HILLSBOROUGH: Split decision in fire vote

Two of five requests OK’d to be included in budget beyond 2% tax cap

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Voters approved two items to go beyond the state-mandated 2 percent cap on budget tax increases in next year’s fire budget election and must be approved there.
Those items are up to $45,000 for new fire pagers to alert volunteers of an emergency, and up to $160,000 for improved exhaust ventilation systems for all three township fire houses. The vote on pagers was 129-116 and the count on the ventilation was 132-113.
Voters rejected a potential $750,000 to buy a pumper truck for the Flagtown company. The commission had sought to buy the replacement a year earlier than originally scheduled. The vote was 129-117.
Voters also turned down, 128-118, a request to exceed the cap for up to $50,000 for a pickup truck for Fire Company No. 2. The company is retiring a 1989 brush truck. The proposed four-wheel-drive, crew cab pickup was to be dedicated for fire police traffic control and other duties.
There was a tie vote, 123-123, on a vehicle for the fire marshal’s office, not to exceed $50,000 from budget funds approved in 2014, to carry special fire investigative equipment. It wasn’t immediately known whether a tie vote constituted a yes or no; commissioners called their attorney. That money would have bought a used vehicle from neighboring Franklin Township.
After the first tally the count on the question was 123-122 to authorize buying. A recount came up with the tie.
Polls were open for two hours Thursday night, using paper ballots and a cardboard box to accept the votes. About 1 percent of township voters came out.
The commission will now apply to the state for permission to exceed the cap for the pagers and ventilation systems, and will need passage at the February election. The other items will either have to be within the cap or have another future vote to exceed the cap.
Voting yes to all five questions would have had the potential to raise the fire tax on the “average” assessed household by about $50 for one year, said the commission. As an example, a home valued at $250,000 pays about $82 a year in fire taxes.
The replacement pumper for Fire Company No. 1 would have replaced a 20-year-old pumper for the Flagtown company a year ahead of its normal schedule because it was incurring repair expenses that might be better put toward buying a new vehicle, commissioners said.
The fire commission coordinates equipment and training needs among the three firehouses in the township and contracts with the Neshanic Fire Company for service in the western part of the township.