Township Committee reduces tax levy for Freehold Township Fire District No. 1

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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – The Township Committee has reduced the Freehold Township Fire District No. 1 Board of Fire Commissioners’ proposed 2018 tax levy by $525,750.

The fire commissioners proposed a 2018 budget that totaled $1.3 million and called for the entire amount to be collected in taxes from the fire district’s residential and commercial property owners. On Feb. 17, voters defeated the budget, 127 to 109. With the defeat, the budget was sent to the municipal governing body for review.

On March 26, committee members authorized a tax levy of $774,200 and directed the fire commissioners to use $70,000 from surplus funds (savings) to produce the revised 2018 Fire District No. 1 budget totaling $844,200.

For 2018, the fire commissioners proposed a tax rate of 3.84 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which would have resulted in fire district taxes of $149 to the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $388,000. With the reduction in the tax levy, the fire district tax rate will be 1.22 cents per $100 and result in a fire district tax of $47 to the owner of a home assessed at $388,000.

Before the committee members voted on the revised budget, Fire Commissioner Andrew Story expressed his disappointment with what he believed was a lack of communication between the Township Committee and the fire commissioners, which he acknowledged occurred on both sides.

“I understand the budget had to be cut, but it’s just a disappointment that we didn’t communicate better,” Story said. “I am hoping that this year we will work together more.”

Story expressed his respect for the committee and Mayor Anthony Ammiano said the committee appreciates the work of the fire district’s personnel.

In a statement, the Board of Fire Commissioners said, “With the new budget provided by the Township Committee, the board can guarantee coverage and service to the residents of Fire District No. 1.”

Fire District No. 1 is west of Route 9. Firefighting services are provided by the Freehold Township Independent Fire Company No. 1.

In a statement issued after the budget reductions were proposed, the Township Committee said, “Most of the line items (in the fire district budget) do not have detailed or specific items identified in the budget, but those that do are specifically addressed. Where we did not have specific information, our budget recommendations were based on historical spending. The recommended budget reductions were made after careful and deliberate consideration. Ensuring the safety of our firefighters and our residents is and always will be a top priority.”

Among the reductions in the budget was the removal of $85,000 in salaries for operations and maintenance. Members of the governing body said, “Salaries under cost of operations and maintenance from the defeated budget totaled $94,000, of which $85,000 was for salaries and $9,000 for payroll related taxes. There was a total of eight new hires proposed as follows: five part-time housemen at $11,820 per person ($59,100), one supervisor at $10,900, one contingency hire at $15,600 and one houseman supervisor at $8,400. These part-time positions were intended to be paid firefighters to cover daytime response to fire calls. This request was also included and removed from the defeated 2017 budget.

“Starting in mid-2016, the Township Committee had several conversations with the fire district commissioners expressing our opposition to paid part-time positions. The fire district commissioners do not believe they can adequately respond to daytime fire calls without these positions. The Township Committee strongly believes the current mutual aid response agreements between Freehold Township Fire District No. 1, Freehold Township Fire District No. 2 and the Freehold Fire Department in Freehold Borough, in which all three departments agree to assist with coverage for each other, provides sufficient coverage for the greater Freehold area,” the governing body said.

Another reduction from the budget was the removal of $65,000 in capital expenditures. Members of the committee said, “The capital expenditure line item totaling $65,000 is to purchase a chief’s command vehicle. Because this was a capital purchase, it required approval by the registered voters of Fire District No. 1. This purchase was approved by voters by a 15-1 vote at a special meeting on Jan. 9 and was included in the 2018 budget.

“The fire district currently maintains a capital projects fund that is to be used for the acquisition or construction of major capital facilities, such as firehouses and firefighting apparatus. The current fund balance (savings) is $269,052, of which $105,000 is restricted for future identified projects. It is our contention that should the district proceed with the purchase, taxpayers not be burdened through a tax levy when funding is currently available in the capital projects fund,” the governing body said.

Still another reduction from the budget was the removal of $39,000 in education and training. Members of the committee said, “The education and training budget is one where there were no specific items identified in the proposed budget amount of $45,000. Prior to 2017, the commissioners attended an out-of-state convention that was a significant portion of the annual budget.

“In the 2017 budget that was defeated, the budget was reduced with a request that the district limit the number of attendees at the out-of-state conference. For 2017, the commissioners elected to forgo this out-of-state convention, resulting in expenditures well below the budget allowance.

“The Township Committee believes there are several outstanding local training resources available, including the Monmouth County Fire Academy, that are cost-effective alternatives. As such, the proposed 2018 budget presents an amount consistent with the 2017 expenditures.”

Other reductions from the budget that was initially proposed by the fire commissioners were $42,750 in building maintenance; $19,400 in professional fees; $16,000 in truck repairs and maintenance; $9,000 in fringe benefits for operations and maintenance; $9,000 in utilities; $7,500 in insurance; $6,000 in salaries and wages for administration; $3,000 in information technology maintenance; $3,000 in cell costs; $2,500 in computer expense; $2,250 in equipment testing; $800 in fringe benefits for administration; and $150 in elections.