Evesham’s 2020 fire budget raises millage rate for second year

Fire-Rescue Chief cites increase in career staffing, capital programs for tax increase

The Evesham Township Board of Fire Commissioners held its first meeting of the new decade early last month and presented its budget for the 2020 calendar year.

Evesham Fire-Rescue Chief Carl Bittenbender gave the board and residents in attendance  an in-depth breakdown of Evesham Township Fire District No. 1’s current financials and operations.

Bittenbender showed the amount to be raised by taxation — according to the 2020 operating budget displayed in a PowerPoint visual — will be increased by approximately $650,000 from the previous year.

The millage rate — previously at .151 per $100,000 of assessed home value — will increase to .163 for the current year. For residents with an averaged assessed home value of $272,700, that means an increase of $32 in taxes from the previous year, or almost $3 more per month.

The budget was passed unanimously by the board of commissioners shortly after the  chief’s presentation. Evesham Township moved to the November election cycle last year, so residents for the second year did not vote on the budget.

According to Bittenbender, the need for an increase in the tax rate for the second consecutive year is largely due to an increase in career staffing, capital programs and supervision for the current year.

“As part of the operating budgets, we allocated salaries and wages, which was offset by retirements, to replace four firefighters and EMTs,” Bittenbender explained. “We also increased salaries and wages to hire eight additional firefighters/EMTs, which was offset by the federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency) grant.

“So we’re bringing 12 firefighters on … so we also increased salaries and wages in order to make needed promotions while also providing a monetary stipend to our voluntary firefighters for a cash stipend program,” he added.

Between 2013 and 2018, the tax rate for the fire district remained relatively stable, according to the presentation, something Bittenbender says the district took a great deal of pride in.

“The tax base in Evesham Township for the fire district has been very stable and we’re very proud of that fact,” he noted. “However … with a few of our capital programs and personal costs, as we look to increase the level of coverage to meet the demand to the district, we have had to raise taxes to meet the demand.”

The chief said the district expects to refurbish two of the district’s five ambulances this year, and to make repairs at various buildings as identified through an external architectural firm. One repair will replace the main street building roof.

Bittenbender said during the meeting that the creation of the budget also took into account a few assumptions by the district, such as the expectation of a 2 percent increase in inspections and a conservative 2.5 percent increase in emergency responses.

According to figures, Bittenbender noted, the district has seen a 24 percent increase over the past five years and a 6 percent increase over the last two years. He also said the district had no significant weather events during 2019, one of which can generate as many as 100 calls for service within a 24-hour span, contributing to the district’s end-of-year numbers.