Township Approves New Formula for Sharing Costs of Fire Department with the Borough

December 8, 1993

Township Approves New Formula for Sharing Costs of Fire Department with the Borough

Tax exempt properties as well as those that pay property taxes will figure into the way costs for operating the Fire Department and purchasing capital equipment will be shared between Borough and Township under a new agreement between the Township and the Borough.

Portions of an Interlocal Services Agreement that deal with cost sharing were approved by Township Committee on Monday night and were expected to be discussed by Borough Council Tuesday night as TOWN TOPICS went to press. If approved by Council, the new formula in which the Township pays 56 percent and the Borough 44 percent of Fire Department operating and capital costs will be retroactive to January 1, 1993.

Committee put on hold those sections of the agreement that deal with ownership of buildings and equipment. This is a touchy issue with the Township, which negotiated a joint ownership of the new firehouse on Witherspoon Street when it was built, as well as a 50-50 sharing of maintenance costs.

In the past Fire Department operating costs and purchase of capital equipment have been shared on the basis of taxable rateables. This has meant the Township pays roughly two thirds to the Borough’s one third. Taxable rateables are also the basis of cost sharing for other joint entities, such as the Public Library.


Borough Council approved a new formula for sharing Fire Department costs with the Township. This same formula had been adopted the night before by Township Committee.

Up to now, costs were shared on a taxable ratable basis, with the Township paying two-thirds and the Borough one-third. Under the new arrangment, which includes the value of tax-exempt properties as well, the Township will pay 56 percent and the Borough 44 percent of Fire Department operating and capital costs. The agreement is retroactive to January 1, 1993.

Up to now, the Borough has turned over $20,000 of the $40,000 contributed each year by Princeton University in lieu of taxes toward the operation of the Fire Department. Under the new Interlocal Services Agreement, this practice will end.

Because the Borough will not transfer the $20,000, the dollar amount provided toward the operation of the Fire Department will be almost the same as it has been, said Mayor Reed. “The difference will be in capital costs, when all the expensive trucks have to be bought.”

Ownership of Buildings

Township Committee had removed those portions of the agreement that deal with ownership of buildings and equipment. Currently, the Township and Borough share equally in the ownership of the Witherspoon Street firehouse. The other two firehouses are under Borough ownership.

“The question of ownership remains as it is,” said Borough Attorney Michael Herbert. “The Township wants to address it in the future.”

“I’d like to bring some of these things to closure;” said Mr. Freda in support of adopting the agreement. “We’ve been fighting about it all year.” The agreement received approval of all Council members except Mr. Martindell, who said he was concerned about voting on it in isolation.

This year and last, Township Committee members and candidates for Township office have been calling for a reevaluation of the cost sharing basis of all joint agencies. The 50-50 ratio for sharing Fire Department costs that is cited by Committee members as be-ing more equitable for the Township taxpayer has been opposed by Council as being un-fair to the Borough.

The two governing bodies were unable to reach an agreement on capital expenditures for much-needed repairs to the Harrison Street firehouse until last summer, when they finally agreed to “overfund” the needed improvements until the cost sharing issue could be resolved.

Township Committee has also been unhappy with the fact that although it has paid for two-thirds of the cost of maintaining the two remaining fire-houses located in the Borough, as well as for purchase of fire-fighting equipment, it does not hold title to the firehouses or the firetrucks in which it has two-thirds equity.

Whenever this issue is raised, Borough Council members counter by suggesting that in exchange for title on firehouses and firetrucks, Township Committee put the Borough’s name on deeds to parks in the Township to which the Borough has contributed funds for refurbish-ing through the Joint Recreation Department’s capital budget.

Formal Agreement Drawn

A negotiating committee, consisting of the fire commissioner, administrator and one other member of the governing body in each municipality has been meeting throughout most of this year to work out these differences. One of the purposes has been to allow a formal agreement, a so-called In-terlocal Services Agreement. to be drawn up formally creating a Joint Princeton Fire Department.

All other joint Borough/Township agencies operate under an agreement, but the Fire Department, which has a proud 200-year-old history, has relied on tradition by which fire companies located in the Borough have provided fire-fighting services to the Township. Construction of a new firehouse in the Township, which required Township negotiations with the Board of Education for the right to build in the parking lot of the former Valley Road School and Township-Borough negotiations about using proceeds of the Chambers Street firehouse to pay for the new building, disrupted that tradition.

Borough Mayor Marvin Reed and Borough Fire Commissioner David Goldfarb, himself a fireman, have been attempting to negotiate new arrangements with the Township negotiators, Fire Commissioner Sharon Bilanin and Com-mitteewoman Ellen Souter, and the two administrators.

Mrs. Souter and Mrs. Bilanin were unhappy with the Inter-local Services Agreement drawn up by Borough Attorney Michael Herbert for discussion in Township Committee work session Monday night because it contained statements about ownership which they said had not been discussed in the negotiations. Mrs. Souter was ready to table the entire agreement, saying somewhat heatedly, “The only thing we negotiated was capital and cost sharing.”

Important to Move Forward

Township Administrator James J. Pascale agreed that was true, but suggested that Committee approve the sections pertaining to cost sharing and “reserve” for further discussion the sections on control. He said it was important to move forward.

“A lot of progress has been made,” Mr. Pascale said. “Getting agreement on cost sharing is a wonderful thing. It brings our costs down and is very beneficial to the Town-ship.” He noted that the ownership issue is much more difficult and doubted that it could be resolved before the next Committee meeting on December 20.

Committeeman Fred Porter remarked that in his view, the agreement was another instance of “the Borough trying to dictate to us.” Mrs. Souter said the ownership issue was sufficiently important to get settled now and that she and Mrs. Bilanin would make the effort to get it resolved in the next two weeks.

On that basis, Committee unanimously approved introduction of an ordinance authorizing the Interlocal Ser-vices Agreement on the Fire Department, with certain sections reserved for further discussion.

– Barbara L. Johnson

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