TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Deep budget cuts are partly to blame for the slow cleanup following the blizzard that blanketed the Garden State this week, some municipal leaders said Thursday.
In Brick Township, public works employees facing layoffs didn’t come in. Pequannock officials cut back on rock salt, and in Asbury Park, the state Department of Transportation failed to show up until late Tuesday night to start clearing main roads — many received 30 inches of snow.
“We decided we couldn’t wait, so we starting treating every road like a city road and began plowing ourselves,” said Asbury Park mayor Ed Johnson.
In Monmouth and Ocean counties, which were among the hardest hit, several main roads still had only one lane open to traffic Thursday and ramps to many of them remained closed.
“This is going to be the new picture of New Jersey government,” Brick Township Mayor Stephen Acropolis told The Star-Ledger of Newark. Nearly a dozen public works employees called in sick in Brick as crews were struggling to clear snow.
Gov. Chris Christie cut more than $450 million in aid to municipalities in his budget this year, but his spokesman said the state is not to blame for the problems with the storm.
“We can sympathize, but at the same time, Trenton cannot be the answer for all budget problems, including the impact of the first snowstorm of the season on particular towns or regions of the state,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
Drewniak noted that municipalities and counties can apply for federal disaster relief funds.
“State government will assist them in that process as it has before,” he said.
Municipal administrators say they would have struggled with the cleanup regardless, but the scarce resources didn’t help. Other say it several factors created bad timing: The storm hit when many city workers were on vacation and as towns that operate on a calendar year were winding down their budgets, having already spent money on cleanup for heavy snowstorms at the beginning of the year.
“Even if we didn’t have budget cuts, this storm would have caused problems for municipalities,” Bill Dressel, executive director of the League of Municipalities.
As the roads begin to clear, Gov. Christie was expected to arrive back in the state from Disney World in Florida, where he was vacationing with his family.
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