A proposed law in Lumberton to control excessive police calls — each extra time the police show up could cost a property owner $300 — is part of the Township's program to rebuild its police department.
The proposed ordinance, called "Municipal Services (Excessive Consumption)," was approved by the Township Committee at its first reading on September 16. The public will get a chance to comment at a hearing on October 7 before the ordinance is adopted.
Mayor Gina LaPlaca told 70and73.com the ordinance is needed to better manage the time of the police department.
"One of the biggest things we found we needed to do was build our police department back to full staffing" and give it the resources needed, LaPlaca said in a telephone interview last Friday.
LaPlaca said all five Committee members are Democrats — the first time the party has held every seat — and rebuilding the police department was a goal in the Democrats' campaign platform in last November's election.
Police staffing fell as low as 15 officers a decade ago after officers were laid off three years in a row, she said.
"It's taken us that long to finally get back to where they should be," said LaPlaca. In the last year, the department has grown to 24 officers, which is considered full staffing, she said.
The mayor said police pay levels under the contract also are being adjusted so higher-paying, larger departments in the area will find it more difficult to poach from Lumberton's police force.
But a key tool to help manage the department will be the Excessive Consumption ordinance, explained LaPlaca, a lawyer specializing in municipal government law for the Moorestown firm of Raymond Coleman Heinold LLP. LaPlaca grew up in Monmouth County and moved to Lumberton about six years ago.
"In a perfect world, this ordinance never gets used," she said.
Some properties in town have a "high rate of nuisance calls," according to the proposal for the ordinance. "It has come to the attention of the Township Committee that occasionally certain properties continually draw upon such resources without further attempt to avoid or abate the conditions necessitating the excessive use of these services," according to the proposal.
"The cost of the excessive consumption of municipal services relating directly to these nuisance properties should be paid by the property owner and not through general tax revenues," the ordinance notes.
A schedule of the number of police visits over a 60-day period shows when the $300 fee will be assessed. For example, the fee could be charged after the fifth visit to a residence with one to four dwelling units. Or a restaurant, bar or entertainment establishment could start paying for each visit after 30 qualifying calls.
Definitions of qualifying calls in the ordinance range from disorderly conduct to improper parking to juvenile complaints.
The ordinance details notification procedures for property owners and the process to appeal the $300 charges.
"We have to do something for our police department because the residents demand it and the department does great work," LaPlaca said.