Huntoon predicts high costs due to fire code demands

A Packet Publication
20 August, 1985

Huntoon predicts high costs due to fire code demands

by Nancy Freiberg
Statehouse Bureau

Unless the state provides more time, money, and flexibility for implementing a portion of the new state’s fire code, “municipalities arc going to he faced with huge, huge hills that arc going to affect the tax rate,” a Princeton Borough councilman predicts.

Princeton Borough Councilman John Huntoon made the remarks concerning a deadline being imposed on towns to comply with one portion of the code.

A group representing most state municipalities has also objected to this deadline.In response, a state official said his bureau is looking into ways to help the municipalities comply and added that some of the regulations may be changed.

Towns throughout the state have objected strongly to the proposed “one year retrofit provision” in the code, which requires municipalities to renovate their public buildings to conform with a variety of fire safety standards.

The New Jersey League of Municipalities, citing high costs and time constraints, recently asked the state Fire Safety Commission to give towns three years to comply. The group also asked the state to exempt buildings which are occupied by small numbers of people.

“We have just hired a fire inspector,” said Mr. Huntoon, who supports the league’s requests. “His first job will be to survey our entire needs and make some priority judgments.”

“That is a job in itself, and that’s going to take time.”

Noting that some municipalities have yet to even hire an inspector, he said a minimum of two years should be required for compliance.

“We have to fit these expenses into the budget and we can’t do anything with this year’s budget,” he explained.

Installing sprinklers in two of the buildings the borough owns would probably cost between $20,000 and $40,000, while renovations may also be needed in the Borough Council’s meeting room, according to Mr. Huntoon.

But in spite of such objections, George Miller, assistant chief of the state Fire Safety Bureau, said the commission is unlikely to change the time frame, which municipalities consider a crucial factor.

“We would have to change the legislation,” he said. “It is unlikely that the deadline would be changed.”

Also objecting to the request to exempt buildings in which small numbers of people gather, he said, “There’s no difference in hazard in relation to use. In the field of fire safety, that kind of suggestion is not a viable suggestion.”

Mr. Miller noted, however, that the bureau is looking into ways of providing funds to municipalities to comply with the provisions. He added that the commission’s advisory council is expected to make some changes in requirements as a result of public comment.

Additional public hearings will be held next month, with the final regulations unlikely to be adopted before the end of October.

The Fire Safety Advisory Council is expected to hold a public hearing on Sept. 4 at 9:30 a.m., in Building 3, 3131 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville. An additional hearing will be likely later in the month, Mr. Miller said. The council’s recommendations twill then be sent to the commission for a final report to the state Community Affairs commissioner.

“There arc an awful lot of amendments going on to meet the requirements of the code while meeting the objections of people who think its going to be too costly,” he said.

Mr. Miller said many of the provisions have been misunderstood, such as one dealing with stairway railings. Although the wording in the provision implies that all railings must be replaced, the commission intended replacement should only occur when railings arc in poor condition or when railings are nonexistent.

He also said the provision requiring enclosed stairwells will be revised t9 provide more flexibility at a lower cost to the municipality.

But unless significant changes are made, municipal officials will continue to find the regulations unreasonable, according to Mr. Huntoon.

“Without this phasing-in, without some of these provisions with some flexibility, and without some help from the state in the form of low- interest loans, municipalities are going to be faced with huge, huge bills that are going to affect the tax rate,” Ms. Huntoon said.

William Uressel, assistant director of the state League of Municipalities, had similar comments. “Municipalities conduct business In these buildings,” he said. “We think It would make sense to have a phase-in.”

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