DENNIS TOWNSHIP — The Township Committee received little guidance from the public Tuesday night before it cut the fire district budget that voters rejected last month in a controversial election.
The committee cut the entire $13,000 increase proposed by the Dennis Township Fire District #1, which funds the Ocean View Fire Company, leaving the $355,000 tax levy flat.
But officials wondered whether voters even truly had an issue with the budget or if it was just a casualty of locals voting against the incumbent fire commissioners. None of the 80 people who voted against the budget spoke up during Tuesday’s public hearing.
“From a democratic point of view, I think that trying to guess the motivation of the voters is a bad idea,” Committeeman Al Dicicco said.
It is rare for a fire district budget to get voted down. Only people within the designated districts can vote on the budgets, and they usually garner very little attention and only a couple dozen votes. It seemed that no one could readily recall the last time a fire district budget was rejected in Dennis Township, if ever, but it had been at least 35 years.
In this situation, the budget seemed besides the point. The election in the District #1 was controversial because of a campaign by former volunteers to oust the incumbent fire commissioners during the February election, and three out of four incumbents lost.
That was the apparent culmination of several years worth of infighting in the Ocean View Fire Company, in which some volunteers accused company leaders of removing members for personal reasons.
The issues lead locals in the district that the company protects worried about their safety. The death of a local woman in a fire earlier this year dramatically heightened those fears.
But Tuesday’s meeting was void of any arguing that had characterized past encounters between department members. About 25 people were in the crowd, and only two people spoke during the public hearing, neither of whom live in the district.
Joe Willshire, a former volunteer firefighter who helped the district with its budget, explained the budget process to the committee, saying that the $13,000 requested would serve to help fund future vehicle purchases.
By removing that amount, he said it would jeopardize the department, but he hoped it would not set a precedent that would leave the department without funding in the future when its apparatuses need to replaced.
In his opinion, voters were misinformed or confused when they voted the budget down.
“The defeat of the budget is not about money and never was,” he said.
Still, the district’s tax levy has increased each year since at least 2009 when it was $303,800. It would have been $368,000 if the $13,000 increase had been approved, a 21 percent increase in four years.
The committee members said they felt that they had to adjust the budget somehow after it was voted down.
“The voters essentially have spoken, so we have to do something,” said Committeman Frank Germanio.
Willshire was not sure how many properties are within the district. There are currently 24 fully qualified volunteers in the department.
After the public hearing, fire commissioner Tom Carroll said he expects the new board of commissioners to work together and resolve the personal arguments that have plagued the district and fire company for years.
“The commission will be looking at assisting the fire company for the betterment of the community and the fire company,” he said.
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