Two fire districts move toward consolidation

Staff Writer

JACKSON – A consolidation effort involving Jackson fire districts No. 1 and No. 2 has been given a vote of confidence by municipal officials.

During the Aug. 25 meting of the Township Council, Fire District No. 1 Commissioner Christopher Aldrich and attorney Richard Braslow informed the public of the plan to dissolve Fire District No. 1 and incorporate it into Fire District No. 2.

“It was the [state Department of Community Affairs’] opinion that the best method of proceeding would be to dissolve one district and merge it into the other,” said Braslow, who represents both fire districts.

Jackson fire districts 1 and 2 are served by the Whitesville and Cassville fire companies, respectively.

Jackson fire districts 3 and 4 are not involved with the current consolidation effort.

Aldrich said the decision to consolidate fire districts 1 and 2 grew out of the fire districts’ cooperative nature.

“We fight fires together, we train together, we do pretty much everything together, so this was a simple thing,” he said.

“It is rare in fire services to have two districts that are willing to voluntarily consolidate,” Braslow said.

According to the Department of Community Affairs, the two fire districts will officially be consolidated on Jan. 1, 2016, if the planned merger is approved by the municipality.

Officials said the new entity will be known as Jackson Township Fire District No. 2 and all future equipment will receive that new name.

Aldrich said the consolidation could make fire coverage better for the residents of the new Fire District No. 2.

“Instead of having District 1’s employees on one side of town and District 2’s employees on another side of town, now those two staffs become one,” he said. “If District 1 is out on a run, District 2’s staff can come over and relocate to District 1 while they are out. The savings we project will be longterm savings. We think we can do this and provide a better service for less money from the taxpayers.”

Fire districts are supported through a tax that each property owner in the fire district pays.

Fire District No. 1’s budget for 2015 totals $615,902 and Fire District No. 2’s budget for 2015 totals $1.2 million.

Aldrich said savings are expected to be realized by the removal of redundancies in the fire districts’ professional staff. For example, the consolidated fire district will employ one attorney, compared to the existing fire districts each employing an attorney.

“Our objective is for the cost savings to grow every year,” he said. “We want that cost savings to keep going.”

Officials said the consolidation will not bring about layoffs for career staff or require the reduction of available apparatus. The consolidated fire district will be comprised of six full-time personnel, 15 per diem personnel and more than 100 volunteer firefighters.

Despite past efforts to consolidate all four of Jackson’s fire districts into one entity, Braslow said the current initiative does not include fire districts 3 and 4.

In March, representatives from fire districts 1 and 2 announced their intention to consolidate after what they described as inaction from representatives of Jackson’s other two fire districts.

“The difficulty was that the differences of opinion, without blaming anyone, came from certain commissioners wanting to move on certain issues and others not (want to move forward),” Braslow said. “It became very unproductive.”

The council members agreed to have a resolution and an ordinance drawn up for the Sept. 8 meeting so the process can advance to the New Jersey Local Finance Board in a timely fashion.