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New Hampshire Members Awarded Liberty Mutual’s Firemark Award
Connecticut Members Reach Out to Young Cancer Patients
Philly Fire Fighter Dies in Line of Duty
New York City and 8 Labor Unions Reach Tentative Contract
Fire Fighters Question Governor’s Failed Leadership During Ferguson Unrest
December 3 Marks 15th Anniversary of the Worcester 6
Memphis Fire Fighters Donate $12,000 to Local Cancer Charity

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Breaking News
Aug 31, 2011



August 23, 2011


SEPTEMBER 11 MEMORIAL CEREMONY ANNOUNCEMENT

The Robbinsville Professional Firefighters Association is planning a September 11th memorial service and World Trade Center steel monument dedication ceremony.  

The ceremony will begin at 9:45 am at the Memorial Tree on Lake Drive in Town Center.  There will be a wreath laying ceremony in memory of Robbinsville resident Pamela Gaff and the names of all the firefighters killed on 9-11-01 will be read.  There will also be a dedication of the new monument at the site.

The public is welcome to attend.

 


Jan 04, 2011

Township’s firefighting grant may help water rescuers

Robbinsville seeking guidance on how $700G affects new cap

ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. – Mayor Dave Fried announced today that he hopes a $700,604 federal grant to fund firefighting positions may allow the Township to hire two members of Trenton’s Rescue 1, who were served with layoff notices right after diving into an icy Town Center lake on December 16.

Mayor Fried confirmed that Robbinsville learned December 24 that it had received funding for four positions for up to two years, under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

However, Fried said the Township has been consulting with the Department of Community Affairs on how the grant funding affects the new 2 percent cap law on municipalities, which goes into effect tomorrow. The mayor said before anyone is hired under the grant, he must gain assurances from the state that Robbinsville can increase the number of firefighters without cutting other positions. “It’s my hope that we can use this grant to increase our firefighting resources at no additional cost to the taxpayers, and with no service cuts elsewhere,” Fried said.

Mayor Fried said he had contacted the City of Trenton after reading that two members of the water rescue team that responded to the Town Center incident had gone back to their firehouse and received layoff notices. Rescue 1 augmented Robbinsville’s firefighters at the scene, in which an 85-year-old man suffered an apparent stroke and drove into the icy water behind the West Lake Office Building. Rescue 1 pulled the man from the water and later, his vehicle. The man was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

“Budget cuts that have affected the entire Township have also resulted in a smaller force at the Division of Fire,” Mayor Fried said. “This grant would allow Robbinsville to restore some positions and increase public safety in the Township. Thankfully, those who were let go in prior downsizings have found jobs. So, after reading about the possible layoffs at Rescue 1, I wanted to offer any openings to them first.”

Fried credited Capt. Daniel Shaffener of the Division of Fire for writing Robbinsville’s grant application. “Captain Shaffener has offered to assist the City of Trenton with its application, which is still being reviewed. It’s our hope that Robbinsville can help save more firefighting jobs in the region.”

Mayor Fried also thanked U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-Hamilton, and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., for their assistance in helping Robbinsville receive the $700,604 award.


Oct 16, 2010


N.J. lawmakers study 2% cap on raises for public workers

TRENTON - Senators heard testimony Thursday on a controversial bill that would impose a 2 percent cap on annual increases in the total cost of a public employee's salary and benefits.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Doherty (R., Warren), is one of two considered the most provocative in Gov. Christie's property-tax-reform "tool kit." The other concerns civil-service changes.

Christie proposed the "tool kit" over the summer to rein in the state's property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. He has repeatedly criticized lawmakers for not taking action on the legislation quickly enough and urged them to approve the measures by year's end.

The Senate's State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee heard testimony from advocates and critics on the legislation, but did not vote.

The bill would limit both interest-arbitration awards, which can apply to police and firefighter contracts, and collective-negotiation agreements.

The bill "really ends collective bargaining as we know it," said Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic), the committee chairman. "This is not a minor change."

Unions representing police, firefighters, and other government workers harshly criticized the bill.

Had the cap been in place in 1968, when the state passed its first public-sector collective-bargaining law, teachers would earn an average of $20,715 today, Vince Giordano, executive director of the New Jersey Education Association, told the committee.

That figure, he noted, is below the poverty line for a family of four. A family of three earning that amount would qualify for food stamps.

"What sort of schools would we have today if we paid our teachers $20,000 per year?" Giordano said. "What sort of education would our children get if that is the value we placed on educators?"

