Fire company seeks OK to buy property

By ANDREW MARTINS
Staff Writer

PLUMSTED — Registered voters in Plumsted will be asked to go to the polls twice in February to cast their ballot on two items that will impact how the New Egypt Fire Co. operates in 2014.

Residents will vote on the fire company’s proposal on Feb. 5 to purchase property next to the existing firehouse on Main Street in downtown New Egypt.

The property in question at 61-63 Main St. formerly housed the Main Street Family Restaurant. The purchase price to the fire company is about $480,000.

Officials have said the $480,000 that is needed to purchase the property would not pay for work that would be needed before the fire company would be able to occupy the building.

The Feb. 5 proposal calls for $160,000 that had been set aside to help pay for the construction of a new firehouse to be used to buy the Main Street parcel.

In previous comments on the matter, Fire Commissioner Aaron Heller called the plan to purchase the Main Street parcel a “last option” for the fire company, saying it was “the best bang for the township’s buck.”

Heller said that in order for the fire company to turn the building into an extension of the firehouse, the matter would have to go before voters again. He said that once the land is purchased, work on the property would not take place for a number of years.

Officials have said they want to purchase property to relocate Plumsted’s first aid squad to a more centralized location in the township.

The New Egypt First Aid Squad has its headquarters on Brynmore Road.

“Our attempt is to bring the New Egypt First Aid Squad under the same roof as the fire company,” Heller said recently. “It will make for a simpler operation for us and be easier for us to supervise.”

The fire company has been in charge of the first aid squad since municipal officials decided to merge the two entities in 2009.

At least one resident has taken issue with the fire company’s plan to purchase the Main Street parcel.

Mitch Geier said he is concerned the proposal does not address what he perceives to be a shortcoming in addressing firefightingresponse capabilities on the east side of the township.

“We have a public safety issue, as far as I am concerned. We need to have a firehouse where firemen can get to us in time to save lives,” said Geier, who lives on the east side of Plumsted.

According to Geier, the $160,000 the fire company now wants to use to buy the land on Main Street was originally collected during the development of new homes to help fund the construction of a firehouse at a more centralized location in town.

Geier said he believes the use of the $160,000 for any purpose other than to construct a firehouse on the east side of Plumsted would be disingenuous to the people who live in that area.

“Anyone who bought a house in the last 20 years … had that payment included in the price of their house,” he said. “All the people paid pretty much for the concept of having a firehouse on this side of town.”

Geier said he believes the fire company’s proposal to buy the Main Street parcel will unnecessarily raise fire taxes without substantially improving fire service.

Previously, Heller said a property owner will pay a total of about $250 more in fire district taxes over 10 years if the Main Street property plan is approved, as the fire district pays off the mortgage that will need to be acquired to buy the parcel.

Heller could not be reached this week to address Geier’s specific concerns with the Main Street proposal.

On Feb. 15, registered voters in Plumsted will be asked to return to the polls to vote on the New Egypt Fire Co.’s budget for 2014.

The budget totals about $2 million and will be supported by a $1.6 million local tax levy. The remainder of the budget will be supported by other revenues.

The tax levy is the total amount of money paid by all property owners in Plumsted to support the operation of the fire company this year.

Within the budget, $875,512 will be paid in salaries and $484,614 will be paid in benefits.

Between the fire district and the township’s emergency medical services (EMS) unit, there are 11 full-time career (paid) members and between 40 and 50 volunteers.

The EMS unit uses five ambulances and one utility vehicle. The fire company employs a ladder truck, a rescue truck, a fire engine, a water tanker, a brush truck and three support vehicles.

In 2013, voters rejected a $2 million fire district budget by a count of 226 to 141. The Township Committee reduced the proposed $1.5 million tax levy by $75,000.

The governing body has the authority to certify the tax levy that the Board of Fire Commissioners may collect.

In 2013, the average home assessment in Plumsted was $275,900, and the fire district tax rate was 18.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That meant the owner of home assessed at $275,900 paid about $505 in fire district taxes (.183 x 2,759).

According to the 2014 budget, the fire district tax rate is proposed to increase to 19.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a home that is still assessed at $275,900 will pay about $546 in fire district taxes if the budget is approved on Feb. 15 (.198 x 2,759).

If voters reject the budget on Feb. 15, it will be sent to the Township Committee for review.

Contact Andrew Martins at amartins@gmnews.com