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Borough Eliminates Local Assistance Board

A local Care and Share board will have more flexibility, council president says.

The Council voted unanimously to dissolve the Local Assistance Board and transfer the service to Morris County's Office of Temporary Assistance, despite questions raised by two residents.

Council President James Lonergan said he spoke with surrounding municipalities, including Madison and Chatham Township, and both said they were "comfortable" with the service the county provided. 

The two main reasons for making the transfer, Lonergan said, were budget and volume of demand in the borough.

"At the end of the day, this board just hasn't had the demand. We have at this point no open cases," he said.

Lonergan said if the borough had a handful of cases at a time, the council would likely not think of moving the service to the county. 

"At this point we have no open cases, and we typically have one or two cases at best," Lonergan said. "We just don't have the demand in the town."

Resident Michael Dean said he remembered a time several years ago when the borough had looked at transferring this service to the county, but decided against it.

"Are we more comfortable with the county's ability to do this now?" he asked. 

Lonergan said the board's primary function was to "help people in town to answer questions on how to get documents" to apply for assistance. "That is very well handled by the county," he said. 

What The County Does

County Administrator John Bonnani said Chatham Borough is the 39th of 39 municipalities in Morris County to rely on the county for assistance to those in need.

Gary Denamen, the director of the county's Office of Temporary Assistance, said most residents in need require programs only offered at the county level, including food stamps and any one of 29 different MedicAid program.

"They would tend to have to come here anyway," Denamen said. "We are a one-stop program, and anybody who comes in gets access to all of those things, which is different than if they went to the local municipality."

Denamen said the budget for the county's temporary assistance office is about $13 million. Resources of the office include about 30 staff members, including several social workers with masters degrees. The borough employs one part-time welfare director, whose position was abolished by the dissolution of the board.

Staff members often conduct home visits, Denamen said, and have helped residents "with a variety of things, from heating, to helping to get somebody involved in a work program, to fixing a car if they need transportation, to temporary rental assistance, to replacing boilers."

Lonergan also said the county will pay for transportation for clients to do an initial consultation in their offices. "They will pay for a bus or taxi, get you there and get you back," he said. "From there you can do most of the stuff over the phone."

The cost savings to the borough will be between $11,000 and $13,500 per year, according to Lonergan. 

Picking Up the Slack

The council also voted to establish a Local Assistance Advisory Board to oversee a "Care and Share fund," which Lonergan said can raise money privately and administer it as required for residents in need.

"So whatever shortcoming we find there, we can kind of take care of it [with the Care and Share fund]?" Dean asked. 

"Absolutely," Lonergan said.

Three people, including Lonergan and Borough Administrator Robert Falzarano, were appointed to the Local Assistance Advisory Committee.

Ed DiFiglia, whose wife sat on the Local Assistance Board until the council dissolved it, said he had concerns with the board remaining so small and with so few members of the old board sitting on the new one.

Lonergan and Mayor Bruce Harris said they have not reached out to sitting members of the Local Assistance Board, but "hoped [the] same group of people" would volunteer to sit on the Local Assistance Advisory Board.

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