The binding-arbitration system works, testified Anthony Wieners, president of the Policemen's Benevolent Association. He noted that awards over the last decade had declined in line with the economy.

"It has become easy to scapegoat arbitration as the bogeyman of property-tax increases," Wieners said.

But mayors argued that with the 2 percent cap on property-tax increases to go into effect in January, they needed help from the state to achieve savings without drastic cuts in essential services.

In Rumson, recently arbitrated awards of more than 2 percent for police - before accounting for benefits - mean other personnel would have to be cut, Mayor John Ekdahl told the committee.

"If we have to pay police 2.75 percent, we have to let some of these other employees go, or give them virtually no raise at all to keep them employed," Ekdahl said. "We've created a privileged class of employees, which, on its face, just does not seem fair."

Ken Pringle, mayor of Belmar since 1990, said police compensation had been a key driver in property-tax hikes.

From 1990 to 2010, he said, the tax levy in the town increased 43 percent. But for police salaries and benefits, costs doubled between 1996 and 2009, he said.

Sen. Bob Gordon (D., Bergen), a member of the committee, said at the conclusion of the hearing that the bill was a "complex issue" and would require careful deliberation.

 


Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.



Oct 16, 2010


N.J. lawmakers study 2% cap on raises for public workers

TRENTON - Senators heard testimony Thursday on a controversial bill that would impose a 2 percent cap on annual increases in the total cost of a public employee's salary and benefits.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Doherty (R., Warren), is one of two considered the most provocative in Gov. Christie's property-tax-reform "tool kit." The other concerns civil-service changes.

Christie proposed the "tool kit" over the summer to rein in the state's property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. He has repeatedly criticized lawmakers for not taking action on the legislation quickly enough and urged them to approve the measures by year's end.

The Senate's State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee heard testimony from advocates and critics on the legislation, but did not vote.

The bill would limit both interest-arbitration awards, which can apply to police and firefighter contracts, and collective-negotiation agreements.

The bill "really ends collective bargaining as we know it," said Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic), the committee chairman. "This is not a minor change."

Unions representing police, firefighters, and other government workers harshly criticized the bill.

Had the cap been in place in 1968, when the state passed its first public-sector collective-bargaining law, teachers would earn an average of $20,715 today, Vince Giordano, executive director of the New Jersey Education Association, told the committee.

That figure, he noted, is below the poverty line for a family of four. A family of three earning that amount would qualify for food stamps.

"What sort of schools would we have today if we paid our teachers $20,000 per year?" Giordano said. "What sort of education would our children get if that is the value we placed on educators?"

The binding-arbitration system works, testified Anthony Wieners, president of the Policemen's Benevolent Association. He noted that awards over the last decade had declined in line with the economy.

"It has become easy to scapegoat arbitration as the bogeyman of property-tax increases," Wieners said.

But mayors argued that with the 2 percent cap on property-tax increases to go into effect in January, they needed help from the state to achieve savings without drastic cuts in essential services.

In Rumson, recently arbitrated awards of more than 2 percent for police - before accounting for benefits - mean other personnel would have to be cut, Mayor John Ekdahl told the committee.

"If we have to pay police 2.75 percent, we have to let some of these other employees go, or give them virtually no raise at all to keep them employed," Ekdahl said. "We've created a privileged class of employees, which, on its face, just does not seem fair."

Ken Pringle, mayor of Belmar since 1990, said police compensation had been a key driver in property-tax hikes.

From 1990 to 2010, he said, the tax levy in the town increased 43 percent. But for police salaries and benefits, costs doubled between 1996 and 2009, he said.

Sen. Bob Gordon (D., Bergen), a member of the committee, said at the conclusion of the hearing that the bill was a "complex issue" and would require careful deliberation.

 


Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.



Oct 06, 2010

Six Flags Great Adventure eliminates its fire department

 

 

By KEITH RUSCITTI • STAFF WRITER • October 5, 2010

JACKSON — Since the Great Adventure theme park was built in 1973, it has had its own fully staffed fire department to patrol the grounds.

That association changed two weeks ago, when Six Flags park management disbanded its fire department as part of a restructuring plan. The seven firefighters — two of whom were full time — were fired, and replaced.

Now the park's revised safety division will conduct the duties formerly performed by the fire department.

Meanwhile, local firefighters are crying foul about the development, claiming the restructuring is nothing more than a move to rid the last vestiges of the firemen's union.

