Backlash Against Today’s Firehouse Vote
Thursday's vote to authorize a one million dollar purchase of land in Toms River for a new firehouse is causing uproar amongst some citizens.
The plan calls for the purchase of property in Toms River's First Fire District between Hooper and Hadley Avenues, and would be used to build a structure which would be home to Fire Companies One and Two.
Voting is open from 2 to 9 pm at the Fire Company Two Building at 45 West Water Street in Toms River. While members of the Toms River Council cite many reasons for their support of the purchase, namely a necessity by the firemen and a consolidation of services, at December's meeting many residents made known their issues with the vote.
The main issue detractors had with the vote was that it wasn't presented to the public with enough amount of time to let residents learn about it.
Toms River resident Christine Hollingsworth told the Council that their handling of the entire situation was unacceptable.
"When you go around and just throw this at the people last minute, this is just wrong!"
Brian Kubiel stressed the merits of the purchase, however several people were adamant about their feeling that the public is being kept in the dark about the issue.
Nels Luthman, stood in front of the board and resoundingly said that "As far as we're concerned, the fire commission has done everything to discourage voter participation in this referendum for the million dollars. " noting specifically the difficulty for a person just to voice their opinion. "Only one polling place open for the whole district? That's bizarre to have an election like this. "
The Toms River resident claims the Council and Fire Commissioners have went out of their way to discourage any kind of participation in the vote.
"The only way I found out was because my ninety three year old mother gets an absentee ballot. It came in the mail I came down and I asked the council about it and they wouldn't even tell me the piece of property that was being purchased. "
Dennis Galante, town captain for the Ocean County Citizen's for Freedom had a similar concern with the way the town was handling the vote.
"It's a disrespect for the voters. The public needs to know to be able to come out in the vote and to represent want the tax payers want."
Mary Malagiere, a Toms River resident who's also ran for public office, had similar concerns regarding the lack of information leading up to the vote.
"I read something the other day that said well it's ok because we were really planning for this for the last twenty years. Well there was a lot of things I wanted to have for the last twenty years too and I'm not getting them. "
She felt that the towns lack of transparency showed a continuing pattern of how voters were treated.
"That is a prime issue here in Toms River that they do not tell the community what is afoot."
Beyond the issue of not being given notice or information about the vote, critics claim the one million dollar purchase is completely unnecessary, especially since they note the future cost of the project is still unknown.
Hollingsworth is appalled that especially in these difficult economic times, such a major investment would be made.
"Personally I don't think in these economic times that we need to build this firehouse. We don't have the money and people are barely holding onto their homes much less a job and bond out a million dollars plus?"
She also notes that while she sympathizes with the situation the fire department is in, there are cheaper options currently available.
"We have substations all over this town, why can't we use some of those? "
Luthman also worries, even though the council has said the one million dollar purchase would not affect tax rate, he says the fact that there's no estimate for the building is what worries him.
How do you expect me to vote for a million dollar appropriation when you don't even have a vision?
Councilman Brian Kubiel says the reason that there is no estimate for the building that would be built there is because they have to have the land purchased before an architect could do an appraisal. However Luthman and other's were not comfortable with that kind of situation.
Furhtermore, Luthman addresses one of the fears many expressed in the days leading up to the meeting, that the move would turn Toms River's fire department from a volunteer one into a private or paid one.
"Once the town owns it, the fireman don't have any say in the building anymore. Anytime since the town owns the equipment it can be a paid fire company"
Galante says he will be advising all of his neighbors to vote against the purchase, however he reiterates that the issue isn't about helping the fire fighters rather it's an issue of information being withheld from the public. He is however confidant that even if this particular measure fails, Toms River's firefighters won't be left out to dry.
"I know if this is to fail, it will be revisited and it should be revisited. It should be given to the public completely on the merit of the application. "