CHATHAM,  NJ - The idea is to give the Chatham Township Police Department the guidelines it needs to enforce rules about outdoor fires, such as fire pits, and to keep township residents from burning garbage and other items. 

"It will be there if we need it," Chatham Township Police Chief Steven Hennelly said. "We're not going to be driving around looking to enforce it."

After a discussion of a proposed three-page ordinance that would regulate outdoor fires, the Chatham Township Committee took an informal vote and decided, 4-1, to send the ordinance back to the safety committee for tweaking. No date was set on when a revised ordinance might be introduced.

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Chatham Township Fire Marshall Barry Howard authored the ordinance, using the NJ Uniform Fire Code as his guide. Howard indicated in his 25 years on the job, there have been about 24 incidents regarding outdoor fires.

Chatham Township Mayor Curt Ritter led the opposition to the ordinance, which he didn't feel was necessary. He was the lone dissenting vote.

"It's far better to educate people than regulate them," Ritter said.

Mayor Curt Ritter and Deputy Mayor Kevin Sullivan weigh in on whether the ordinance is needed or not

Deputy Mayor Kevin Sullivan sent an email to committee members that offered changes in the wording of the ordinance. For example, he didn't think it needed to say there could be no fire within 15 feet of a residence. 

"The gist is that you don't want people burning garbage in their back yard," Sullivan said. "Leave it up to the homeowner where it should be. As a homeowner it is their responsibility to keep it at a reasonable and safe distance."

In reading the guidelines set force in the proposed ordinance and listening to the objections to the wording, committee members Mike Kelly, Robert Gallop, Karen Swartz and Sullivan all voted to send it back to the public safety committee for review.

"I don't want there to be too many onerous regulations for the homeowner," Swartz said.

Chatham Township Police Chief explains that the calls to the police are all about the smoke created by outdoor fires

In other business, the committee voted, 4-1, to amend its open space tax ordinance, setting the open space tax at a half-cent per $100,000 of assessed home value. If the ordinance was not amended, the open space tax would be two cents.

As he did when the ordinance was introduced, committee member Robert Gallop cast the dissenting vote. Gallop indicated that the higher tax would help replenish the open space fund. Other members did not feel it was necessary and noted that the tax could be raised if the funds were needed,