"All they're doing is busting the union," said Matthew Jordan, one of the full-time firefighters fired by the park on Sept. 21.

Jordan, a Jackson resident, is also president of the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents the three full-time firefighters who worked at the park.

The full-time firefighters earned between $30,000 and $55,000 each year. Part-timers, who are professional firefighters with other departments, earned $10 an hour.

In the summer, one full-time fireman was fired by the park, thus dwindling the full-time ranks down to two, and disbanding the union, according to Jordan.

"You need three or more people to have a union," he said.

In 1973, when the park opened, there were 18 full-time firemen on staff, Jordan said.

The union has filed a grievance against Six Flags with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the local union. IAFF represents more than 60 local unions in the state, and includes more than 3,500 firefighters.

The park's remodeled safety division now will have 35 employees, none of whom are union members, said Angel Aristone, spokeswoman for Great Adventure. Members of the safety division are certified emergency responders and firefighters, Aristone said.

"Since we operate only eight months out of the year, a seasonal operation will be more efficient," Aristone said. "We'll continue to have the same level of fire protection coverage during our operating season as we've had in the past."

That will be unlikely, said Tom Scannell, who was a fireman at the park for 15 years before being fired in September.

"We had a very unique balance we had to maintain for 37 years," said Scannell, who has 41 years experience as a firefighter. "When you work at Great Adventure, it's like a normal fire department, plus. Because not only do you have to meet local and state codes, you have to meet the park regulations as well."

The in-house department conducted all of the park inspections, including all 62 hydrants in the park, the sprinklers and all of the buildings, Scannell said.

"We still have certified firefighters on property that are qualified to continue to respond," Aristone said. "They are just now called safety supervisors and safety technicians."

Yet, the Cassville Fire Company in Jackson will be responsible to provide primary fire coverage for the park, Jordan said.

"This will tax all of the other departments in town," Jordan said. "If there is a call, three departments normally respond. Jackson is 101 square miles."

The elimination of the fire department is the latest of restructuring moves for the theme park.

Earlier this year, Six Flags, the parent company of Great Adventure, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In August, John Fitzgerald was named the new president of Great Adventure. Also, James Reid-Anderson, was hired as president, chairman and chief executive officer of Six Flags Inc., the park's parent company

Fitzgerald declined to comment for this story.

 
Keith Ruscitti: 732-557-5748 or kruscitti@app.com

Oct 06, 2010

INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE FIGHTERS

HAROLD A. SCHAITBERGER THOMAS H. MILLER

General President General Secretary-Treasurer

1750 NEW YORK AVENUE, N.W., WASHINGTON, D.C. 20006-5395

? (202) 737-8484 ? FAX (202) 737-8418 ? WWW.IAFF.ORG

September 14, 2010

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

Governmental Accounting Standards Board

401 Merritt 7

P.O. Box 5116

Norwalk, CT 06856-5116

RE: Preliminary Views on Major Issues Related to Pension Accounting

and Financial Reporting by Employers

Dear Director:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Preliminary Views of the

Governmental Accounting Standards Board on major issues related to Pension Accounting and

Financial Reporting by Employers. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) represents

298,000 members, including over 250,000 who are either current active employees or retirees

participating in public pension plans in the United States that are subject to GASB reporting standards.

In addition, many IAFF members serve as elected or appointed trustees or administrators on governing

boards of many of those pension plans. Those members, in particular, have a unique understanding of

the importance of sound plan funding and liability reporting policies – both as plan participants and

plan managers. As such, the IAFF understands the importance that the GASB reporting standards have

to the long-term defined benefit pension promises made to our members.

Below are our responses to certain questions you have posed in the Preliminary Views. Of

primary concern to us is the potential disconnect that could develop between financial reports prepared

to satisfy GASB reporting requirements and financial reports prepared to satisfy employer funding

requirements. This disconnect, we feel, would lead to unfortunate misunderstandings and confusion as

to both the true cost and true financial health of a pension plan. Any GASB-required reporting of

underfunded pension costs (a "funding gap") implies to many that future contribution increases and/or

benefit reductions would be necessary to close the funding gap. However, increased contributions

and/or benefit reductions may not actually be necessary to satisfy a plan's funding requirements based

on reasonable actuarial assumptions and methods. We understand that the proposed accounting

requirements in the Preliminary Views are substantially similar to accounting requirements under

FASB for private sector defined benefit plans. We believe that the disconnect between FASB

accounting requirements and private sector funding requirements is a contributing factor to the drastic

decline in defined benefit pension plans in the private sector. Therefore, we cannot characterize the

FASB approach as a success, and seek to avoid such negative results in the governmental sector. It is

in this context that we provide you the following responses to your questions posed in the Preliminary

Views.

