TRENTON - 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 to start clearing main roads, some with 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, some main roads still had only one lane open to traffic Thursday, and on-ramps remained closed.
"This is going to be the new picture of New Jersey government," Brick Township Mayor Stephen Acropolis told the Newark Star-Ledger. Nearly a dozen public works employees called in sick in Acropolis' Ocean County town as crews struggled to clear snow.
Gov. Christie cut more than $450 million in aid to municipalities in his budget this year, but his spokesman said the state was not to blame for 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," spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
Municipalities and counties can apply for federal disaster-relief funds, Drewniak noted.
"State government will assist them in that process, as it has before," he said.
Municipal administrators said that they would have struggled with the cleanup regardless, but that scarce resources didn't help. Many said several factors were involved: 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," said William G. Dressel Jr., executive director of the League of Municipalities.