HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Planning Board chairman Richard Cheek was unanimously selected Monday by the Township Committee to replace Art Schenker, a Republican who recently resigned to accept a position as executive director of the township Municipal Utilities Authority.
Cheek was selected over two other nominees put forth by the township Republican County Committee, Harry Rogers and Mary Jo Couts.
His first meeting as a committeeman was a contentious one. Many members of the public joined the virtual meeting to weigh in on proposed plans for the Mizpah firehouse, which has been closed since September after the arrests of fire company Chief Jay Davenport II and firefighter Craig Paxton. The two were charged with official misconduct, conspiracy and theft.
Currently, the Mizpah area is being served by the Mays Landing and Richland volunteer fire companies.
Police Chief Greg Ciambrone outlined the plans for the building, which would convert the space to a public safety annex to include fire, police and public works departments.
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“This would maintain the coverage for the Mizpah area by the Mays Landing Volunteer Fire Department, enhanced by placing fire equipment in the building allowing for initial response from the present location,” Ciambrone said. “This would also allow police to utilize office space and create a greater police presence in the community. It would also help to bridge the gap between the police and the youth of the community.”
Ciambrone added public works could use garage space there to store plow trucks and salt needed to treat the roads in the western end of the township.
“We also want to maintain the building as a polling location for community residents,” he said.
There was no estimated cost for the project yet, according to Mayor Charles Cain, though he indicated the price tag likely would be modest as most of the work would be basic upgrades and refurbishing. The plan will be discussed further at the next regular committee meeting March 15.
Mizpah residents who virtually attended Monday’s meeting were not quick to support the plan.
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“I have concerns with increased police presence,” Rodney Segers said. “I don’t see the need for that activity.”
“We have community policing throughout the township, and it greatly benefits the residents,” Cain said.
“You are all leaving many questions unanswered,” Mizpah resident Samantha Jones said of the proposal. “You didn’t ask our opinions and failed to inform the residents. We are taxpayers, too.”
“That’s what we are doing tonight, informing the residents” Cain said.
Numerous residents expressed general concerns about the future of the fire company and why it has not been allowed to continue under different leadership.
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“Due to the investigation, it was determined that they have not been operating as a legal entity since 1987,” Ciambrone said. “This could have had serious liability problems for all township taxpayers.”
A few residents also asked why the township was selling the company’s pumper/tanker to another fire company outside the township. According to Administrator Arch Liston, the township has an offer to sell the truck for $25,000 to Southampton Township in Burlington County.
“I disagree with selling a Mizpah firetruck,” resident Nicole Winn said. “We were not given a chance to reorganize.”
“Trucks are sold when they reach a certain lifespan,” Cain said.
“Right now, it is just sitting there rusting away,” Liston added.
The committee voted to sell the truck.