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

September 14, 2010

Page 2

Our primary objective is to retain a direct connection between annual funding requirements

and annual pension expense.

Issue 1 – An Employer's Obligation to Its Employees for Defined Pension Benefits

We agree with the Preliminary View that the employer is generally primarily responsible (to

the extent provided by collective bargaining and state or local law) for the portion of the obligation for

defined pension benefits in excess of the plan net assets available for benefits. A critical element to

our agreement with this view is the sentence in Chapter 2, Paragraph 5 which reads:

An employer's relationship with the pension plan is characterized by the

adoption of a program of (actual or presumed) systematic annual

employer contributions to the plan in amounts projected to be sufficient,

when added to employee contributions (if any) and expected earnings on

the investment of plan assets, to provide for payment of the defined

pension benefits.

The employer's responsibility to pay employees or their beneficiaries the defined pension

benefits is linked to a systematic program to fund those benefits. Therefore, we feel that there must

always be, at the very least, a funding vehicle to hold plan assets and a funding program to fund those

benefits, by which the employer satisfies its obligation to provide benefits.

Our key point is that an employer's funding costs (less any employee share of the funding

and earnings on the Trust) are equivalent to the value of benefits provided under the Plan.

Issue 2 – Liability Recognition by a Sole or Agent Employer

2a. We agree with the Preliminary View that the unfunded portion of a sole or agent

employer's pension obligation to its employees meets the definition of a liability. This follows directly

from Concepts Statement 4, paragraph 17 which defines "liabilities" as "present obligations to sacrifice

resources that the government has little or no discretion to avoid."

2b. We agree with the Preliminary View that the net liability must be measurable with

sufficient reliability to be recognized in the employer's basic financial statements. However, given our

response to Issue 1 above, we feel that financial statement results based on the employer's stated

funding program is the only information that will be reliable, free from bias, a faithful representation of

what it purports to represent, comprehensive and not misleading. While we recognize that the GASB

Board does not have jurisdiction to set standards for the employer's funding program, we feel that the

results based on an employer's funding program are the only results appropriate for recognition in the

employer's basic financial statements. The liability recognized in the financial statements should track

the actual funding program with transparency as to past, present and future funding, and ultimately

should reflect the actuarially required contributions and active contributions.

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

September 14, 2010

Page 3

Our key point is that the only costs that are appropriate for recognition in an employer's

financial statement are the employer's funding requirements.

Issue 3 – Measurement of the Total Pension Liability Component of the Net Pension Liability by

a Sole or Agent Employer

3a. In general, we believe that a reasonable actuarial funding (or cost) method should

include a projection of salary and other factors in determining a plan's annual funding costs consistent

with current GASB requirements. We understand that currently GASB accepts six different actuarial

funding methods for financial statement reporting (entry age, frozen entry age, attained age, frozen

attained age, projected unit credit and aggregate). We also understand that each of these six methods

project automatic COLAs, future salary increases and future service credits to calculate plan liabilities.

Therefore, to the extent that these items are projected as part of a plan's actuarial funding method, we

agree with the that automatic COLAs, future salary increases and future service credits should be

included in the calculation of the total pension liability and the service cost.

3b. With respect to ad hoc COLAs, to the extent that a plan has established a consistent

method of providing ad hoc COLAs, we agree with the Preliminary View that such ad hoc COLAs

should be included in the plan's actuarial funding method. For this purpose, we would view an ad hoc

COLA as substantively the same as an automatic COLA if it has been consistently provided in both

timing and amount over a period of at least nine years, which reflects the average length of three

consecutive bargaining contract periods.

3c. We disagree in part with the Preliminary View that a single "blended" rate as defined in

Chapter 4, Paragraph 14 should be used to determine plan liabilities. The states that the long-term

expected rate of return on plan investments should be used to the extent that current and future plan

assets are projected to be sufficient to make benefit payments. Chapter 4, Paragraph 17 describes

future plan assets as follows:

The projection of future employer contributions for this purpose should

reflect a reasonable expectation of future employer contribution levels

for current employees and should consider factors such as the employer's

stated contribution policy and recent contribution pattern.

As we suggested in our response to Issue 1, an employer's stated contribution policy should be

built with a view as to how future contributions will be sufficient to provide the defined benefits.

