As the Glen Ridge fire contract comes to a close, some in Montclair hoping for a better deal
With the Montclair-Glen Ridge fire services contract set to expire at the end of the year, Glen Ridge officials have announced that they will be taking requests for proposals for a new contract, entertaining offers from Montclair as well as Bloomfield.
That could lead to some competition, but some in Montclair say the shared-services deal, in which Montclair provides fire services to Glen Ridge, hasn’t always been financially successful for Montclair.
Since 1990, the Montclair Fire Department has provided fire services to neighboring Glen Ridge. While Glen Ridge was paying close to $1 million a year in the later part of a 10-year contract from 2002, a newer 10-year contract set in 2012 had that number down to $625,000 for the first four years.
The two towns also have a shared-services agreement set in 2012 in which Glen Ridge can use George Washington Field, which is owned by Montclair but located in Glen Ridge on Baldwin Street, rent-free.
The shared services agreement did lead to a field overhaul with new synthetic turf in 2015, with costs shared by both towns.
In its request for proposals, Glen Ridge states it’s looking for both fire services and recreational facility use, but “the key factor will be the scope and pricing of any proposed fire suppression contract.” It also asks for a five-year renewal option proposal, in addition to a 10-year proposal.
“We are asking both the Township of Montclair and the Township of Bloomfield to propose a 10-year contract for fire suppression services, with the option to renew for 5 years. The RFP also asks bidders to submit proposals for the use of recreational facilities and fields, likewise in a 10-year contract with a 5-year renewal option. Glen Ridge encourages bidders to include additional services in their bids, especially regarding the use of recreational facilities and fields.”
Submissions are due Aug. 18, according to the request.
This year isn’t the first time Bloomfield was included in the request for proposals for Glen Ridge fire services. Bloomfield also submitted a bid on the last contract.
At a Jan. 24, 2012, council meeting, according to meeting minutes, Mayor Jerry Fried suggested a $200,000 reduction to Glen Ridge’s 2012 payment as an “incentive” for Glen Ridge to sign a new contract with Montclair. Glen Ridge paid $971,528 — the highest to date— in 2011, according to numbers provided by Montclair’s Finance Department. That night the council members — Fried, Cary Africk, Nick Lewis, Renee Baskerville, Rich Murnick and Roger Terry — approved the discount and the next 10-year contract.
Following the negotiations on the 2012 contract, Glen Ridge said in a statement: “Officials on either side of the bargaining table are calling the accord an absolute win-win situation.”
In 2012, Glen Ridge paid Montclair $790,528. In 2013, that number dropped to $625,000 for four years until 2017, when it rose slightly to $650,000. The payouts did rise over the next five years, but never reached the 2011 amount. In 2018, Glen Ridge paid $768,645, in 2019 $886,018, in 2020 $903,739, in 2021 $910,738 and in 2022 $925,738, according to figures provided by Montclair’s Finance Department.
Councilman Bob Russo, who was mayor during the first contract, which saw a nearly $972,000 payment in its final year, but was not on the council in 2012 during the last negotiations, said the low contract in 2012 was due to Bloomfield’s bidding against Montclair.
“I was shocked to see the drop in revenue in 2012-17. We were stuck with this agreement for the last decade,” Russo said, adding that he is not involved in current negotiations.
But even prior to the 2012 negotiations, fire officials asked the council to look for more money from Glen Ridge. According to February 2011 council meeting minutes, then-Fire Chief Kevin Allen suggested during his fire department budget presentation that the township “improve the amount of revenue received from the Glen Ridge contract.”
After reaching a high of $16.4 million in 2019, Montclair Fire Department personnel costs are down to numbers similar to 2017’s, according to Montclair budgets.
In 2018, personnel costs went from $13.8 million to $15 million, and in 2019 to $16.4 million. Those costs then began dropping, to $15 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021, with projected costs at $13.8 million for 2022, according to township budgets.
Fire Chief John Herrmann said in 2021 that the department employed 83 firefighters. 2022 budget materials stated that 13 open positions were not going to be filled this year.
At a June 13 council meeting, resident Eileen Birmingham asserted that Glen Ridge now pays about $50,000 less than it did in 2011 and, when adjusted for inflation, she said, Glen Ridge is paying Montclair less than it was in 1991.
With both Bloomfield and Montclair bidding against each other for a new service-sharing agreement and with Glen Ridge asking for more access to recreational facilities, she insisted that the council look at the RFP from Glen Ridge very carefully.