To the editor:
Over the past several weeks, Ms. Judy Faulkner has made statements regarding the Hillsborough Fire District. These statements include claims of incorrect voting procedures, lack of oversight and claims that the fire district was involved with the township committee’s decision to sever ties with the Hillsborough Rescue Squad/HEMS Corp. The Board of Fire Commissioners feels it is necessary to respond.
The board of fire commissioners in Hillsborough is held to the same regulations as all fire districts within the state of New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 40A. This includes the submission of all budgetary items to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs as well as a certified annual audit conducted in accordance with NJ state law. Ms. Faulkner has filed a number of OPRA requests and, in accordance with state law, all of them have been fulfilled. What Ms. Faulkner fails to mention in her several press releases is what the findings were from these records requests. The fact is that the records provided to her prove that the fire district had no involvement in the termination of the rescue squad, it verified the actual number of firefighters trained in extrication and that the single firefighter’s fraudulent certificate was discovered by an internal review of the training documents. Once this record was discovered, appropriate disciplinary action was taken against the one member identified. Well before her OPRA requests were made.
Ms. Faulkner’s claim that there is a lack of transparency is incorrect. The fire district must adhere to all of the Department of Community Affairs requirements including the posting of all meeting minutes, audits and budgets on their website, holding advertised public meetings and providing all records upon request. The budget election she claims violated “numerous” election laws was not in fact an election, it was a vote held in accordance with state statute to gain voters’ approval to list proposed capital expenditures on the general election ballot held in February; this special vote did not authorize the spending of any funds. The October 12, 2017 special election was nullified due to a procedural error, the voters sign in sheet was inadvertently forgotten to be provided. Upon discovering this error, the fire district voided the vote and re-advertised for a new vote. Her statements that this vote was not properly advertised or that there were other election violations is not true.
Capital purchases and payments of expenses made by fire commissioners are common in all forms of government and are conducted in accordance with the rules, regulations and oversight of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Her claim that the fire commissioners operate further from the taxpayers expectations has no basis in fact and is nothing more than her opinion.
Ms. Faulkner’s accusations of wrong doings by the Hillsborough Fire District began shortly after the Hillsborough Rescue Squad/HEMS corp. was removed by the Hillsborough Township Committee. Her actions and claims appear to be an attempt at some type of revenge for a poorly conceived notion that the fire district is somehow to blame for that organizations failure. Although HRS/HEMS served the township well, it appeared that there was internal issues and had little to no governmental oversight or accountability for the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars that it was provided by the township. Ms. Faulkner was a member of the leadership of HRS/HEMS. She now feels that there is not sufficient oversight of a state regulated fire district, we believe that this irony bears mentioning.
The facts are that the fire district has been in place for over thirty years and has successfully met the needs of a growing community while maintaining a low tax rate for the services provided, all while under the rules and oversight of the state of NJ DCA. This has been accomplished by a dedicated group of volunteers, fire commissioners and fire district staff. The constant OPRA requests, anonymous letters of complaint, accusations and the politicizing of a nonpolitical governing body has created a distraction for the already overworked members of the fire district and has required the expenditure of tax dollars in legal fees and personnel’s time. As with any governmental body, corporation or organization there are often ways discovered to improve or correct operations, the fire district has as always strived to improve and make corrections as necessary.
We welcome any member of the public to verify the information in this article by coming to a commissioners meeting or reaching out to the fire district at 908-369-4313 ext. 7178. Please don’t base your vote or opinions on one person’s statements filled with half-truths and in many instances lack of facts.
Chairman of the Hillsborough Board of Fire Commissioners