Therefore, in our view the blended rate would never apply given an employer's stated funding policy

that is designed to in fact ultimately provide the benefit.

This leaves the ambiguous phrase "recent contribution pattern" as relevant to whether the

blended rate should be used. However, we do not believe that past practice is indicative of future

contribution patterns. Consider, for instance, a plan that is 40% funded (using the expected rate of

return on assets) and 25% funded (using the blended rate). The funded status has been driven by a

combination of low investment returns and a recent employer practice of contributing less than the

ARC. However, the employer and members agree in good faith to a combination of increased

employer contributions and certain benefit concessions. As a result, future contributions are expected

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

September 14, 2010

Page 4

to provide for all future benefits. We believe the expected rate of return on plan assets should be used

in this instance to determine plan assets despite the fact that there has been a recent pattern of

insufficient employer contributions. Shortfalls in meeting the funding plan should be disclosed. The

actuary should set the "expected rate of return" assumption by considering actual plan assets (as well

as other factors). If, for example, the system is in "pay-as-you-go" status, the rate should be based on

the return on general employer assets. In any event there would not be a "blended rate," but instead a

rate reflecting the actuary's judgment of the situation at hand.

As we have indicated, we believe that the assumptions used for financial statement reporting

purposes should be consistent with the assumptions used under a stated funding policy. As a result, we

believe that the discount rate should be the long-term expected rate of return of plan assets, and that

there should be no disconnect between the employer's funding costs and accounting expense. We

believe the actuary should take into account certain factors such as any expectation that the plan assets

may deplete or the employer may pay plan benefits on a pay-as-you-go basis when setting the plan's

expected rate of return on plan assets. We think connecting blocks of plan liabilities to the municipal

bond yield has no better theoretical underpinnings than connecting the same to a diversified portfolio

yield. The municipal bond yield will simply produce more volatility and confuse the stakeholders as to

what an appropriate funding level is.

3d. The Preliminary View is to use the entry age actuarial cost method applied on a levelpercentage

of payroll basis to determine the total pension liability and the service-cost component of

pension expense. We realize that a consistent method by which plan costs are funded and expensed

reduces complexity, enables the user of financial statement information to appropriately interpret

results, and eliminates any potential bias in reporting financial information. We understand that a

majority of plans currently use the entry age method. If the Board adopts entry age method as the

standard for financial statement purposes, we would anticipate that many additional employers would

switch to entry age method for ongoing funding purposes. These plans could, however, experience

significant disconnects between the method they are using and the entry age method. We feel the

Board should carefully consider this issue when drafting any transition rules from the current standards

to the new standards, allowing for a longer transition period to accommodate those employers who

may change funding methods.

Our key point is that an employer's accounting expense should be equivalent to an

employer's funding requirement based on reasonable actuarial assumptions and methods.

Issue 4 – Attribution of Changes in the Net Pension Liability to Financial Reporting Periods by a

Sole or Agent Employer

4a. In keeping with our view that funding costs and pension expense should be linked, we

believe that the pension expense should be equivalent to the service cost plus an amortization of the

unfunded accrued liability. Given the long-term, stable nature of public safety workforces (as well as

most other governmental workforces), we believe that an amortization period for the unfunded accrued

liability that reflects the entire expected career of an average employee would be a more appropriate

amortization measure than expected future working lifetime. Consequently, any unfunded accrued

liability should, in theory, be funded (i.e. expensed) over the weighted-average periods representative

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

September 14, 2010

Page 5

of the expected working lives of individual employees (not-to-exceed 30 years). Additionally, we do

not agree that immediate recognition of changes in total pension liability associated with inactives is

appropriate, since immediate funding of the change would ordinarily not be required under a

reasonable funding method. Immediate recognition of any changes in liability would not be consistent

with the level annual expense method concept as outlined in GASB's choice of the entry age method.

Furthermore, immediate recognition of changes in inactive liabilities would create a disincentive to

adopting assumption changes that increase inactive liabilities (for instance, assumptions that increase

life expectancy). For simplicity, we suggest recognizing inactive changes over the same period as

active changes, or, if the plan is primarily comprised of inactives, recognizing inactive changes over

the expected future lifetime of inactives (not-to-exceed 30 years).

