South Orange and Maplewood are targeting January 1, 2020 for the debut of a consolidated fire department, according to an email from South Orange Village President Sheena Collum.
In the email sent May 30 to representatives of South Orange Fire Department union leadership (FMBA Locals #40 and #240) and shared with Village Green, Collum reported that elected officials from both towns had met with New Jersey shared services “czars” on May 30 where they were assured of a workable, affordable framework for a joint meeting organizational structure, as well as technical assistance in bringing civil service to the merged department (Maplewood is currently a non-civil service; South Orange is civil service).
Collum wrote to South Orange FMBA leaders Michael Commins, James Jennings, Anthony Vecchio and Heston Anderson (copying South Orange Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan), “We were assured that the State would work with us to establish a Joint Meeting using existing staff resources already available to us in terms of administrative and legal support. We very much appreciated this and are confident that both administrations will be able to work out these details that will not cut into our cost savings or create unnecessary burdens on either municipality.” (See the full email below.)
The fact that the State has made concessions to make joint meeting less burdensome both administratively and financially is a major breakthrough for the effort to merge the towns’ fire departments. South Orange leadership had balked on a shared services structure in which Maplewood became the lead agency, fearing too much loss of control. A joint meeting structure allows equal governance between the two towns in a combined department.
Collum concluded her May 30 email, “We will plan for a meeting in-person, after we have heard back from our counterparts in Maplewood which we anticipate will be next month.”
In response to a request for comment, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca told Village Green this morning, “Sheena has correctly described the status of the current discussions about the consolidation of the two fire departments. We are still in the negotiations phase and no final decisions have been made by the Maplewood Township Committee regarding establishing a Joint Meeting for Fire Services. A Joint Meeting is a separate governing entity and if established by the two towns, its employees will be covered by Civil Service.”
Village Green also reached out to South Orange FMBA Local #240 Vice President Michael Commins who thanked us for the “opportunity to contribute” and added, “At this point, Locals 40 and 240 are looking forward to being part of the process moving forward.”
Interestingly, the email thread sent by Collum contained past emails that pre-dated the recent election season in which fire services was a hot button issue.
In an email dated March 26, Collum wrote to South Orange FMBA reps: “As a follow-up to our last meeting with the Shared Service Czars and the concerns that were shared, South Orange is willing to proceed with a Joint Meeting configuration for the consolidation of the two fire departments and have it be civil service. The caveat to this is that we expect the State to assist us in ensuring that the anticipated cost savings to our taxpayers through efficiencies do not get minimized or eliminated by adding more bureaucracy and government administrative jobs and professional service contracts to a Joint Meeting structure that can already be done with our very capable existing staff and personnel. I am confident that most, if not all, of the goals intended through the fire department study we commissioned (and its findings) can work in this model ensuring the best in fire service delivery, response, efficiency, and optimized costs. I have conveyed this to our colleagues in Maplewood and will await the outcome of their discussion with the Maplewood Township Committee.”
In response, FMBA Local #240 Vice President Commins wrote, “Thank you Sheena for the update and keeping us informed. As always, the Fire Department is available to help in any way we can.”
See Collum’s full May 30 email here:
As an update to my email two months ago, the direction still remains as discussed at our meeting on March 18th with your participation. Yesterday our Joint Exploratory Committee reconvened with Maplewood, the State Shared Services Czars and Marc Pfeiffer, who was instrumental in providing us technical assistance as we continue to work through the various challenges which require careful consideration. Additionally, Trustee Stephen Schnall has now joined our working group replacing former Trustee Howard Levison.
To recap our response to your request:
- On behalf of your members, you requested that a consolidated department be Civil Service. South Orange discussed this in March and agreed to move forward with a Joint Meeting with Civil Service. Maplewood has been deliberating this and will be bringing in a representative from Civil Service to discuss what this will mean to members of their fire department.
- We were assured that the State would work with us to establish a Joint Meeting using existing staff resources already available to us in terms of administrative and legal support. We very much appreciated this and are confident that both administrations will be able to work out these details that will not cut into our cost savings or create unnecessary burdens on either municipality.
- Mr. Glatt and Mr. Platt will be working with the Division of Local Government Services to provide our towns with a point of contact as we fine tune the establishment of the new entity.
- Both towns will be working with PERC and Civil Service over the next few weeks on understanding the best means of transition and final implementation.
- Our target date is January 1, 2020 for the full consolidation of both departments into a new entity.