Byram discusses Fire Dept. budget

PHOTO BY MANDY CORISTONByram Township Fire Department Chief Todd Rudloff addresses the Town Council on Tuesday evening, Oct. 2, 2018. Rudloff was presenting a proposal regarding changes the his department's budget. Listening to the chief's proposal are, from left, Councilman David Gray, Councilman Harvey Roseff, Township Clerk Doris Flynn, Mayor Alex Rubenstein, Township Manager Joe Sabatini, Councilman Scott Olson, and Township Attorney Tom Collins.
By mandy coriston

BYRAM — The Byram Township Council held its first meeting of autumn on Tuesday night, October 2nd, and discussions included an update on the municipal building subcommittee, the declaration of Oct. 7-13 as Fire Prevention Week, and a presentation from Byram Township Fire Department Chief Todd Rudloff on the future of the department’s budget.
The large item of business was the delivery of a proposal from BTFD Chief Rudloff. Rudloff would like the township to consider changing the budget of the fire department from a line item budget, all items of which must currently go through the finance office for cooperative contract bids and approvals, to a “donation” budget similar to neighboring Andover, Green, and Budd Lake. In those towns, the fire department is given their yearly budget from the township as a donation, which the department may use at it sees fit, given that a minimum of 50 percent of the funds are used for firematic purposes, per state law.
Rudloff explained why the fire department would like to see this change.
“We’ve experienced some issues with maintenance,” he said, “When we need something repaired, the project often gets interrupted while we do the bidding for service. Ashleigh (Frueholz, Chief Finance Officer) spends a lot of time doing bids for us, when we could find our own provider and get the work done.”
Rudloff said they recently had an issue of needing a SCBA tank tested, at a cost of $54.
“The town probably lost money on that,” Rudloff said, “due to the amount of people who had to touch that purchase order before the test could be done.” Changing the manner in which the town pays out the fire department’s budget would significantly streamline matters exactly like this.
Rudloff and the Council discussed how exactly the budget would break down and what accountability the fire department would have to the town for the funds.
“We’d be completely accountable for all our expenditures,” Rudloff said, “and we’d welcome a third-party audit, if necessary.” The budget which the fire department receives from the town currently covers all firematic expenses such as vehicle maintenance and compliance, personnel training and outfitting, and the department’s command vehicles.
Rudloff said, “The capital budget would still be in the hands of the town, as far as purchasing apparatus that will be expected to last us more than ten years, and the building budget will remain separate.”
The fire department owns and maintains its firehouses, and uses fundraising to pay any debt or make any improvements on those properties.
“This would be a huge element of trust, to give you free rein over your budget like this,” Mayor Alex Rubenstein said.
Rudloff pointed out that the time and expense to the township would be greatly lowered and that the departments in nearby towns have been using this budgeting model for years. The amount requested by Rudloff is $79,500, which is the amount the town currently line-items for the fire department. The council agreed that they will take the matter under consideration for further discussion.
Municipal BuildingMayor Rubenstein and Councilman Harvey Roseff had a few items of note surrounding the Municipal Building Subcommittee.
On September 20, Fred Braun, who was instrumental in building the “shell” over the current municipal building, was in town for a visit, and spent some time discussing the structure with the subcommittee. “Mr. Braun told us the trailers were never supposed to be permanent,” Roseff said, “They were supposed to be removed from under the shell and real walls built. That never happened.”
The subcommittee also recently took a walk over to the open space by the schools to get a feel of the lay of the land. Bids for architecture, engineering, and construction management were due at 10 a.m. on the 2nd, and Rubenstein said 11 bid packages were received by the deadline. As soon as the bids can be digitized, they will be available for the Council to begin the process of review and discussion.
Community SafetyIn the public portion of the meeting, Robin Gallagher, of Birch Parkway, brought a matter of community safety before the Council.
“I’ve lived here for about three years,” Gallagher said, “and we’ve got an issue with speeding on our road. There are no signs, no speed bump, and people come barreling down from East Shore Trail around the blind curve.”
Birch Parkway is split in that the southern end lays on Byram Township and the northern end in Sparta, which makes Gallagher’s situation unique. Saying that her car had been damaged in a hit and run, and that she fears for the safety of the dozen or so children who live in her immediate vicinity, Gallagher is asking that the town add signage to the street or install a speed bump.
“I went to the Lake Mohawk Country Club,” she said, “because they have so many speed bumps elsewhere, but they told me I’m in Byram and to talk to you.” Township Attorney Tom Collins said that if there are no signs posted, the state mandates the limit is 25 mph on residential streets, and that the township has easement rights that allow them to erect signs on the roadside. When Gallagher said she had taken a look at the streets around her, such as the adjacent Maple Parkway, it had speed limit signs. Maple Parkway falls entirely within Sparta Township. Byram Manager Sabatini said, “We’ll look into it. We can get you some speed limit signs, and talk to Sparta about their end of the road.” Sabatini added that a speed bump is probably out of the question, as they cannot afford to begin installing them on every residential street.
Elder CottageIn a matter of new business, Councilman David Gray asked that the Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity be introduced as an item for future review. The ECHO program, in some places colloquially called “granny pods”, is a state-approved initiative which allows homeowners to erect a small modular cottage on their properties for the purpose of housing an elderly or disabled relative. The state has specific regulations for these structures, such as a maximum size, the age and/or abilities of its occupant, and how the structure ties into the existing infrastructure of the property, such as water and sewer.
While this is a state program, the decision on whether to allow it has been left to individual municipalities.
“Lafayette recently passed an ordinance to permit this,” Gray said, “so I wanted to bring it to our attention. This is something that’s good for property rights, and could be an answer to the exorbitant cost of elder care.” In addition to the requirements on size and infrastructure, the cottages must be removed within 90 days of becoming unoccupied. Township Manager Joe Sabatini questioned how towns would be able to enforce that part of the regulations. “We’d have to write something into the ordinance, if this is something we want to go forward with,” Gray said, “This is just something I wanted us to have on our radar.” BTFD Chief Rudloff also pointed out that an adjustment to the fire code would be necessary if the ECHO program was brought to Byram.
The Byram Township Council will next meet on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.