Past Newsletters

A vote tonight on principle – closing argument


This is important and timely. Please bear with me for this closing argument on what we’ll vote on tonight and how you make your voice heard. I take my responsibility to be a good steward of your tax dollars and in doing what I can to ensure the services we provide to you are the best we can, very seriously. I know our Fire Department takes that just as seriously. Unfortunately, many in the department have been made to believe that if we lost the contract with Glen Ridge, that their budget would be cut by that amount lost. That is not true. Glen Ridge doesn’t pay the Montclair Fire Department. They pay the Township of Montclair and then the Township funds our fire department through the regular annual budget process at Council’s discretion exclusively. I will never support funding less than what is needed to keep our firefighters safe with the best training and equipment and ensuring we exceed federal and state best practices on response times to keep all of you safe. 

Tonight we’re being asked to vote to extend a contract that has us providing Fire Services to Glen Ridge for at least 10 more years with an option for them to extend another 5 years. It has so far been a 32 year relationship. The most recent 10 year contract expires on Dec. 31 of this year. This year Glen Ridge (GR) paid us $925,738 to respond to calls, send our firefighters to every GR classroom to teach kids about fire safety (a beautiful and necessary thing) and provide all sorts of other ancillary services that a Fire Department provides. The Montclair Fire Department is GR’s Fire Department in every way except in name or fair cost sharing.

The problem, for me, is that from a purely numerical point, this $925,738 is unchanged from what we received all the way back in 2009, never mind adjusting for inflation. And when you do adjust for inflation and go back to the beginning — 1991 when their payment was $492,000, that 1991 number adjusted for today’s dollar value would be approximately $1.1 million. So in inflation-adjusted numbers, GR pays less today than they did in 1991. In literal dollars, they pay the same they did in 2009. Set that aside for a moment.

The mind-blowing reality about this contract that we’re being asked to approve tonight is that, remembering they’re paying us $925,738 this year, the contract has GR paying only $850,000 next year in 2023, $911,111 in 2024 and going up approximately $61,000 per year thereafter ultimately reaching $1.4M in the year 2032. 

I can’t and wont in good conscience vote for “deal” that accepts less money from Glen Ridge for fire services in 2023 and 2024 than they pay in 2022. 

What are we charging you less for in the next two years and beyond? I can’t think of anything. Does anything in your life cost less now than it did a year ago? If this goes through, the only people paying less for anything in 2023 than they did in 2022 would be Glen Ridge taxpayers when it comes to fire services. What about fire stations we have to upgrade or new trucks we’ll have to purchase in the future? What about the ever-increasing costs to give firefighters the wages, benefits and retirement they deserve? None of those costs are going down.

Montclair deserved a chance to negotiate a fair deal with Glen Ridge. Instead of respecting our 32 year relationship, they forced us to bid against other neighboring towns in a race to the bottom. Whether we vote this down or table it, we need to re-open talks with them. What they were presented with should have never gone though. I’ve been consistently against bidding. The bottom line is we have the best fire department in the region and Glen Ridge knows it. They can’t exactly pick up their town and move it. Our headquarters is less than .25 miles from their border. This does not have to get escalated to the courts. We can simply say no, this isn’t fair and go back to the negotiating table. I’m prepared to compromise here. But I won’t take less than we’re getting now.

The whole point of shared services is that municipalities come together and share services in effort to bring down costs for everyone. When that becomes lopsided as it is now with Montclair subsidizing Glen Ridge, being in a shared services agreement no longer makes sense. And when it comes to mutual aid — as we saw when multiple fire departments showed up to battle an Upper Montclair blaze the other day, we are all in this together. But, while mutual aid would always require us and every other town around here to respond to emergencies in Glen Ridge, that’s not the same as being their full time fire department, responding to every call.

If you would like to read more of my thoughts about the long term cost growth trajectory for us and this relationship, you can read my op-ed here.

I encourage everyone who agrees to speak up and be heard, whether that’s by clicking the button above and sending the Council an email or showing up tonight in person to make a public comment. The Council Meeting is at 7:00pm at 205 Claremont. Public comment typically begins after the Pledge of Allegiance and after we’ve read several proclamations.

I rarely ever ask for this kind of participation. That’s usually because most of our decisions as a Council are policy matters that can be relatively easily changed or are a budget that has a lifespan of a year. This contract locks us into a situation for a minimum of 10 years, possibly 15 if Glen Ridge decided to exercise an extension. These are the kinds of things all of us need to pay closer attention to if we’re ever going to truly blunt the unsustainable tax/cost growth trajectory for this town.

Be well,