Upper Freehold may take legal action against Allentown

U.F. and fire company press borough to pay outstanding fire service costs

BY JANE MEGGITT Correspondent

Upper Freehold Township plans to sue Allentown if the borough does not pay its fair share of fire service costs.

Township Administrator Dianne Kelly hand-delivered a letter to the borough on Feb. 22. The letter contained an invoice for what the township calculated as Allentown’s fire service costs for the past five years, a request for the borough to increase its annual contribution to the Hope Fire Company by $50,000 and a Fire Shared Services Agreement (FSSA) for 2011.

The Hope Fire Company in Allentown provides fire protection to both municipalities and considers Upper Freehold the leading agent in the FSSA. Allentown officials have refused to sign an FSSA since 2005 and have not increased the borough’s financial contribution for fire services since 2003, according to the letter.

The letter further states that Upper Freehold taxpayers have shouldered a 45 percent increase in firefighter-related costs over the past five years while Allentown residents’ share has risen 8 percent.

“Essentially, the 8 percent increase in Allentown over this five-year period of time solely represents pay raises for lead career firefighter Doug Vorp,” the letter states. “Allentown is being unjustly enriched by Upper Freehold taxpayers, and this can no longer continue.”

Allentown paid approximately 18 percent of the fire service costs in 2010 while Upper Freehold paid 82 percent, according to the letter.

The letter states that the borough has ignored or refused all requests to increase its financial contribution for fire services, and alleges that the borough reneged on a September 2009 promise to pay $20,000 more for fire services. “In 2010, we have refrained from exploring legal avenues to resolve this matter and sincerely hope that we can avoid such action,” the letter states. “However, in the event we do not hear from you by March 2, 2011, the township is committed to exploring all legal avenues for a final determination of this outstanding bill and future financial contributions.”

Hope Fire Company Chief Jeremy Wikoff said the borough also promised to buy the fire company a pickup truck several years ago, but never did. When former Chief Brad Carter attended the Feb. 10, 2009, Borough Council meeting to ask Allentown Mayor Stuart Fierstein about the borough’s 2008 resolution to purchase the new truck, Fierstein said that MonmouthCounty sold the bonds that the borough issued for the vehicle purchase.

At the same meeting, Hope Fire Company members complained about receiving a $5,865 water bill from the borough, noting that Allentown never billed the firehouse for water before. At that time, Carter called the borough’s decision to charge the fire company for fire suppression absurd.

Wikoff said he is tired of the bad blood and “childish antics” between the two municipalities.

“They need to try to work things out and start thinking about the residents of their respective towns,” he said. “We have stated our needs over the years, and it has been up to them to work it out. Upper Freehold Township needs the financial help for the paid staff.”

Wikoff said Hope Fire Company’s paid firefighters should be doing fire inspections in Allentown. However, he said, Allentown has worked with neighboring Robbinsville in recent years for construction and fire inspections.

“I feel that the paid firefighters should be inspecting the town that we are all protecting,” he said.

He also noted that the fire company has not had any money for overtime in recent years, which prevents paid firefighters from working with volunteers at night and on the weekends.

“This is a major issue,” Wikoff said.

Allentown has not increased its financial contribution to the fire company in years, Wikoff said.

“Allentown has always seemed to think that what we ask for is too much money,” Wikoff said. “While the Hope Fire Company expenses have gone up, it has not received any increase in money directly from Allentown in years. Allentown has a small but densely populated area. This poses a high risk. Allentown needs to provide more funding for fire protection.”

Fierstein did not return calls for comment.