Fire board proposes $455,597 budget

Voters will decide on the spending plan at the Feb. 21 election.

By: Sue Kramer
   LAMBERTVILLE — Residents are being asked to approve the Board of Fire Commissioners $455,597 budget when they go to the polls Saturday, Feb. 21.
   The basic budget of $405,597 is $26,570 under last year’s. Contributing to the lowered budget was a final payment last year on bonds taken out 20 years ago, saving $17,000 in principal and $2,125 in interest beginning this year.
   An additional $50,000 in grant money earmarked for the purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus brings the total budgeted amount to $455,597.
   Of the total, $362,600 is to be raised by taxes. This is $17,570 less than last year.
   "I think the fire chief and firemen have worked very hard on the budget to keep it in line so there wouldn’t be any increase to the taxpayers," board Chairman Robert Brown said.
   Although the tax rate to support the fire budget will not be established until May, city Clerk Mary Elizabeth Sheppard said it is expected to be set at 7.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. A homeowner, living in a house assessed at this year’s average of $260,127, would pay $187.29 in fire taxes.
   This is lower than last year’s tax rate of 9.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. On a house assessed at last year’s average of $211,515, a homeowner paid $196.71 in fire tax.
   "We were able to be responsive to the taxpayers by keeping the tax levy below last year’s while being able to proceed with the purchase of new air packs. We were able to proceed with this major purchase without having to finance any of it," board Vice Chairman Mitchell Ege said,
   In compiling this year’s budget, the board had to factor in some economic issues that were out of its control.
   An additional $6,000 was added to the budget this year under apparatus maintenance, reflecting a sharp increase in the cost of fuel for the department’s fire equipment. Last year’s total allotment was $27,675 vs. $33,900 this year.
   Rising insurance costs added a further $6,000, taking the cost to $46,000 over last year’s $40,000.
   Another high-cost budget item is for fire hydrant rental fees, the amount charged by United Water Lambertville in exchange for the department’s unlimited use of water. The cost amounts to $23,000, yearly.
   Other areas of the budget remained stable, with $2,000 being allotted to training and $1,000 to fire prevention, the same as last year. The amount company captains are allotted has been held at $2,000 for the past three years as has the $2,400 set aside for the maintenance of the fire alarm system.
   Although the budget was approved by the board at its Jan. 13 meeting, authorization to spend the money rests in the hands of voters.
   "I’d like to see the public get more involved with voting and meetings," Mr. Brown said. "I’d like to see people come to the meetings and see what it’s like to run a fire department from a fire commissioner’s point of view."
   The board meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Union Fire Company on North Main Street. Meetings begin at 7:30 p.m.
   Also on the voting agenda next week will be the election of two people to fill the three-year terms currently held by Mr. Brown and Mr. Ege. They are being challenged by Fire Police President Kenneth Williamson.
   Voting will take place at the Columbia firehouse on North Union Street between 2 and 9 p.m.