This Saturday, from 2 pm to 9 pm, there will be Fire Commission Elections held... so what is a Fire Commission?
In New Jersey, in any municipality not having a paid fire department and force, the "governing body" may, upon petition by the residents, consider the designation of one or more fire districts. If it decides the designation of a fire district is appropriate, then, by ordinance, the territory for such fire district is established and elections for five residents to act as fire commissioners is held. The initial terms are staggered, so that in the future all terms are three years with one or two commissioners' terms expiring each year. Our District, as the first in Upper Township, is designated as Fire District #1.
In Strathmere, we have five fire commissioners: Ted Bamford (Chairman), Donna Diefenderfer (Secretary), Ted Kingston, Steve Nickelsberg and Ken Weaver.
The terms of Donna and Steve are expiring this year and they are running unopposed for re-election.
The purpose of the fire commission is to have taxing authority to raise money to support the volunteer fire company. It is the responsibility of the commissioners to be good stewards of those tax revenues, balancing the needs of the taxpayers with the need for the safety both of the residents and the firefighters.
With fire commission elections being held statewide this Saturday, the Press of Atlantic City ran this article on fire commissions last Saturday. The article discusses, among other things, the relative lack of information provided to voters regarding the budget, the plans by a number of commissions to propose bonds for equipment purchases or firehouse construction, and also a new law.
When the bill discussed in the article was proposed (it was signed into law at the end of the year), our Commission agreed that making more information available is a good thing, and has discussed the best way to provide a website by next February to meet the law's requirements. In the meantime, attached is an "unofficial" summary of the Commission's budget and actual expenditures for the last three years, and the budget for 2012. This budget has been approved by the commissioners and reviewed by the State, and is now being proposed on the ballot this Saturday (the form is "unofficial" because the form itself has not been audited, but all the numbers are the same as what's been provided to the State). While the Commission was permitted to propose an increase of 2%, the commissioners voted to hold the increase to 1.5%. Note that the increase applies to the taxpayers for the year before, and there is also an allowance ($384) for new ratables, so the budget figure to be voted on is $74,869. The attachment shows where that money is proposed to go. Two line items, "repairs and maintenance" and "small operating equipment" are somewhat volatile, so the Commission has agreed to manage them as a subgroup, and that's why they are "boxed in" with a subtotal shown.
With regard to bonds, Strathmere is very fortunate that over the years the Commission and the Volunteer Fire Company have managed funds such that, not only are our firehouse and equipment in good shape, but we also have no outstanding indebtedness and have no plans to propose additional funding through bonds. One of the line items in the budget is $10,000 for a "truck fund", the idea being that we save money in advance of the need to buy new equipment rather than having to borrow money when new equipment is needed. Hopefully this fund will be sufficient to accomplish that.
In order to raise the $74,869 in the proposed budget, it must be divided by the total assessment in Strathmere (and Whale Beach) to arrive at a tax rate. The Township provides the Commission with the assessed value in time to go through the budget process and submit the budget to the State in the November timeframe. The total assessment at that time, as shown in the attachment, was $353,365,043, which would result in a tax rate of 0.021 per $100 valuation of your property, or $210 on a $1 million property. We must caution you, however, that people in Strathmere continue to appeal their assessments, and the total valuation therefore keeps declining, and it is likely that when the official evaluation is calculated at the end of June, the rate may go up to .022. The commission, like other taxing authorities, only has control of the budget amount. The tax rate is then a function of the total assessed value.
Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about fire commissions!
If you are a registered Strathmere voter, please come out and vote on Saturday.
Regarding the total valuation for Strathmere and Whale Beach, the annual "Audit of Financial Statements" of the Fire Commission contains a page showing the valuations for the last ten years, which is quite interesting. Again, the figure is for the October or November timeframe in each year:
2011 - $353,365,043
2010 - 361,567,493
2009 - 382,208,912
2008 - 394,197,303
2007 - 394,680,518
2006 - 417,726,670
2005 - 88,439,365
2004 - 86,392,900
2003 - 86,594,687
2002 - 85,060,555
While we all remember the change due to the revaluation in 2006 (at the peak of the housing boom), what's very interesting is the decrease in the total since then - all due to property owners appealing their assessments (and offset slightly by new construction). The total has dropped by over 15% since the peak, and since that's as a result of some percentage of property owners who appealed, obviously the average reduction of those who did appeal is a much larger reduction.
Moral: if you have not appealed your assessment since 2006, it is probably worthwhile to do so. You can obtain the forms and instructions by calling the County Board of Taxation at (609) 465-1030. You can also get the form, instructions and the "comparable sales" figures you will need (at least for the last two years) at http://www.capemaytax.com/ You must have the completed form to the County by April 2 of this year. Good luck!
Monday is the Presidents' Day Holiday, so no trash or recycling will be collected.
Trash will be collected on Tuesday, February 21, but recycling must be held until Monday, February 27.
Thanks once again for your continuing support of the Strathmere Improvement Association!