City voters OK budget, incumbents

The budget includes a 2-cent decrease in the fire tax.

By: Sue Kramer
   LAMBERTVILLE — A record number of voters turned out Saturday to approve the city’s $455,597 fire budget, which includes a 2-cent decrease in the fire tax, and re-elect two incumbent fire commissioners to three-year terms.
   Voters also approved a second ballot question authorizing the purchase of Scott air packs for firefighters using state grant money and reserve funds.
   More people than usual turned out to vote in this year’s contested fire election, a contest that traditionally has a low turnout. By the time polls closed at 9 p.m., 260 people — or about 11 percent of the city’s 2,400 registered voters had cast ballots. Of those 260 voters, 19 used absentee ballots.
   Saturday’s turnout was higher than the previous record of 198 people who voted six years ago in a tight race between four men for three seats on the board. Last year, just 49 people voted and there were three absentee ballots.
   In Saturday’s election, board Chairman Robert Brown, 61, and board Vice Chairman and Purchasing Agent Mitchell Ege, 42, easily retained their seats on the board, defeating challenger Kenneth Williamson.
   Mr. Brown now will begin his fourth term on the board, serving as vice chairman for three years and chairman for the past three years. He is a 40-year member of the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad.
   Mr. Ege is a 28-year member of the Lambertville Fire Department. This is his second term on the board.
   Mr. Brown received 190 votes and Mr. Ege received 184. The 47-year-old Mr. Williamson, a member of the Lambertville Fire Department for 10 years and president of the Lambertville Fire Police, received 79 votes.
   Mr. Brown said, "I’d like to thank all the voters who came out and took an interest in the fire commission elections and budget. I’d like to see these people come out to the meetings as well."
   Mr. Ege also was pleased with voter turnout, saying, "First, I am grateful to the voters and want to thank them for their overwhelming support of the budget, the purchase of the Scott air pack system and of Bob Brown and myself as fire commissioners. Furthermore, I need to acknowledge the team effort of a lot of good people who worked hard on this election. There are too many people to name, and I want to let them know that their hard work is very much appreciated."
   In addition to re-electing the two men, voters also overwhelmingly approved the board’s budget questions.
   Question number one asked voters whether $455,597 should be approved for the fire district’s 2004 budget, with $362,600 of that to be raised by taxes. Voters cast 217 yes votes to 35 no votes.
   With the approval of the budget, the average home in Lambertville, which is assessed at $260,127, will be taxed at a rate of 7.2 cents per $100 of valuation, making the amount of fire tax a homeowner will pay $187.29. The rate will be set in May.
   The current rate is 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.
   As with the first question, voters approved Question No. 2, asking whether $154,000 should be approved for the purchase of air packs, using a $50,000 grant from the State of New Jersey and $104,000 in funds reserved for equipment purchases. The vote was 232 for the expenditure to 18 against.
   Looking ahead to his next three years on the board, Mr. Brown said, "We’re not going to cut corners on the safety equipment for the men," but he’s also going to keep an eye on fiscal responsibility and taxpayers’ money. We’re going to keep looking at all the issues."
   Mr. Ege agreed, saying, "Our work is just beginning, and I am confident that we will be able to continue to provide Lambertville with the quality fire services they deserve at a price they can afford. With that in mind, I am beginning my second term focusing first on the water company and plan to network with key people in our community to make sure the fire hydrant issues are addressed."
   Mr. Ege has said United Water-Lambertville has not provided any hydrant-flow information to the board for three years. The company charged a flat fee of $23,000 a year for fire hydrant rental. That entitles firefighters to use an unlimited amount of water.
   In return, the water company must test and maintain the hydrants and provide the board with a water-flow rating for each hydrant.
   Mr. Ege explained a good hydrant will produce 1,000 gallons of water per minute, a desirable amount of water for fighting a fire. But a hydrant that is poorly maintained may only produce 500 or few gallons, and that can mean injury or unneeded property damage when fighting a fire.
   Mr. Ege went on to outline his basic agenda for the next three years.
   "We will work on moving our Fire Department forward in respect to the continuance of training of our volunteers, equipment purchases that make us compatible with the surrounding communities that will improve on our services to Lambertville and plan on focusing on the development of long-range goals and strategies," he said.
   He added, "It’s an aggressive agenda, but with the help of fellow commissioners and my constituents within the fire company, we will, as a team, be able to accomplish the goals with always focusing on providing the best services to Lambertville residents at a price they can afford."
   Both men will be sworn in at the board’s reorganization meeting March 9. The meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will be held at the Union Fire Company on North Main Street.