West Orange seeks FEMA funding for Rock Spring

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — In its second virtual meeting since social distancing guidelines were put into effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Orange Township Council unanimously passed a resolution on April 28 that will seek funding from FEMA to reimburse KemperSports, the sports management company that runs the township-owned Rock Spring Golf Club, for maintenance while the course has been forced to close. The resolution says the company will be reimbursed up to $200,000.

Rock Spring reopened May 2, following the required social distancing guidelines. Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on April 29 allowing golf courses and state parks to open to the public at limited capacity.

However, at the WOTC meeting before Murphy’s executive order, West Orange Chief Financial Officer John Gross said a staff of four people has been taking care of the golf course during the weeks of closure.

“Obviously, that management was contingent on us allowing them to play golf on the course, which the governor has usurped our authority on and rightfully so,” he said. “We were looking for a solution, because one of the main problems we have is if the course is unmaintained for any period of time, we would lose the course.”

Township attorney Richard Trenk said at the meeting that 19 staff members at Rock Spring were furloughed when the course had to close. They had not yet hired summer and peak-season staff. The management staff was not able to get a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, and they do not have business-interruption insurance.

According to Gross, there has not yet been any direction about how emergency funds will be distributed, or what financial support counties and municipalities will receive from the federal government.

“It’s not like a snowstorm or an ice storm or a hurricane, where we spend a lot of money in mitigation,” Gross said. “It’s going to be lost revenue. I am optimistic that that will be the focus of FEMA as well as the focus of any legislation that comes out of the federal government as well. Having said that, there are no guarantees.”

Councilman Joe Krakoviak asked how much of the $200,000 West Orange requested from FEMA is likely to be received, and Gross replied that it would be at least 75 percent, if not 100 percent.

“Formulaically, that’s their history,” he said. “It was just the beginning of last year when we got the last batch of money for Hurricane Sandy. So the money will come when the money comes. It’s not usually quick.” 

Krakoviak was also concerned that, along with West Orange, every other town and county in the country would be applying for emergency funding from FEMA, lowering the likelihood that the township will receive the money.

“Everything gives me pause these days, but I can only tell you what we know historically,” Gross said. “Everybody’s got the same problem. But we have things we have to do and we have assets to protect. If we don’t do this and make sure that it is properly maintained, we’re not going to have a golf course anymore, or it’s going to cost us millions of dollars to fix it.”

Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown agreed.

“This is a revenue generator for our town,” she said at the meeting. “I believe it is a responsibility that we have to maintain it in readily operable condition so that when the governor lifts this quarantine we’ll be ready to go. I think it would be negligent if we didn’t take care of that asset.”