WEST MILFORD - On any given Sunday, thousands of people throughout the township head to various places of worship. For many years, West Milfords special police have helped direct traffic at a few of the churches, making sure traffic moves smoothly and people cross safely.
Last week, the mayor and township council discussed the free service provided to three local churches - Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and West Milford Presbyterian - while Living Word Church in Hewitt pays each week for the same service.
Two questions arose: Should some churches receive the service for free while others pay? And should the township be providing this service free at all?
Equal for all Most agree that if one church pays for the service, all should, or if some get the service for free, all should as well.
Police Chief Gene Chiosie said the township budgets $12,000 a year to provide the services to the three churches while Living Word Church on Lakeshore Drive pays $135 each week for the same services. He said he is breaking down the costs and will report back to the council at an upcoming meeting.
Our Lady Queen of Peace and St. Joseph Church each has four services on Sundays and one on Saturday. There is no police assistance for the Saturday services, according to the chief. West Milford Presbyterian Church has one service each Sunday.
Many people park in the Sears parking lot on Union Valley Road and walk across the busy street to Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, while at St. Joseph, people park all along the street so crossing can be tricky. The Presbyterian Church is located in the center of the town and, while there is a parking lot in back to accommodate all the cars, getting out onto the busy road requires the police department's help.
Living Word Church has two services each Sunday. Its parking lot is across the street from the church building.
Many years ago on Christmas Eve night a pedestrian crossing near Our Lady Queen of Peace Church was hit by a car and killed, Chiosie confirmed.
There is definitely a need, said Chiosie. Thats not contested at all. My feeling is it should be all churches or no churches (paying).
Church and state Some on the council are conflicted with the issue. Some are not.
Mayor Bettina Bieri said she is conflicted.
On the one hand, its a matter of public safety, said Bieri. On the other, it borders on being unconstitutional.
Councilman Lou Signorino agreed.
Were supposed to have a separation of church and state, which I'm all for, said Signorino. But the churches are in major arteries of the township. Its a public safety issue. But I feel its all or nothing.
Signorino said he would be open to discussing crossing guards or trained volunteers, like retired police officers, in the positions. And, he noted, its not just about the people attending church; it also affects the others on the road. He is hoping there will be a cooperative effort between the churches and the township.
Councilman Joe Smolinski said the township used to provide snow plowing and garbage service free of charge to all of the churches in town, but those services have been taken away. He doesnt want to see the police service removed as well.
We use auxiliary police. Some can argue a separation of church and government but they give a lot of things. Their doors are always open to the community, said Smolinski.
Taking that service away, he said, could mean they will not be able to afford it on their own.
What will they do? Rev. Janet MacGregor-Williams, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, said the police service has been provided to her church long before she came here a dozen years ago. The officer is on duty for about two hours, from 9:40 to 11:30 a.m. each Sunday. An average attendance is 130 people, she said, with about 60 cars. Cars exiting the parking lot after the service are allowed to turn left with the officer on duty. Without the traffic assistance, cars may only turn right. She said she hopes they continue to provide the service as they have been doing for years.
If they charge us, we will discontinue it for a while to see if we need it, said Rev. MacGregor-Williams. We would reevaluate the situation.
She said the church will be hiring someone to help direct traffic for their annual Rummage Sale this year, something they always used a volunteer for in the past.
We used to use a lay person but its so crazy on the Friday of the Rummage Sale we will be hiring someone, she said.
Administrator Nancy Gage was asked by the council to send letters to each of the churches involved to see if they would be willing to contribute to the cost. The issue will be discussed at the next work session in April.
What are your thoughts on this? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and tell us how you feel about it. Should the township charge some churches and not others? Should they provide the service at all?