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New officer allows Metuchen Police Department to focus more on traffic, pedestrian safety

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METUCHEN – The Metuchen Police Department now has 29 police officers, a first since 1992.

“This is a big deal for the borough because having 29 officers at this phase in the borough allows us to have a second traffic safety officer [who would join Police Officer Rob Ring],” Mayor Jonathan Busch said, noting the focus the borough has had on traffic, transportation and pedestrian safety.

The mayor swore in Joseph R. Licata at a Borough Council meeting on May 13 in front of his family, borough officials and members of the department. Police Chief David Irizarry said Licata is coming to the borough after serving with the Pemberton and Seaside Park police departments.

The chief expressed his gratitude toward borough officials and the council for their support and action on the department’s recommendation as well as the public’s recommendation for an additional officer.

“It allows us to move someone in the patrol division into traffic to assist watching out for pedestrians and traffic safety,” he said.

James Galeota, chair of the Metuchen Traffic and Transportation Committee, commended borough officials for the approval of the additional officer.

“Over the years when the police department has been able to dedicate additional resources to traffic enforcement and pedestrian safety, we’ve seen a direct impact in Metuchen not only with citations that are issued and decreases in incidents from the enforcement side, but also the education side that comes with it,” he said.

The salary and benefits for an additional full-time officer is included in the 2019 municipal budget. The council held a public hearing and final adoption at the meeting.

The $25.9 million operating budget is up $6 million from 2018, which reflects a $3.5 million Middlesex County grant to support a Metuchen Arts District.

Borough Administrator Jay Muldoon said the county grant is the main driver of the total budget jump from last year.

In October 2018, county and borough officials came together to announce the county was allocating the grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to help create the Metuchen Arts District.

The Metuchen Arts District would include the Metuchen Forum Theater along Main Street and the corner of Amboy Avenue, the site of an abandoned gas station. The acquisition of the theater is the first major step in the borough’s proposed creation of a Metuchen Arts District, which officials announced in 2018.

The proposed arts district would include a renovation of the 450-seat Forum Theater and the conversion of the gas station net door into contemporary indoor-outdoor event space and dining area called “Spot.”

Metuchen’s residential and commercial property owners will pay a total local tax levy of $14.1 million to support the 2019 budget. The tax levy is up $800,000 from 2018. The increase in the tax levy adds five cents to the municipal tax rate. Muldoon said the projected municipal tax increase on a parcel with an assessed value of $206,806 is $103, a municipal tax rate increase of 3.9%, which is the same increase as 2018.

The municipal portion of a property owner’s tax bill is 22%. The tax bill also includes 62% for the Metuchen Public Schools, 15% for Middlesex County and 1% for the Metuchen Public Library.

The largest percentage of the proposed municipal budget is 18% for public safety (police), including salaries and wages, a contribution for emergency medical services and support for the fire department budget.

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