A history of Montclair’s exploration of shared fire service (Letter to the editor)
I read with interest on Facebook more than 160 pro and con suggestions, referencing the Montclair-Glen Ridge fire contract. There were a lot of intelligent responses. Allow me to bring you back to Sept. 8, 2012 with a history of my proposal to conduct The Essex County District 5 Consolidation Fire Departments Feasibility Study.
In September of 1999, then-Township Manager Terrance Reidy had enrolled me in the State of New Jersey Certified Public Managers Program. On Feb. 17, 2000, in recognition of successfully completion of levels I, II and III, I received a certificate in supervisory management, signed by then-Gov. Cristine Todd Whitman. As part of this program, I had to define a problem situation that existed in government. I selected as my thesis consolidation of fire departments in Essex County.
I was able to obtain letters of intent to participate in this program from all 22 municipalities as well as Montclair State University. In addition, I was able to solicit a partnership with Craig Dufford, then the fire chief and Essex County Fire Chiefs Association president; Charles Lovallo, executive dean of continuing education for Essex County College; and Shelia Y. Oliver, then the assistant county administrator, to move forward under the Regional Efficiency Development incentive program.
With this accomplished, I approached the Fifth District freeholder, Brendan Gill, and convinced him to use his district — including Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley — as a starting model, to convene a meeting with municipal government officials including mayors, business administrators, fire chiefs and their respective union representatives. The meeting was held in the Newark Essex County offices, where I attempted to convince officials, that in the best interest of economy and efficiency, shared services were plausible.
I demonstrated a projection of monetary benefits to participating communities without sacrificing the safety of citizens and the delivery of services already provided. It is not my intention to disparage these government officials, but needless to say, my proposal was voted down and I did not get the support needed to keep this project alive. It is my opinion that my plan was rejected due largely to politics and a strong lobby by the West Essex volunteer fire departments.
In the ensuing years, it has become evident in the wake of ever-increasing financial pressure, due to taxes and shrinking municipal aid that time has come for municipalities to explore various ways to streamline municipal government and effective cost savings. We must explore state, federal aid programs to help local officials consider the benefits of shared services incentives by developing and implementing new programs.
The reason I bring this up is because of the interest generated on Facebook pertaining to the Montclair-Glen Ridge fire contract. I would like to assure Montclair’s firefighters this proposal was in the best interest of firefighters, giving them the support they need to get them though this controversy and ultimately benefit their profession. In reference to the Montclair-Glen Ridge contract, I cannot give an intelligent opinion without the current facts and figures, to which I am not privy, for instance, salaries, fire apparatus, equipment, the table of organizations, overtime, contract verbiage and so forth. As such, I cannot render a professional opinion and remain neutral to the Montclair-Glen Ridge fire contact.
Thomas J. Russo
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