As a resident and taxpayer in the Borough of Milltown, I am compelled to write this letter concerning the Milltown Firehouses. The fire department justifies a new firehouse based upon the condition of the existing firehouses, which have leaking roofs, wind damaged siding, water accumulation in the crawl space, mold, and inadequate shower and ventilation systems. However, we should have inquired as to how the fire department permitted the building to fall into such deplorable condition. These issues clearly did not happen overnight. As stewards of this public building, the fire department should have notified the Mayor and Council immediately to address these conditions in a timely fashion when the expense would have been minimal.
Additionally, despite their deplorable condition, the fire department indicates that the existing firehouses will not be torn down. The South Main St. firehouse will be used for the benefit of the fire department as a museum. Undoubtedly this will require the building to be “repaired” at the tax payer’s expense. The costs of such “repairs” and other undetermined costs, including the finance charges for the bonding and increased construction costs, were not disclosed at the recent Public Safety meeting. These undetermined costs will only increase the price tag of this monumental project, which still remains secondary to the need to relocate Milltown’s Electrical Substation and Public Works from their current location in a flood plain.
When pressed on why his committee never looked at another alternative, such as repairing, renovating, and retrofitting the existing structure to bring it up to current codes, the former fire chief responded, “We were never asked to look at that.” This statement illustrates the careless attitude of the fire department leadership. There is a history of questionable decision making by the fire department’s leadership, as illustrated by the appalling behavior of the current fire chief, as documented in recent news articles, the sale of alcohol without a license at the existing fire house, and confrontational attitude of the leadership to anyone objecting to the new firehouse. For these reasons a large number of Milltown residents have lost all confidence in the decision making of the current firehouse leadership.
Finally, a quote from the former fire chief, who inquires “When is the right time to spend millions of dollars on a firehouse?” Clearly, based on the current deepening recession, rising taxes and declining property values, unprecedented unemployment, and the immediate need to relocate the Borough’s electric substation and public works garage from the flood plain; the time is certainly not now!
At the very least, the construction of a new firehouse is clearly a question for all residents of Milltown to comment upon. For this reason, there must be a public question on this November’s ballot permitting residents to voice their opinion of this significant expense.