Local towns find Homeland Security funds hard to take for granted

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Although there's a lot of talk about homeland security, little of the money earmarked for it is reaching Sussex County communities. Homeland Security grants have been available to New Jersey municipalities since 2003, and communities are now applying for the third cycle of grants that will be distributed by the federal government through New Jersey state agencies in 2005. Although many towns contacted by Straus News did not respond to requests for information about their efforts to get funding, those that did reported mixed results in getting money. The grants must be applied for each fiscal year, but due to the competitive nature of the grant and the limited funds available to each county, many municipalities do not receive any funding under the program. "The grant is very competitive," comments Steven Pittigher, Stanhope Chief of Police, citing the annual grant budget of $10 million that is to cover more than 600 municipalities. The recent passing of the 2005 fiscal year application deadline has raised new hopes and fears among municipal leaders. Towns such as Stanhope want the grant money to update their police departments and emergency response equipment. But not all requests are approved, and Stanhope last year was one of those whose application was denied. Borough officials reapplied this year and are hoping for assistance. The township hopes to use the grant to purchase a four-wheel drive command vehicle for its police department. "Right now we only have cars," says Pittigher. "A 4x4 vehicle would allow [the police department] to react to various situations that would require four-wheel drive and all-weather capacity." Hardyston's 2004 application was also denied. Officials there have also reapplied this year. Under this year's application, the township asked for approximately $160,000 for emergency management equipment to update the police department, first-aid squad, and fire department. "Any way that you can increase your resources gives you a higher level to relax," said Hardyston Township Manager Maryanne Smith. "[The grant] would allow us to expand our capabilities, trouble-shooting situations before they arise and funding them on our own." Hardyston is also hoping to use the grant towards the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle. Other equipment on the municipality's list are night vision apparatus, all-terrain and water protective gear, a transport trailer, and mobile lighting with an external generator. Not all Sussex County municipalities, however, were denied grants this year. In March, Wantage received $2,400 under the program. According to Chief Financial Officer Joe Catapinski, the funds were deposited into the treasury and "have not been earmarked for anything as far as I know of." Although the town has not decided what to do with the money, it is considering applying it towards completing a communications and computer upgrade. "We're in the process of upgrading and have purchased three PDA's, one for myself and for my two deputies," said Wantage Township Emergency Management Coordinator Joe Konotinski. According to Konotinski, the PDA's would allow emergency management personnel to carry their response plan in pdf format and "give [us] the ability to respond in a quicker and more professional manner." Hamburg received a $25,000 grant earlier this year. The town has reapplied for an additional $189,000 under the 2005 grant, and, if successful, hopes to use the funds, in combination with this year's grant, which has not been spent, to purchase a used utility vehicle for the office of emergency response and emergency