With the election change, residents will no longer vote annually on the fire district budget and the Board of Fire Commissioners election will take place on the General Election date each year.
February fire district elections are a thing of the past in Cherry Hill Township.
In December, the Cherry Hill Board of Fire Commissioners approved a resolution to move fire district elections from the third Saturday in February to the General Election date in November. This resolution was passed in accordance with a state law signed by former Gov. Christie in 2017 allowing fire districts to hold November elections. The Camden County Board of Elections certified the new election date on Dec. 18.
Tom Fiorentini, principal staff assistant in the Office of the Fire Chief, said the move was made to improve transparency in the district and take advantage of the higher turnout on the General Election date. Fiorentini noted holding the election on a Saturday in February discouraged voter turnout as it typically fell on President’s Day weekend and bad weather would sometimes discourage voters from going to the polls. Under state statute, the Cherry Hill Fire District №13 was previously forced to have its elections on the third Saturday in February along with all other fire districts in New Jersey.
“The board felt it would be best to move it to the November election to help generate more voter turnout,” Fiorentini said.
With the move to November, voters will not go to the polls to vote on the fire district’s annual budget unless the budget includes a local property tax levy increase of more than 2 percent. This is similar to the state law governing school districts.
The other change is the move of the Board of Fire Commissioners election to November. This year, Commissioners Hugh H. “Skip” Gibson and Kellie Montana’s seats are scheduled to be on the ballot. With the move of the election, Gibson and Montana’s terms will be extended through November, with the commissioner’s election taking place on the General Election date. The winners of November’s election will begin their terms on the Board of Fire Commissioners on the first Tuesday of December.
With no vote on the fire budget, the Board of Fire Commissioners proceeded with adopting its 2019 budget at its first meeting of the calendar year on Jan. 3. The budget includes no change in fire district taxes for Cherry Hill residents. The tax rate will remain at 0.297 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The general budget amounts to $28,157,418, a decrease of a little more than $1 million from the 2018 budget. A big reason for the decrease is the district has no capital projects planned for 2019, according to Fire Chief Chris Callan. Last year, the district budgeted $1.7 million for the purchase of multiple vehicles.
The district is looking ahead to a couple new initiatives and projects this year. One project remaining on the horizon is a possible new firehouse on the west side of Cherry Hill. Fiorentini said the fire district is in negotiations to acquire the former Cherry Hill Fire Company №1 building from the Woodland Civic Association. The building, located on Beechwood Avenue in Cherry Hill near the intersection of Route 38 West, is currently vacant and has not been used for quite some time, according to Fiorentini.
If the district acquires the property, the plan is to tear down the old building. However, Callan noted the fire district would not construct a new firehouse right away, describing it as a multi-year project.
“We haven’t even talked about fire house designs or anything like that,” Callan said. “The first step is get the property and then we’ll have to take a look at the future and take a look at the budget.”
The fire district is also hoping to expand its community outreach in 2019, especially among adults and senior citizens. Fire district Public Education Officer and PIO Tammy DeLucca said the district is looking to build relationships with civic associations, religious organizations and others within the community.
Callan said the approved fire district budget has been certified by the state. The fire district plans to post the fully certified budget on its website, www.cherryhill-nj.com/175/Fire-Department once it receives the document from the state.