Drones included in $99M Union budget

Image Courtesy of the Union Police Facebook page
Union police will be getting three aerial drones, to be used for locating lost children and suspects as well as surveil traffic, crime and fire scenes.

UNION, NJ — The Township Committee has approved a $99 million budget which includes an average tax increase of $47 per average home and $35,000 for the Union Police Department to purchase aerial drones.

Union would become at least the second town in the county to obtain the drones. There will be three purchased, one large and two smaller ones, according to police administrator Gene O’Brien. The $35,000 will cover the cost of the drones as well as training and licensing costs required by the Federal Aviation Administration, O’Brien said.

The budget, unanimously adopted at the April 9 Union Township Committee meeting, is approximately 1.5 percent higher than the 2018 spending plan, which came in at $97.5 million, and is below the state-limited 2 percent cap, so does not need voter approval.
The tax rate growth reflects the lowest increase for the township in the past seven years, assistant business administrator Tammie Baldwin said at a budget presentation held March 26.

The $47 increase does not include school district and county taxes, which have not yet been finalized.
The school board approved a $137 million preliminary budget for the 2019-20 school year, sending it to the executive county superintendent for review, at its March 19 regular meeting. The spending plan passed 5-3 with one abstention one day before it was due in the County Superintendent’s Office.

A public hearing for the school budget is set for Tuesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. in the Union High School Library.
The largest portion of this year’s township budget includes 21 percent apportioned to the Police Department, with 15 percent for the Fire Department and 4 percent for the Department of Public Works. The other more than 40 percent is allocated for insurance, pensions and other government services.

The budget also includes plans for paving more than 60 roads and for the Springfield Avenue Streetscape project in 2019.
Baldwin said the municipal portion of the tax bill accounts for 37 percent of the total bill — including the 1 percent library tax — while the other 63 percent will be determined by the county and the school board.

The municipal tax bill reflects expenditures for police and fire protection, parks and recreation, senior citizen services, DPW services and garbage collection, according to Baldwin.

At the March 26 budget presentation, Baldwin outlined the township’s goals for 2019, which include maintaining the township’s AA-plus bond rating, the creation of a traffic and parking advisory committee, and redevelopment projects in Union Center to provide built-in foot traffic to revitalize the downtown area.

The day after the budget approval, the Union Police Department posted on its Facebook page that “drones have been used to help locate lost children and seniors who have wandered from their homes by covering large areas, in a short period of time, especially at night. The drones will also enhance the department’s capabilities to more effectively search for suspects when necessary.”

The post went on to say that a drone can survey a crime scene faster and more accurately than a human on the ground, adding that the department will also “have the ability to survey an active fire or crime scene from an angle that would have been impossible prior to obtaining the drones.”
The drones will only be used for special circumstances and will not be routinely patrolling the township, according to the post.