Mayor: Montclair likely to OK fire protection deal with Glen Ridge
A week after Glen Ridge approved a new 10-year fire services contract that in its first two years would have Glen Ridge pay less to Montclair than it now pays under an expiring deal, Montclair appears poised to ratify the new terms.
At a Montclair Township Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20, Mayor Sean Spiller called the arrangement a “win-win” for the neighboring towns. With the council likely to vote on the issue at a session next week, he said he anticipated that a resolution to approve the contract would be passed.
“I imagine, given the push to engage around these terms, that the will of this body will be to support, just as the will of their body was to support,” Spiller said.
The mayor made his remarks in response to strong criticism voiced during the public comments portion of the meeting. A longtime opponent of the deal, Montclair resident Eileen Birmingham, questioned the raw numbers that will see Glen Ridge’s payment to Montclair reduced from $975,000 this year to $850,000 next year for the contract that would take effect on Jan. 1.
It would not be until 2024, when Glen Ridge would pay Montclair a little over $1 million, that the number would rise above the current fee. Adjusted for inflation, Birmingham said, Glen Ridge will be paying Montclair less than it did in 1991.
“No other town does this with their fire department, and there’s a reason,” she said. “Because public service is expensive, and we should do this carefully.”
She added, “At some point it’s a little bit ridiculous.”
Earlier in the year, Glen Ridge officials said they would entertain offers from other towns on a fire services contract and were in talks with Bloomfield, a move viewed by some critics as a way for Glen Ridge to undercut the existing deal with Montclair. It is unclear if Bloomfield ever offered a proposal.
In seeking bids for fire service, Glen Ridge had asked that use of athletic fields be included. The contract includes no such provision.
The new contract with Montclair would raise Glen Ridge’s cost annually until 2032, when the fee would be $1.4 million. At that point, Glen Ridge would have the option to renew for an additional five years. By the end of that period, the contract calls for about $1.7 million in fees.
“This is the definition of a win-win,” Spiller said.
“This will help our residents not pay that in taxes because we have the money coming in from another township,” he added.
Councilman Bob Russo said that he appreciates the concern that the numbers, at least in the first years of the contract, are decreasing. Still, he described the contract as a positive for Montclair.
“It’s beneficial to us because it’s revenue for us,” Russo said. “We’d like to have more revenue coming in, maybe we’ve decreased what they’re going to pay us, but it is still revenue for this town. I’m happy that they’re happy, and I’m unhappy that we’re unhappy, but we’ve got a contract that is a model for the rest of the state.”
While there may be momentum toward Montclair’s approving the contract, there is opposition among the elected officials.
“I don’t think this is a good deal for Montclair in the short or long term,” Councilman Peter Yacobellis said after the meeting. “I’m really concerned about what we’re locking ourselves into. At the very least, I think Glen Ridge should be paying more next year than they paid last year, especially given aggressive inflation.”