Why does the Orange Township Fire Department need $8 million per year?

To the editor:

Why does the Orange Township Fire Department need $8 million per year?

The Liberty and Orange township fire departments bear a striking resemblance to each other regrading the population served, staffing and cost structure. Both departments have spent $6 million to $6.5 million in operating costs over the last two to four years. They are seeking levies which would enable each to spend $8 million per year, according to the Orange fire chiefs. Why are both fire departments seeking the same $1.5 million funding increase? Liberty is in a different spot than Orange because Liberty and its fire union agreed on a new labor contract, which would overlap the timeline of the proposed levy increase. How does Orange Township know that it needs $8 million per year when it hasn't even begun negotiations? Furthermore, the new Orange contract might not be agreed upon by the August or November ballots.

Is Orange Township going to give firefighters significant pay raises to offset removal of taxpayer-paid pension pickup and increased employee health insurance costs? Is Orange Township going to give 11-percent cumulative raises over three years in the new contract as it did in the old contract? Are 20,000 Orange Township taxpayers expected to continue to pay more than $300,000 per year of pension pickup for about 60 people? Is the current Orange Township health insurance plan in which all employees and elected officials pay no premiums and are subject to $1,000 or $2,000 annual deductibles still going to be in place over the next three years?

I am struggling to understand that with all of these obvious cost-reduction opportunities, how can spending increase by $1.5 million each year for three years?

What about a new fire truck or other necessary capital spending? Last fall, trustees Robert Quigley, Nelson Katz and Chris Masciola siphoned $5 million of general fund surplus into a boondoggle "rainy day" capital project accounts. I would hope that most taxpayers would rather spend $1 million on a new fire truck versus another Orange Road roundabout. With two votes, these funds can be easily repurposed back to the general fund to buy critical, lifesaving and necessary fire department capital assets over the next three years.

Orange Township already can provide millions of dollars to buy new fire department capital assets in the next three years without raising taxes. I certainly agree that if an asset is no longer useful and is critical to the fire department, it should be replaced.

Orange Township trustees and fire chiefs, I beg you to build me and other taxpayers a roadmap to how the township fire department needs to go from spending $6.5 million to $8 million a year. How are you so sure Orange township requires $8 million per year without even starting to negotiate a new bargaining contract? Whether they agree or not, at least the Liberty Township taxpayers know what's included in their $8 million request.

Bob Ruhlman
Orange Township