioned the advisability of referencing older zoning changes in the new transition zone ordinance. "The current land-use ordinance is almost unreadable." He suggested that for clarity, the applicable older changes be included in the new ordinance. The town's lawyer initially resisted the request, saying simply referencing the changes "is legal and this is sufficient." Mayor Joseph A. Di Donato, also a lawyer, agreed saying he had no problem going back and forth through zoning code to understand what the new ordinance said. "What about the public's right to information?" Kirwan asked. The exchange finally resulted in a compromise in which DeMarco will attach pages with applicable changes to the proposed ordinance.