By JOHN T. WARD
Little Silver will establish a canine unit with a bomb-sniffing dog, thanks to Mayor Bob Neff‘s first-ever tiebreaker vote Monday night.
But a companion measure to create a fund to accept donations for the operation was pulled before a formal vote over concerns that it didn’t pass “pass the smell test,” in the words of Councilman Dane Mihlon.
The idea for the unit originated in the police ranks and was spearheaded by Detective Greg Oliva and Officer Joe Glynn, who did extensive research, said Neff. The effort garnered support from the State Police, which informed the borough by letter that 33 towns throughout New Jersey have dogs, and more are needed for security.
Councilman Donald Galante, who serves as police commissioner, estimated the borough would pay about $10,000 to obtain and train the animal, and another $5,000 in annual upkeep. The dog is expected to learn how to track for missing persons and detect explosives, and would live as a pet with its K9-trained handler when they were not on duty, he said.
Mihlon and two other council members resisted, however, over concerns that dog ownership was unnecessary, given that the borough can rely on units loaned by other government agencies, including the Monmouth County Sheriff and New Jersey Transit.
Mihlon said he was also concerned that costs would rise in the form of police salaries.
“I still feel firmly that it’s a duplication of services, and I disagree with the costs that are allocated to it,” he said. Having the unit called into service by nearby municipalities “could and likely would result in additional overtime, comp time,” he said.
Galante said the unit’s impact on costs and staffing would be closely monitored.
The 3-3 tie vote on the resolution to create the unit culminated several months of debate that produced an unusual split on the governing body, where agreement is the norm.
Neff, who as mayor only votes in the event of a tie, said the “K9 kerfuffle” was the first issue on which he’d had to do so in his five and a half years in office.
“I came out on the side of trying it,” Neff told redbankgreen before the meeting. “In two years, if it’s not working, we pull the plug on it.”
Though several residents had voiced strong opposition at prior meetings, no one in the audience Monday night spoke on the issue.
A second resolution that would create a dedicated fund to allow for the acceptance of donations to fund the unit was quashed by consent during the council’s workshop session preceding the regular meeting.
Council members said they were troubled that uniformed police had appeared to solicit commitments for donations from business owners, without authorization by the governing body.
“I’m not pleased with the procedure, with the way these funds were sought,” said Councilman David Gilmour. No money has been collected, though, he noted.
“I don’t think it passes the smell test in any way, shape or form” for the borough to solicit donations from businesses in a town of just 6,000 residents, said Mihlon. Nor should anyone be asked to donate for a service that is clearly a municipal expense, he said. “Either we can afford it or we can’t,” he said.
A fund would have to be established, however, if unsolicited donations were to be accepted, said Attorney Meghan Clark. Galante agreed that the resolution be tabled and revisited if and when there’s a need to consider it.
“We don’t need money for the dog,” whose costs will prove “de minimis,” said Galante.
Officials hope to acquire a dog in time to enroll it in training classes that begin in the fall, said Galante.