WOOLWICH TWP. — At their meeting on Jan. 27, the Woolwich Township Committee discussed concerns brought up by a group of approximately 35 township residents about area community group homes, known as AdvoServ of New Jersey.
AdvoServ offers behavioral treatment programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They operate four campuses consisting of a total of 11 individual homes in Woolwich Township, and have a headquarters on Heron Drive in Logan Township.
Stefan Cooper, of Woolwich, noted that AdvoServ treats individuals who display complex extreme behavioral disorders. Cooper mentioned that the company lists some of the conditions they serve on their web site, which include aggression, sexually inappropriate behavior, fire setting, property destruction, violence, and other problems.
AdvoServ Program Director Darren Blough sent an e-mail to the township about the company. “Any reference to this type of service on the website is specific to a specialized program in a secured setting on state property, and does not in any way depict the services we provide in our group home in Gloucester County,” he wrote.
Cooper asked about zoning requirements for such a facility. He pointed out that the AdvoServ located on 230 Rainey Road is only about 350 yards from Charles Harker Elementary School. Cooper himself, reportedly lives in the vicinity of a group home on Oldmans Creek Road.
Township Solicitor Mark Shoemaker said that restrictions placed on such an operation were found to be unconstitutional years ago, and that Woolwich Township has no jurisdiction on the matter. “Every town has to treat these facilities like any other facility, according to a New Jersey statute,” he clarified.
Gloucester County Director of Disability Services Leona Mather, who was representing the county at the meeting said, “AdvoServ is monitored 24/7.There is no one there who would have to register for Megan’s Law.”
Blough’s letter addressed the monitoring, confirming that the homes are staffed 24 hours. “Prior to working in the programs, each prospective staff member must complete a fingerprint review (state and federal), and successfully complete an intensive two-week orientation/training,” he stated.
Cooper said that residents don’t know the individuals who are living in the group home, and Mayor Sam Maccarone conceded that the township doesn’t have any control over who is in the facility. But Maccarone added that Woolwich Township Police Chief Russell Marino has a list of all of the patients at the AdvoServ facility.
Marino confirmed that he knew their identities, and where they live.
Cooper requested assurance that none of the people with more extreme disorders live at the facility, and asked the Committee to quell residents’ concerns.
“If you have concerns, call 911, and we can come around and investigate it,” assured Marino. “We can make sure that everything is all right, and give you peace of mind.”
“We want you to feel comfortable,” added Deputy Mayor Alex Elefante.
Maccarone mentioned that he had his own daughter to think about. “I am very mindful of how we keep our residents safe here,” commented the mayor. “I believe the best way to settle this is to set up a meeting with AdvoServ to address your concerns.”
Maccarone later said that this was not the first time residents had voiced concern about the facilities. He said that because of this, a meeting is being scheduled between AdvoServ, residents, the township committee, and the Department of Human Services, to address the issues.
In resolutions, the Committee authorized the hiring of per diem employees for snow removal and approved an agreement for supplemental snow removal. Committeeman Nick Armano commended the Public Works Department and Manager Anthony Bertino for their efforts in clearing municipality roads during a recent snowstorm.
“He spent 32 hours in a truck plowing the snow himself,” praised Armano “They normally take 10 hours to plow.”
In Finance, Elefante said that the Township was in good shape and moving in the right direction. He also announced that construction permits issued had increased to 603 in 2013 from 564 in 2012.
The Committee also authorized the hiring of Class I officers within the Police Department. “We have a line item on our budget for this,” observed Maccarone.
And Committeewoman Jennifer Cavallaro reported that an Environmental Commission meeting had discussed a community garden, along with spring and summer activity plans. In her Swedesboro/Woolwich schools report, Cavallaro said she planned to discuss shared services opportunities between the school district and the Township.