4b. Revenue for public pension funds comes from individual taxpayers. Individual

taxpayers demand predictability and stability in taxes. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect a public

entity to fully fund volatile changes in plan assets. Furthermore, a reasonable funding method would

not require immediate funding of large asset losses. Thus, we do not agree with the cumulative asset

gains and losses exceeding 15% of the fair value of plan investments should be immediately

recognized in pension expense. We believe that large asset gains and losses outside a reasonable

corridor are more likely to be offset in future periods than assets gains and losses within a reasonable

corridor. We would suggest amortizing the excess gains and losses outside of the corridor in a manner

that is consistent with the amortization period described in our answer 4a.

Our key point is that the attribution of changes in pension liability to future accounting

periods should be consistent with a reasonable funding method.

Issue 5 – Recognition by a Cost-Sharing Employer

5a. A characteristic feature of cost-sharing plans is that participating employers make

contractually required contributions. We believe that financial statement recognition of pension costs

for cost-sharing employers should be based solely on the employer's progress towards making the

contractually required contributions. Recognition of a net pension liability, expense and deferred costs

for employers participating in cost-sharing plans would need to be consistent with the characteristics of

understandability, reliability, relevance and comparability as outlined in Concepts Statement No. 3,

paragraph 28. This would be particularly the case if pension obligations are based on contributions, as

suggested by GASB. High workforce mobility and changes in employer participation in a cost-sharing

plan can distort the true cost of the plan to an employer if an allocation method based on contributions

is used.

5b. Not applicable.

Director of Research and Technical Activities,

Project No. 34

September 14, 2010

Page 6

Issue 6 – Frequency and Timing of Measurements

6. We agree with the Preliminary View that a comprehensive measurement should be

made at least biennially and should be adjusted as necessary to reflect the effects of significant changes

between comprehensive measurement dates.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Preliminary Views. We welcome

any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

 

Harold A. Schaitberger

International Association of Fire Fighters

 


Aug 28, 2010

ROBBINSVILLE – August 28, 2010 – Firefighters from the Robbinsville Division of Fire helped to support the “Iron and Steel NYC to Arlington” motorcycle run escorting a steel I-beam from the World Trade Center to Arlington, VA.  The steel beam will be placed in a 9/11 memorial near the Pentagon.  Firefighters from numerous Mercer County communities were staged with apparatus and American flags on all NJ Turnpike overpasses through East Windsor and Robbinsville to salute the procession and honor the memory of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11/01.  The procession exited onto Interstate 195 and proceeded to the New Jersey State Police Headquarters in Hamilton Township for a brief ceremony prior to continuing south through New Jersey via I-295.  For more information on the “Iron and Steel” project see:

www.firstgiving.com/IRONandSTEEL

 

 


Jun 14, 2010

New Jersey Towns Raise Local Property Taxes Above Christie's Proposed Cap

Robbinsville, the central New Jersey town where Governor Chris Christie appeared last week to promote his plan to cap annual property-tax increases at 2.5 percent, won approval yesterday to raise its tax bills by 29 percent.

The $2.3 million increase will boost the average homeowner’s municipal tax bill to $2,000 from about $1,600, Mayor David Fried said during a hearing before the state’s Local Finance Board in Trenton. It is the result of a 2007 reassessment that prompted warehouse owners such as closely held Matrix Development Group to file successful appeals that are costing the community more than $1 million, Fried said.

Fried was among 57 mayors Christie listed on a May 26 press release as supporting his plan to impose a 2.5 percent limit on annual property-tax increases. Christie was in Robbinsville June 3 for the fourth of several town hall meetings he is holding to talk about his proposal, aimed at controlling growth in New Jersey’s property taxes, which are the highest in the nation.

“We have done everything we possibly can,” Fried said during testimony on his tax increase. “It’s a very good question how we’re going to get to 2.5 percent.”

New Jersey’s property-tax bills averaged $7,281 per household last year, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. The levy has climbed 72 percent since they averaged $4,239 in 1999.

Over The Limit

Robbinsville is among 26 communities to seek approvals this year for property-tax increases in excess of the current cap of 4 percent that was put into place through legislation in 2007 by former Governor Jon Corzine, according to Local Finance Board records.

Fried said he averaged tax increases of 2.75 percent annually for the past six years. In an interview after the meeting, he said he can stick to Christie’s proposed limit as long as accompanying changes to public employee contracts are enacted.

Christie, a 47-year-old Republican who took office Jan. 19, is pressing lawmakers to approve his 2.5 percent cap by early August, in time for it to appear as a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. He has said Corzine’s 4 percent limit allows for too many exemptions. Under Christie’s proposal, local governments and schools would only be able to exceed the cap through public referendums or to cover debt- service payments.

