WEST CAPE MAY — Deputy Fire Chief Steve Nelson responded to statements in local newspapers from Mayor Pamela Kaithern and Commissioner Peter Burke concerning how much money the West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company receives annually from the borough and questions of what the fire company does with money its raises on its own.
At a Wed., March 9 Borough Commission meeting, Nelson said the fire company was “shocked by some of the statements that Mayor Pamela Kaithern and Commissioner Peter Burke have been quoted as saying in the newspaper and at open public meetings.” Nelson said while Kaithern said the fire company received $110,000 annually from the borough, it did not receive that much funding.
Nelson said the fire company’s budget consisted of:
• $40,000 for equipment, gear, equipment testing and vehicle maintenance. Those monies are requested through a voucher system and all monies are approved by the governing body.
• Additionally the borough has a $22,000 line item for the firehouse building and grounds that is used for utilities and inspections.
• A borough line item for about $10,000 for insurance.”
Nelson said funds to the fire company from the borough totaled $72,000. He asked where the borough came up with a figure of $110,000.
Kaithern said the fire hall receives free Comcast Internet which in turn costs borough hall $720 for their Internet connection. She said trash disposal for the fire hall costs the borough $1,600 per year, insurance for the fire company costs $9,236, electric bills average $16,000 to $17,000, landscaping services at $1,000 and capital improvements from 1999 through 2010 totaled about $350,000 including the replacement of the firehall’s roof, heating and cooling system and the purchase a fire truck, building renovations, radios, breathing apparatus and hose.
Kaithern said if the $350,000 is divided by 13 years, it averages about $27,000 per year.
“Those figures together total approximately $124,000 on an annual basis,” she said.
Nelson said Kaithern was quoted as saying the fire company should not always look to the taxpayers but should do a better job renting their banquet hall for revenue. He said the hall was advertised in the bridal magazine in the Herald and on websites but was in competition with Cape May’s inns and restaurants.
“We are trained volunteer firefighters,” said Nelson. “We do not burden the borough with salaries, health insurance or overtime pay.”
He said they did not volunteer nor had the training to be fundraisers.
Nelson said using the $110,000 figure, which he acknowledged may not be accurate, and dividing it by 1,095 taxpayers in the borough, the fire company costs West Cape May taxpayers 27 cents per day. He said as a Lower Township resident, he paid 61 cents per day for the same protection on his 120-by120 property.
For that amount of money, he said taxpayers received a “fully trained and professional fire service” that has recently passed the scrutiny of state agencies. He noted the fire company stood by at the firehouse during blizzards and weather events and set up a shelter as needed.
Nelson said the cost of the fire company was less than half the cost of one career firefighter from a similar size career department.
He noted the fire company with its own funds:
• Upgraded their commercial kitchen = $ 35,000
• Installed "non-slip" floor in the engine bay as directed by DCA and NFPA= $35,000
• Purchased a rescue van= $35,000
• Purchased a Suburban Command vehicle= $5,000
• Purchased a Hydrant Assist valve for their first out engine = $1,900
• Provided labor and materials to address the issues identified by a state inspection.
Nelson said Kaithern complained about the fire company's natural gas bill. He said the fire company never sees the utility bills and therefore has no knowledge of the costs and noted the firehouse is much larger building than Borough Hall.
He said the overhead engine doors in the firehouse are not insulated although the fire company has asked the borough many times for them to be replaced to be more energy efficient. The new heating and air conditioning system in the banquet hall leaks a tremendous amount of cold air in and hot air out, said Nelson.
He said one member of the governing body said the fire company was a burden to the taxpayers.
“You are getting the best deal you could possibly get,” said Nelson. “You can’t get a cheaper fire company that’s trained like we are.”
Kaithern said no one has questioned the fact they are trained firefighters but they are not trained fundraisers. She suggested the fire company use a professional fundraiser.
Nelson said the fire company’s newest truck is 18 years old and the second truck is 34 years old, which needs to be replaced in the near future.
Deputy Mayor Peter Burke said discussion about the fire company’s funding was spurred by a request their line item in the budget be increased by 11 percent. He said the line item is being increased by 3.5 percent.
Burke said the fire company sends letters to taxpayers requesting donations noting it would keep their taxes lower. He said his question at the previous borough meeting was how much money that is received by donation goes toward what the borough has been asked to fund.
Commisioner Ramsey Geyer asked Burke and Kaithern what items they wanted the fire company to pay for with the money they raise on their own.
Burke asked Nelson, which fire company responded first to calls below the Cape May Canal in Lower Township. Nelson said the West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company had an agreement with Lower Township to respond to calls in that area.
Burke asked how much money the West Cape May company receives from the Town Bank Volunteer Fire Company to cover the area below the canal.
Nelson said West Cape May received $1,500 per year.
Nelson said the agreement was no different than when the fire company assisted the City of Cape May Fire Company. He said West Cape May responds to every fire call in Cape May Point and vice versa.
Nelson said the agreement with Town Bank is both fire companies would respond together to calls below the canal.
Geyer said West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company Chief Chuck McPherson, who uses his own vehicle and makes a determination if more response is needed, answers most calls below the canal. He said many calls are problems with smoke detectors or false alarms.
Kaithern suggested the agreement with Town Bank be revisited. Geyer said mutual aid does not require funding.
“I would hate to think we would be in a position where we told Lower Township, ‘Oh, I’m sorry we’re not going to respond to the house that’s a half block away because you don’t pay us enough,’” he said.
Nelson said West Cape May would respond to fire calls in Lower Township even if no money was involved.