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Lakewood's Township Committee and Industrial Commission have been working overtime not only to push through an ordinance that will allow construction of 150 feet high rise buildings, but also to find a willing scapegoat on who to blame for their big proposal which will only benefit an as of yet unnamed developer.

Luckily for them, the Board of Fire Commissioners, maneuvered by their general counsel, Attorney Ian Goldman, Fire Chief Jonathan Yahr, and Fire District Administrator Yehuda Beer, cheerfully agreed to become the perfect scapegoat!

Earlier this year, Township officials reached out to the Board of Fire Commissioners and asked them to review this high rise proposal.

Fire Chief Jonathan Yahr drafted a report which quietly admitted that the proposal would require the career department to be increased as well as for additional fire apparatus to be purchased, yet at the same time confidently assuring the Township that "we can handle your high rise building proposal."

Subsequently, as first reported here on FAA News, BOFC Vice Chairman Larry Loigman penned a letter very clearly warning the Township Committee that the need to the need to double the size of the career department, and acquire sufficient apparatus, training etc which would be required due to the construction of higher rise buildings than currently permitted in the Township, would increase our property taxes $6 million annually.

As the news was broken here on FAA News, following exposure on FAA News regarding the proposal, and the troubling issues therefrom, - which were based heavily on Commissioner Loigman's letter - the Township Committee put the brakes on this proposal saying that they wanted to get "clarification" from the Fire Commissioners regarding the actual tax increase the high rise buildings would cause. (Their full letter is below).

Apparently, Mr. Loigman's letter caused a massive exposure which Township officials absolutely did not want to have to face.

So... How to eliminate this problematic exposure?

By name shaming the messenger, of course!

Plan A, as the news was first broken here on FAA News, was for the rest of the members of the Board of Fire Commissioners to adopt a very important Resolution Admonishing Mr. Loigman for "violating the Board's Code of Ethics by falsely representing the concerns of the Fire District as a whole."

Truly a holy way to get rid of unwanted exposure of the tax increase!

At the end of the day though, the rest of the Fire Commissioners did even better. Not only did they distance themselves from the "unwanted tax increase exposure," they even actively supported the ordinance to permit high rise buildings, explaining that "Lakewood needs to continue to grow!"

When Mr. Loigman interjected "the residents of the Township have nothing to gain here as only the unknown developer will gain," Chief Yahr switched course by saying "the Township Committee are the ones who want to push through this ordinance. It's not our place to try to stop them for any reason. Our job is simply to figure out how to provide sufficient fire service for however the Township Committee chooses to permit the Township to continue to grow."

Chief Yahr added that "any new firefighters which are hired due to these new high rise buildings will also serve the rest of the Township, so anyways everyone in the Township will benefit."

Mr. Loigman responded, "we aren't saying don't do it, we are saying we need to be sure we have the money we need."

Chief Yahr charged on, impressing upon the Board that the career fire department will need to grow anyways based on the Township's growth and due to dwindling ranks of willing volunteers, so the construction of one of two high rise buildings will not cause any major additional tax increase.

(Very curiously, the Township has been very quiet about the number of buildings that will actually get built. They have been so quiet about that number that even Chief Yahr kept insisting simply that "one or two buildings will not add much. However, a precursory review of tax maps indicates that the entire area to be rezoned is over 1.3 million sq feet. At a Minimum Lot Area of 3 acres, it appears that over 10 buildings could be built here, and possibly more if the parking is built underground. Taking into account roadways and drainage basins the net product will likely be less than that. But still again, Township officials have been extremely low key regarding the number of buildings which could actually get built there.)

Some Fire Commissioners then started to calculate how much taxes will increase even without the proposed high rise buildings. Fire District Administrator Yehuda Beer pushed them back, saying "why do we need to convey that to the Township? All they asked us to provide them is our estimate of the fiscal impact of these specific buildings."

Board Attorney Ian Goldman chimed in, "in response to Larry's letter, the Committee has tasked the Board with providing an accurate tax increase estimate that would be caused by the construction of these buildings. The vibe I'm getting from the Board is that the answer is that these buildings will not cause any negligible tax increase. Is that correct?"

Commissioner Harrison Pfeffer said he agreed. He also stated that while the Board has in the past solicited various studies from VFIS regarding the needs of the fire district, in this case there is no point in paying them for a repory as "they anyways generate a report based on whatever we ask them to write."

At the end of the day the Board consented to permit Chief Yahr to draft a letter confidently assuring the Township that the Board "fully backs the proposal." To ensure it's clear as to which BOFC actually support this letter, Fire District Administrator Yehuda Beer will circulate the letter, get everyone's approval, and then submit a cover letter to the Township Committee making it very clear as to which BOFC members actually support the chief's letter.

Chief Yahr did have two solid ideas; 1) in return for the tax abatements which the developers will most definitely receive, perhaps they can renovate or even construct a new firehouse for the Township, 2) after one or two buildings are constructed, we can ask the Township to pause and allow us to take a deeper dive into the actual fiscal impact to the fire district. We will wait and see if these solid ideas actually make their way to the Township Committee!

This outcome is a win-win for the Township Committee. 1) It solves the massive tax increase exposure that Mr. Loigman caused, and 2) It shows the Township Committee that they can count on the Board of Fire Commissioners to happily cover for them! #FriendsYouCanCountOn!

Oh, and the best part of all of this is that once they got this issue out of the way, their previous zeal to heroically admonish Mr. Loigman for this unwanted exposure suddenly diminished. Chairman Yaakov Steinberg oddly announced that they would table the resolution as "it's a super important issue and because Commissioner Yehuda Gold is not hear tonight, we want to table this resolution until next month when he will hopefully be in attendance." Uh huh. Sure!

This year's fire district budget, which for the first time has topped $10 million, includes a salary of $191,732 for Chief Yahr, $155,000 for Administrator Yehuda Beer, and $110,000.00 for Deputy Administrator Steven Mulholland. Mr. Goldman's contract is for $155 per hour for his legal services. In 2022 the District has paid Mr. Goldman close to $50,000 for his legal services.

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Anonymous said...

This article was obviously not written by someone who knows anything about firefighting or basic building construction or else they would know that high rise buildings are a type 1 building which is fire resistive. These buildings are safer then most homes and would not require additional firefighters to be hired. The only reason firefighters would need to be hired is due to a lack of volunteers. So if you actually care about this town and don't want them to hire more firefighters then get off your rear end and volunteer.

Anonymous said...

Who is this mystery buyer, which the township is working so hard to appease?