“Right now we have a very leaky cap,” Christie’s spokesman, Mike Drewniak, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It is our goal to get a hard cap in place.”

Cost Control

Thirteen towns won approval yesterday to exceed the cap, including the Essex County town of Montclair, where the median income is almost double the U.S. level, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Mayor Jerry Fried, 52, said he had no choice.

“A cut of this magnitude would be devastating,” Fried told the Local Finance Board in defense of a 10 percent tax increase worth $1.1 million. The average Montclair homeowner last year paid $15,585 in property taxes, which also includes school and county levies, state data show. Fried didn’t have an estimate of how much more bills would be.

Montclair’s credit rating was downgraded one step today to Aa3, the fifth highest, from Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited declining state aid and imbalanced budgets. Moody’s called the township’s application for the property-cap exemption “evidence of continuing financial stress.” Fried didn’t immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment on the downgrade.

Pool Delay

Fried said residents were already outraged by a one-month delay in opening the municipal pool, a $90,000 cut in preschool subsidies and a $500,000 reduction in aid to the local library.

“Anything beyond that would be jeopardizing public safety and public support for the budget,” he said.

Christie has proposed a 33-point package of bills aimed at helping the state, municipalities and school districts control their costs. His plan would allow local governments to opt out of civil-service laws and cap public-employee raises and benefits at 2.5 percent a year.

Drewniak declined to comment on the situation in Robbinsville or other communities, saying they might be anomalies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dunstan McNichol in Trenton, New Jersey, at dmcnichol@bloomberg.net


Jun 14, 2010
Central New Jersey

HIGHTSTOWN: Borough gives nod to EMS deal with East Windsor
Three-year contract will save money compared to Robbinsville, Cranbury bids
By Elaine Leahy, Special Writer
Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010 1:07 AM EDT
 
   HIGHTSTOWN — The borough will not renew its emergency medical services contract with Robbinsville, instead opting to go with lower-cost services from East Windsor.

   The Borough Council on Monday approved a three-year shared-services agreement with East Windsor that will cost $30,000 annually, with a pro-rated cost this year. That annual payment represents a $25,000 savings over the most recent offer from Robbinsville and a $64,000 savings from what was paid to Robbinsville last year.

   It also is $2,500 less than an offer made by Cranbury. And both Cranbury and Robbinsville offered fewer hours of coverage than East Windsor.

   Nonetheless, council President Larry Quattrone favored the Cranbury deal. And Mayor Bob Patten, who forged the original deal with Robbinsville, urged the council to look beyond the financial implications.

   ”(The) economics between $30,000 and $55,000 is just about a half a cent on our tax rate,” said Mayor Patten. “It’s not economics here, folks. It’s public safety. It’s the health of people that’s more important than economics. A half a cent may not be the thing that you want to consider.”

   According to a proposal dated May 12 from East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov to Mayor Patten and the Borough Council, the township would extend services provided to the township by Trenton-based Capital Health Systems.
 
   Just last month, East Windsor changed its EMS contract from MONOC to Capital Health. Mayor Mironov said that change would result in significant cost savings for the township, and Capital Health has “... an ample fleet of ambulances, an excellent performance record and the lowest and best price for the township.

   Mayor Mironov, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, said this week that the new deal with Hightstown is a “win-win” for both towns.

   ”The agreement addresses Hightstown’s need and will provide additional funds to East Windsor,” she said.
 
   For the past three years, Hightstown has contracted with Robbinsville for emergency medical services with the original cost being more than $210,000 and the most recent annual cost $94,000, as levels of service were reduced. Robbinsville, which recently contracted with Capital Health, has been providing borough coverage three nights and seven days a week. Hightstown volunteers handle calls four nights a week.

   Robbinsville had an ambulance stationed in the borough for a time, but it recently returned to the township as a cost-saving measure for the borough. Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried recently said a new deal would allow the return of an ambulance to the borough.

   The East Windsor proposal states Capital Health System would provide emergency medical and ambulance services Mondays through Fridays for 14 hours, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. The primary ambulance is maintained in East Windsor with a secondary ambulance dispatched from Capital Health in Trenton if the first is in use.

   Cranbury First Aid Squad also bid for the work, and it offered 12 hours of service per day, Mondays through Fridays, for $32,500 a year.

   Though less costly than prior years, Robbinsville submitted the priciest proposal at $55,000 while offering the fewest hours of coverage per day at nine hours Mondays through Fridays.

