LAKE COMO, NJ — Lake Como will soon be adding the South Belmar First Aid Squad property to its real estate portfolio.
The borough council last night voted to authorize the $420,000 purchase of the now-closed squad building and parking lot at 703 18th Avenue, following the squad's inability to obtain financing to buy the adjacent vacant parcel owned by the borough priced at $260,000.
The arrangement was part of a consent judgment issued in June by Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer after the Lake Como filed suit against SBFAS, claiming it wanted back the property given to the squad for its operation nearly 75 years ago since the SBFAS stopped providing emergency services to the borough in 2017.
As part of the judgment, the property was divided into two sections — the 12,500-square-foot parcel with the building and parking lot going to the SBFAS and a vacant 27,000-square-foot parcel deemed borough land. The SBFAS was given the first option of purchasing the borough's parcel. But because it was unsuccessful in obtaining financing, the borough then had the option of buying the squad's parcel outright, or sell both parcels and then pay the squad the proceeds for its section.
With the purchase of the SBFAS parcel, Mayor Kevin Higgins said the borough now has its choice of two avenues to pursue — to sell the combined parcels which were appraised $880,000 to use the building for municipal purposes, possibly for senior or recreation programs.
“This gives us options — if we do something with (the property) or if we sell it,” he said.
Before its 6-0 unanimous vote, Councilman Christopher D’Antuono agreed, “I don’t see any down side to (the purchase).”
In addition to D’Antuono, Council President Douglas Witte, and council members Virginia Kropac, Hawley Scull and Nicholas DeMauro voted in favor of the purchase.
The borough plans to seek to temporary financing to fund the purchase over 10 years, translating into an annual cost of $42,000, plus interest — adding about a penny to the tax rate, according to Borough Administrator Louise Mekosh.
Under the consent agreement, proceeds payable to SBFAS — a private, nonprofit organization — must be used for a public or charitable purpose of its choice, according to Borough Attorney Marguerite Schaffer.
During the council’s October 1 meeting, Mayor Higgins said the borough may ask the squad to place the proceeds in a trust so that it can be used to pay for first aid services for borough residents.
Since the SBFAS ceased operations in late 2017 due to declining volunteer membership, Lake Como pays the Belmar First Aid Squad $30,000 annually to provide emergency medical services under a shared services agreement.
In addition to the first aid squad property, Lake Como also owns the site where the now-closed firehouse and police station still stand on the corner of Main Street and Redmond Avenue. Officials continue to explore options for that parcel, as well.
In 2018, Lake Como entered into a shared services agreement for fire protection services with Belmar. And in May 2016, Lake Como inked an outsourcing agreement with Belmar for police services — the result of a defeat by voters of a special referendum that would have seen the municipal tax rate climb 22 percent in order to keep its 10-member police department. Under the terms of the 10-year contract, which includes a five-year opt-out provision, Lake Como pays 25 percent of Belmar’s annual police budget, excluding special police officers.
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