Since 1927, the entirely volunteer Verona Rescue Squad has been serving our community. In 2016, they responded to an astounding 1508 calls for service. Verona Fire Department, founded in 1909 has been a tremendous asset to the town. Both are available 24/7, 365 – and serve the town, for FREE.
In addition, the generosity of these members and the time they contribute has a discernible effect on the bottom-line of our municipality. Without these volunteers, our town would have a much larger outlay of salaries to pay for services that we could not go without.
Unfortunately, both the Verona Rescue Squad Building and Fire Department #2 need to be brought into the 21st century. I believe that is the right thing to do given their respective missions and I FULLY support providing these groups the proper facilities to carry out their work.
Our Manager, Mayor and Council began the discussion about 18 months ago where they were going consider various locations to relocate these properties or perhaps combine both into a single location. We know that a project of this magnitude will be costly and as a town, we must carefully consider the issuance of bonds which adds to our long-term debt.
On April 17, 2017, an ordinance was introduced to purchase 56 Grove Avenue, otherwise known as Congregation Beth Ahm for $900K. Upon the first reading the of this ordnance, a nebulous, definition of “municipal purposes” was used as the reason for this purchase. No council member mentioned the possible uses of this property. Mayor Ryan did not allow those in attendance at the council meeting to speak on it and referred to the time sensitivity of the transaction.
Since the sole purpose of the first reading is to inform the public, I was bewildered as to the lack of answers from our council.
Unsure as to what to make of this property purchase, I made an appointment to see our Township Manager – Matthew Cavallo to learn more. Mr. Cavallo explained that Congregation Beth Ahm was in the process of merging with another synagogue and is selling the property. Mr. Cavallo further explained that serious consideration was being made to move the rescue squad building to this location.
We discussed the possible purchase and the impact on the local neighborhood. Mr. Cavallo did not feel it would be an issue for the residential neighborhood having a rescue squad operating round the clock. We further discussed the price and the costs of retrofitting the building for a rescue squad. Mr. Cavallo did a rough estimate that the renovations would costs somewhere in the vicinity of $1.5 M, thus bringing the total purchase payment and renovations to nearly $2.5M.
On Tuesday April 25th, I met with Matthew Laracy, our CFO. There we discussed the bonding aspect of this purchase. Since many other items are typically thrown into a bonding ordinance
Mr. Laracy felt it would be safe to consider a 15-year time frame and a 3% long term interest rate for this project.
Considering these inputs, and including the amortization schedule, the total cost of this purchase now climbs to nearly $3.895 M. And we still have no new firehouse.
Concerning this ordinance, I have a number of questions that I feel deserve a response from our governing body.
- The MyVeronaNJ Blog indicated over the weekend that the property is/was listed? Is that correct? What is the MLS listing number? I was unable to find this property.
If not, how did this transaction come about? In other words, did someone from the Congregation contact the town or did it happen the other way around?
- During the last 18 months, what other options have been uncovered by the Manager and Council as possible sites for the Fire, Rescue or combined building.
- Mayor Ryan mentioned the time sensitivity to moving this process along. Can you tell me more about that?