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State: Less Than 1 Percent Turnout in Brick's $2.3M Fire Election

Comptroller recommends moving fire election, budget approval to November

Patch File Photo: Daniel Nee
Patch File Photo: Daniel Nee
Brick Township has been held up by a New Jersey state agency as an example of why fire district elections should be moved to November.

Each February, the township's fire commissioners and a budget are up for a public vote, but year after year, hardly any votes are cast. Despite the low participation, the votes are on multi million-dollar budgets that would likely receive more scrutiny if the ballot measure to approve them took place during the general election in November.

"Voter turnout for fire district elections is anemically low with less than two percent of the voters casting a vote," said state Assemblyman Erik Peterson, (R-Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren), who is sponsoring a bill to move the elections to November. "This is because the election is held with little to no publicity or notice on a Saturday in the middle of winter during very limited hours and typically not at the usual polling location."

An audit completed by the Office of the State Comptroller found that just 0.6 percent of Brick Township voters showed up to cast their ballots to approve a $2.3 million fire budget in 2012 for Fire District No. 1. Brick Township's second fire district has an approximately $1.5 million budget but was not analyzed in the report.

Similar to the way school budget approvals were previously handled in New Jersey, voters can defeat a proposed fire district budget, at which point it would be sent to the township council for review and, if necessary, cuts.

But few voters cast ballots in any of the three towns analyzed by the state – Brick, Cherry Hill and Woodbridge. None of the towns had more than 2 percent of voters participate, compared with an average of 67 percent who participated in the 2012 general election.

"Changing the election date could substantially increase voter turnout and would further promote awareness and transparency of fire district operations to the taxpayers," the report said.

In response to the audit, Steven Gerling, President of Brick Township Fire District No. 1, disagreed with the state's findings and argued against moving the election and budget approval.

Gerling said keeping the election in February would allow the fire service and the district to remain "apolitical" and moving it to coincide with the general election would "erode the apolitical foundation and have a negative effect on the fire service."

Despite the low electoral participation, Brick's per-household spending was a fraction of Cherry Hill's or Woodbridge's. Both of those towns have paid firefighters; all of Cherry Hill's are paid and two-thirds of Woodbridge's are paid. The average cost per household to provide fire service in Brick was $132 versus $591 in Woodbridge and $652 in Cherry Hill.
Lori Morrison May 31, 2014 at 07:45 AM
I cannot "reprimand" someone for wanting to attend meetings and finding out what your 132 dollars a year is being spent on.
Not So Dumb May 31, 2014 at 09:18 AM
From what I can see the commissioners spend a lot of money for lawyers and consultants. Is the lawyer at every meeting cause it seems he runs the meeting. And, if the republicans in town have an issue with the mayor and council taking votes with no opposing votes you should see the Yes/No votes in the meeting minutes. Sounds like the good old boy network is alive and well in the Brick Fire Department. Maybe it would be better to have an independent voice on the board of Fire Commissioners and then maybe the $132 dollars could be $109 and still provide the excellent protection we have.
Oceangal May 31, 2014 at 11:01 AM
Bottom line is that for $132 a year we all get excellent fire protection from a group of qualified and dedicated individuals who deserve our support not this bull that's being spewed on here. There are obviously people on here that have an axe to grind and are hiding behind the computer and their screen names. A paid department would more than double our taxes and we would get no better service then we have now. What we will get is higher taxes and a group of people demanding more of our money each year for salaries and benefits. Be careful what you wish for. I for one think double what we pay now a year is worth every penny for the excellent service we get from our volunteers
Not So Dumb May 31, 2014 at 11:57 AM
Oceangal, you sound like someone who opens their mouth and shoves both feet at the same time into her mouth before you jump to conclusions abut anyone. I don't remember ANYONE saying we should have a paid fire dept. If someone did say it and I missed it, that person is obviously blowing smoke to provoke others. And if your rant is aimed at me, well I have to tell you that I am not now, nor have I been a member of any volunteer fire department in any town in the state of NJ or any other state. I have no AX to grind but when I see a list of bills for several months and the lawyer is on top of the list and the months payments are from up to over $10 thousand for the 3 sets of bills I get curious. Your defense of the system and hostile attitude also make me curious as to what you're trying to cover up by degrading others because they set foot in your just washed bathroom. If your character is different off your computer then I hope it's more pleasant then it is on the computer. If your rant was directed at me then your judgment is seriously misplaced.
Justmeasking June 01, 2014 at 05:49 AM
Not So Dumb, it was i who stated that it was time for a town the size of Brick to move into the 21st century and move from all volunteer to paid fire services. I am not blowing smoke nor am i trying to provoke anyone. By the time a paid service is put into place and all the wasted equipment liquidated you will see it isn't as expensive as you are lead to believe. Get rid of all the commissioners and thier "stipends" and benefits. Sell off all the duplicate and triplicate pieces of apparatus. A fully staffed paid department is what the citizens of Brick deserve. This is in no way a "slight" to the dedicated men and women who serve the township. It's just time to move forward.

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