   Mayor Fried addressed the council for the second meeting in a row, stating his township’s bid is the “most responsible” because it is based on the current call volume in Hightstown. Mayor Fried said many calls originating in Hightstown are not paid for by insurance, and their bid takes into consideration the actual volume and those calls that are and are not being paid for.
 
   ”At some point, someone is going to want someone to pay that bill,” he said.

   Robbinsville Fire Director John Archer, the former volunteer fire chief in Hightstown, spoke at the meeting about the issue of mutual aid — who responds to calls when the primary ambulance is already in use.

   ”If during that time, you do not have an ambulance here in house, you’re going to be relying solely on mutual aid for your coverage,” he said. “During the day, Hightstown doesn’t have a lot of volunteers around to respond. This is why I think the Robbinsville proposal is better than the others.”
 
   There were apparently no representatives from East Windsor or Cranbury at the meeting.

   Mayor Mironov said this week that Capital Health will dispatch a second ambulance to the area when the first one is on call as it now does for East Windsor.

   At the meeting, Mayor Patten, a political ally of Mayor Fried, echoed concern over mutual aid and asked the council if it wanted to discuss the matter further before voting. The council did not.

   Mr. Quattrone favored the Cranbury bid, stating at the council meeting, “East Windsor (mutual aid) coverage in Hightstown hasn’t been the greatest” whereas he feels certain Cranbury would be there to cover the borough both nights and weekends if volunteers are shorthanded or on vacation.

   Mr. Bond had a different view.

   ”I think they (East Windsor) have stepped up to the plate, and I think the backup service from their volunteers will be good.”
 
   Councilmen Bond, Mike Theokas and Walter Sikorski voted in favor of the East Windsor resolution. Mr. Quattrone voted against. Councilwoman Isabel McGinty did not take part in the vote as her husband is the captain of the First Aid Squad, and Councilman Dimitri Musing was not in attendance.

   In addition to the $30,000 annual cost, the borough will be responsible for any Medicare co-payments billed by Capital Health.

   Prior efforts for East Windsor and Hightstown to share EMS services failed, most recently in 2006.
 
   The two towns also are talking about the township taking over police services in the borough after a two-year consultant’s study recently concluded such a move would save the borough $800,000 a year.

   In approving the EMS deal with East Windsor, Councilmen Sikorski and Bond said they were looking at “the big picture.”

May 29, 2010
ROBBINSVILLE: Mayor asks Hightstown to keep shared EMS deal
By Elaine Leahy, Special Writer
Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:50 AM EDT
 
   HIGHTSTOWN — The Borough Council has heard a plea from Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried to maintain a deal under which the township provides emergency medical services for a fee Hightstown officials have said they can no longer afford.

   The council has been looking at ways to reduce a $6.3 million proposed municipal budget, which carries a projected increase in the municipal tax hike of 12.4 cents. One option is using a less-expensive EMS provider beginning next month when the contract with Robbinsville expires. That deal, begun in 2007, carries a $94,000 annual cost for the borough.

   Robbinsville, which staffs an ambulance located in the borough with two paid EMTs contracted through Trenton-based Capital Health, provides coverage three nights and seven days a week. Hightstown volunteers handle calls four nights a week.

   The new EMS plan, which borough officials have said will save about $30,000 for the remaining six months of this year, and then $60,000 next year, would switch coverage to Cranbury, with Hightstown volunteers handling all weeknight and weekend calls.

   Mayor Fried recently said losing the annual deal with Hightstown would have little impact on the township’s budget because most of that revenue is used to manage the ambulance service for the borough. He also told The Messenger-Press last week that while most of the billing coming from Robbinsville gets paid, a large amount of the services from Hightstown does not get paid.

   Despite that, he was in attendance at Hightstown Borough Council’s May 17 meeting to implore the council to consider maintaining the contract, saying the partnership has worked extremely well for both towns.
 
   ”When you really break it down into perspective, it’s about $7 per year per resident to have an ambulance in your town full time and have backup full time,” he said.

   He also said last week that using Cranbury could leave Hightstown with no back-up service at busy times.

   Mr. Fried told the Borough Council if Robbinsville could provide any other shared services to make up the $30,000 gap cited as savings it would do that, including public safety or other services on which the township could bid.
 
   Borough Council President Larry Quattrone encouraged council members to consider Mr. Fried’s comments as well as the alternative plan with Cranbury. He said they should come to a decision at the next council meeting.

Managing Editor Vic Monaco contributed to this story.
 
 
 
 
 
 



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