When the Glen Ridge/Montclair Fire Service Agreement was established in 1990, it was hailed as a model of shared service and cooperation between towns. Over 30 years later, how many other towns have adopted this “model”? Exactly zero. In fact, other towns have designed agreements to be specifically unlike our agreement. And it is obvious why.

When it first started, the FSA was a contract carefully negotiated over years, with provisions for relatively fair cost sharing over time. In 1990, Glen Ridge had a hybrid department of volunteers and nine career firefighters. Nine firefighters were deemed insufficient, and consultants advised the town to either hire more staff or consider using Montclair’s department. As Glen Ridge is obviously a smaller town, it was anticipated that they might receive 10% of calls from the Fire Department. (Over the years GR has typically received at least 10% of calls, according to data that has been publicly shared.)  In 1991, Glen Ridge contributed $492,000, and Montclair’s Fire budget was roughly $3.7 million.

If the 1991 agreement was translated into 2022 dollars, Glen Ridge would be paying about $1.1 million, and Montclair would be paying $8.1 million. Instead, Glen Ridge is paying $925,000  and Montclair is paying more than $14 million, and this does not include the millions in capital expenses that Montclair has borne alone over three decades. As we all know, personnel costs, like health insurance and pensions, have increased well over the rate of inflation, and Montclair taxpayers have absorbed all of these increases. For most of the past decade Glen Ridge has paid less than $800,000, while Montclair’s costs have reached well over $16 million. How is it possible that Glen Ridge’s costs have decreased over 30 years, when Montclair’s have significantly outpaced inflation?

Additionally, over the years, Montclair has included additional benefits to “sweeten” the deal. This includes use of a sports playing field for half of a year, free flushing of their fire hydrants and water system at Montclair’s expense, and fire code enforcement.  Why is it necessary to include sports fields in a fire service agreement? Let me be clear to my fellow Montclair residents — there is nowhere else in the state, and probably the country, that includes such provisions. These items should be negotiated separately based on community input and assessment of current needs.

Glen Ridge had the option to continue this extremely generous agreement for 10 more years, and chose not to. They appear to want to pay even less than they were paying 30 years ago, and seemingly want more field space. In the earlier years of the agreement, there might have been direct negotiation. Now Glen Ridge is pitting Bloomfield against  Montclair in a race to the bottom, as the contract is currently entirely on their terms. The Township Council and residents of Montclair should really consider whether this deal is worth continuing. There is nowhere else in the state that charges their own residents more for fire service than a neighboring town. We should submit a bid that reflects 2022 reality — and we should try to move away from the relationship that has developed in which Glen Ridge uses Montclair resources at bargain prices. Remove the playing fields from the deal and negotiate this separately. After 30 years, it’s time to reassess and think about fairness.  

Eileen Birmingham