By Matthew Sockol
MILLSTONE – On Feb. 20, residents will be asked to vote on the 2016 budget put forth by the Millstone Township Board of Fire Commissioners. Voting will take place from 2-9 p.m. at the Millstone Township Fire Company, 461 Stagecoach Road. All registered voters in the township may cast a ballot in the fire district election.
Copies of the budget may be viewed at www.millstonefire.com and at www.mtbofc.com.
The fire commissioners are proposing a budget of $1.99 million to support the operation of the fire district this year. The budget will be supported through the collection of $1.74 million in fire district taxes, according to the proposed spending plan.
There will be no increase in the fire district’s tax rate, which will remain stable at 10.95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 2016.
“The flat tax rate is due to the utilization of $95,000 in surplus from last year’s budget, we have $115,000 coming from our capital reserve, and we have also seen an increase in property valuations,” Fire Commissioner and Board Chairman David Markunas said during a Feb. 3 presentation of the budget to the Township Committee.
Markunas, who is running unopposed for a seat on the Board of Fire Commissioners, viewed the flat tax rate as a selling point for the budget.
“We have done our best job to present a budget that not only continues to maintain the fire department in the highest order of readiness, but we have also demonstrated sustainable practices for our budgeting and to make sure we have used public funds as prudently as possible,” he said.
With a tax rate of 10.95 cents in place, the owner of a home that is assessed at $400,000 will pay $438 in fire district taxes in 2016. The owner of a home assessed at $500,000 will pay $548 in fire district taxes and the owner of a home assessed at $600,000 will pay $657 in fire district taxes.
In 2015, voters approved the collection of $1.72 million in local taxes to support a $1.82 million budget for the fire district. The tax rate increased from 10.45 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 2014 to 10.95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 2015.
“As with most budgets, we are challenged with increased costs in a number of different areas,” Markunas said. “This year, we are looking at increased costs in our administration category, our salaries, pension contributions, and we have miscellaneous operating expenses that have also gone up.”
Markunas said one of the largest increases in the budget involves the fire department’s radios and communication equipment.
“(Monmouth) County has gone to new communication programs, so we have been trying to keep pace with their technology,” he said. “And we also want to be able to communicate with our neighboring departments in Middlesex, Ocean and Mercer counties. So we are looking to purchase new dual band radios so we can effectively communicate with all those departments.”
The cost of the new radios is $115,000.
Markunas said the fire commissioners will form a committee to look at the possible replacement of a 1993 rescue truck.
When asked by Deputy Mayor Mike Kuczinski if the purchase of a new rescue truck would figure in the 2016 budget, Markunas said it would not.
The fire company was an all-volunteer organization until 1999 when the first career (paid) firefighters were hired. At present, there are nine full-time career firefighters and officers and 23 active volunteer firefighters and officers. The career firefighters are on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the volunteer firefighters respond to incidents from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
In 2015, fire company personnel responded to 726 incidents. That number includes 29 structural fires, 100 mutual aid responses to neighboring communities and 126 motor vehicle accident calls.
Mayor Bob Kinsey voiced his support for the fire company, saying, “We appreciate everything you guys do.”