Millstone voters approve $1.7M fire district budget

Average homeowner’s taxes will increase $22


Residents voted 125 to 75 to pass Millstone Township Fire District’s $1.72 million budget.

The spending plan, approved in the Feb. 19 election at the firehouse, relies on a tax increase of 0.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, setting the tax rate for fire services at 0.085 cents per $100 of assessed value. This means that the taxes for a house assessed at the township’s average of $510,990 will increase $22.48 as a result of the passed budget.

Dave Markunas, chairman of the township’s board of fire commissioners, expressed his gratitude for the support the residents showed by coming out and voting for this year’s budget.

“By approving this budget, the residents can be assured that the fire department will continue to provide strong response for future emergency calls,” Markunas said. “The board of fire commissioners has and will continue to maintain an open-book approach to provide the residents of Millstone Township with financial information about fire department operations. Thank you to everyone for the support.”

The fire district budget for 2011 totals $1.72 million, of which $1.5 million will be raised by taxation. The 2011 budget is $39,915 less than the 2010 budget; however, the amount to be raised by taxation in 2011 is up by $84,585.

“The 2010 budget utilized $200,000 of restricted fund balance to offset a corresponding amount budgeted for septic system replacement, a new well and other improvements around the firehouse,” Markunas said. “In the 2011 budget, we do not have any restricted fund balance to use to offset costs. Previous budget defeats and cuts directed by the township exhausted our surplus and put the fire district in an unsustainable financial position.” Over the last few years, the fire district has made numerous cuts in the budget in order to meet rising costs, according to Markunas.

“Many of our budget line items have been underfunded for several years,” he said. “During the 2010 budget year the commissioners took extreme measures to further reduce costs with the aim of generating a surplus in 2011 and restoring some measure of financial stability within the district.”

One of the biggest moves the commissioners made was the employment of substitute and per diem firefighters to replace two full-time paid firefighters who left the fire district. Through this strategy, the board of fire commissioners was able to maintain effective staffing levels for emergency response at five firefighters per shift while offsetting salaries and related personnel costs, according to Markunas.

“We were able to generate additional surplus from other smaller operating efficiencies and other sacrifices to create a surplus of approximately $265,000,” he said.

After utilizing $127,000 in the 2011 budget, the district has placed $142,000 into surplus to be available for utilization in future budget years.

The commissioners were faced with numerous challenges in developing the 2011 budget, according to Markunas.

“We had a record number of calls for service in 2010 at 701,” he said. “This is 247 more calls than we had in 2010, a 54 percent increase. Based on previous years’ trends, we expect the call volume to continue to grow.”

The department’s operational expenses also went up in a number of areas.

“Many of these increases are in line items that were underfunded for a couple of years, and now they are unavoidable expenses that we had to budget for in 2011,” Markunas said .

These increases include protective equipment at $9,800, fuel at $7,000, station supplies at $4,000, office supplies at $6,000, equipment maintenance at $3,000, emergency medical service (EMS) supplies at $1,000, and contingency costs at $30,000.

“We also had increased costs from additional pension payments to the state of New Jersey of $6,200 and insurance cost increases of $2,500,” Markunas said.

In addition, the board needs to replace some essential equipment in 2011. All firefighters are equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to provide breathing air during fire scene and rescue activities. The compressed air tanks of the SCBA equipment have a service life of 15 years and must be replaced. The board has budgeted to replace 30 tanks in 2011, which is half its total number of SCBA tanks. The balance of the tanks needs to be replaced in 2012, according to Markunas.

“The department applied for a federal grant in 2010 to cover the replacement cost of these tanks, but we were unable to secure the grant,” he said. “We anticipate applying for other grants in upcoming budget years, but there is no guarantee of success.”

The board has also budgeted to replace two utility vehicles.

“Due to previous budget constraints, we have kept these vehicles in use well beyond when we would have preferred to replace them,” Markunas said. “The pickup truck is used to transport equipment, supplies and personnel during fire scene operations. This same truck is equipped with a plow for snow removal associated with emergency response operations during winter storms. The Suburban is utilized for responding to EMS calls, since using a full-size fire truck is impractical for this work. This same vehicle is used for daily fire inspection and fire prevention duties around the township.”

The board budgeted a total of $130,000 for the SCBA tanks and vehicle purchases.

Three candidates ran for the three open seats on the fire commissioner board in the election. Jeffrey Van Arsdale received 143 votes and received a full three-year term. Thomas F. Banyacski Sr. received 147 votes to win the other three-year term seat. Ronald P. Gesualdo garnered 150 votes to fill the final year of an unexpired term. Commissioner Paul Boegemann did not seek re-election.