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Council Leaves Toms River Fire District Budget Intact Despite Defeat at the Polls

A Silverton Fire Company truck. (Credit: Aaron Mott/Flickr)

A Silverton Fire Company truck. (Credit: Aaron Mott/Flickr)

The operating budget for Toms River Fire District No. 2 was narrowly defeated at the polls in February, however the governing body on Wednesday night decided to adopt the district’s spending plan unchanged.

Toms River is divided between two fire districts, with elections held every February to select a board of commissioners and decide whether a proposed budget can be adopted. District No. 1’s budget passed, however District No. 2’s budget was defeated by 33 votes. When a budget is defeated, it is reviewed by the township council, which can choose to trim the budget, leave it intact or – in rare cases – increase it. Most commonly, a defeated budget is a signal to officials that cuts are desired. District No. 2 consists of the Pleasant Plains and Silverton volunteer fire companies.

The Toms River Township council initially decided to cut $10,000 from the $4.1 million proposed budget, representing a $10,000 donation to a volunteer first aid squad. Councilman Dan Rodrick, however, argued that if any money was to be cut from the budget, it should be cut from the salaries provided to the district’s five fire commissioners, each of whom are paid $7,200 per year, or to appointed administrative firms.

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“I can’t support a cut to our EMS,” said Rodrick. “What about the salaries for the fire commissioners, or one of those areas?”

Tim Carson, the business administrator of the fire district, replied that the commissioners deserved the salary due to their attendance at three meetings per month and what he described as many hours completing administrative tasks.

“Is that essential for firefighting?” Rodrick replied. “You would say that’s more important than our volunteer EMS?”

Rodrick ultimately said if the budget cut would affect public safety, he would rather leave the budget intact. The council, which was already considering a motion to cut the $10,000, agreed.

Councilman Matthew Lotano said the proposed cut was a response to the vote. He said he examined the budget and asked the fire commissioners about any items that were unrelated to fire response.

“Out of $4.1 million, there was a $10,000 donation to an EMS squad,” Lotano said. “I wanted to listen to the voters, and not pass it as is, so we removed the donation to the EMS.”

A past history of politicking surrounding fire budgets also came into play.

“A couple years ago, we passed this budget as-is, and a letter went out saying we went against the will of the voters,” said Lotano.

Carson said the budget that his board put together was responsible, “but unfortunately, everything is increasing rapidly.”

Carson pointed to a 19 percent increase in healthcare costs ordered by the state, plus the rising price of fuel. He also said a new law assumes that any firefighter who is diagnosed with cancer is assumed to have contracted the condition in relation to their service, increasing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance “substantially.”

“I’ve reviewed every budget since I’ve been here, and this is a very responsible budget,” said Councilman Justin Lamb, endorsing leaving the budget intact.

The council unanimously passed a resolution adopting the budget as proposed.

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