By Karen E. Viereck
WOOLWICH TWP. — In the on again, off again battle between Woolwich Township and Swedesboro over their interlocal agreement for fire services, the deal is off again.
During the March 21 Swedesboro Council meeting, Swedesboro Mayor Tom Fromm stated that Swedesboro had signed the agreement. The agreement kept the funding level at the original 2008 level and stated that Swedesboro would fully cover the cost of the repair to one of the Woolwich Fire Company’s trucks, at a date to be determined by direct communication with the fire company.
But when this agreement was sent to the Woolwich Township Committee, they rejected it. According to Woolwich Township Mayor Alan Schwager, the issue was the repair date. The agreement had previously contained on a June 30, 2016 date to begin repairs of the fire truck.
Schwager was surprised that the date was eliminated from Swedesboro’s approved version, because he said that Fromm picked that date specifically. “Fromm refused to honor that commitment.”
When asked why the date was eliminated in Swedesboro’s version, Fromm stated that he would not commit to the date because of time frames dealing with municipal budgets and the bidding process. “We would be irresponsible to sign a document that includes that language since it could then be considered a breach of the agreement if something delays the award for the job.”
Schwager said that the fire truck listed in the agreement has needed repairs for over three years and that the borough has been saying they will do it, but they haven’t. So Schwager wanted to make sure there was a specific time frame involved.
This fire service agreement concerns only the funding formulas of the Woolwich Fire Company by both the Borough of Swedesboro and Woolwich Township. This does not concern actual fire response from the company for emergencies.
In 2008, an interlocal fire service agreement was signed by the two municipalities that set a specific funding formula to cover the operating cost of the Woolwich Fire Company. This agreement had no expiration date, but either party could terminate it with 30 days written notice.
In that agreement, Woolwich agreed to pay 75 percent of the fire company budget and Swedesboro agreed to pay 25 percent. Schwager, who was elected in 2014, said he felt that Swedesboro was not paying their fair share now and asked to renegotiate it last year.
“I was elected to make this fair for the taxpayers of Woolwich, not Swedesboro,” said Schwager. He said that Swedesboro didn’t want to renegotiate it and said that if Woolwich didn’t like it then they can cancel it, which Woolwich did.
Even though currently it is nearly a 75/25 split in population, Schwager said that Woolwich wants funding to be based on usage instead. He said that after a three year study, they determined that 35 percent of the emergency calls were in Swedesboro, so they should have to pay that percentage of the fire budget.
Woolwich also wanted capital expenditures to be included in a funding formula. Currently the fire company has to approach each municipality for extra funding for anything over their operating expenses, such as equipment. Each municipality then decides what they can afford to spend.
Swedesboro vetoed all of the changes that Woolwich requested. Fromm said specifically that he did not want Swedesboro tax money to be put towards the construction of a possible fire house in Woolwich Township. Schwager said that he told Fromm this would never happen and said it could be written in the agreement that their money wouldn’t be used for that. Fromm refused this suggestion.
So in the last unapproved agreement, the funding level went back to 75/25 and all capital expenditure funding was taken out. The only thing that both sides could agree on was that future agreements should have expiration dates. But the elimination of the date killed the deal.
When asked what ramifications there are for not having an agreement, neither side could think of any. Fire coverage does not change. Each municipality is still paying their agreed share of operating expenses, just directly to the fire company. Prior to the ending of this agreement, Swedesboro’s money had been sent to Woolwich Township who paid the fire company, because according to Fromm, Woolwich had a full time CFO.
Schwager said even though Woolwich Township owns several pieces of the fire company’s equipment, they would not move it from the Woolwich Fire House location which is in down town Swedesboro. “Where would I put them?” he asked. “That doesn’t make sense to take it.”
Fromm stated, though, that there is a possibility that the Borough could have to buy Woolwich’s half of the fire house.
So currently there is no interlocal fire agreement and at this time, no meetings have been set up to renegotiate.