The feud between two of the five North Hudson mayors that oversee Hudson County’s regional fire department is heating up, with the two electeds trading punches over the way the agency has been operating.
“There have been manpower shortages at dangerous fires that are placing our firefighters in potential peril. And it stems mainly from the Township of Weehawken purposely shortchanging the department through tax abatement deals it has made with developers,” Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt said in a statement.
North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, which also serves Union City, West New York, and North Bergen, was established in early 1999 and has served the five municipalities ever since.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner is wildly credited as the mastermind behind getting the regional concept off the ground and serves as the chair of the NHRFR board.
According to Zitt, “Weehawken is exploiting an outdated budget formula for the department used to calculate annual payments made by each of the five member communities,” claiming that $618 million in tax-exempt properties is not included in the NHRFR budget.
“This is a deceitful method of taking advantage of other communities sharing the service such as Guttenberg and Union City where the use of such PILOT programs is virtually non-existent,” Zitt exclaimed.
“Weehawken is annually collecting millions of dollars in tax revenue on properties that are not being considered to have any taxable improvement value when calculating its payments to the NHRF&R. It unconscionable.”
Zitt has been pressing Turner about the funding formula for years, with the Guttenberg Town Council approving a resolution creating an exploratory committee to look at the feasibility of creating a volunteer fire department when their contract with NHRFR expires next year, as HCV first reported.
Expectedly, Turner responded in kind, claiming that Zitt is “incredibly misinformed” on how the department operates and heavily implied his public attack was more about the non-partisan May 9th municipal elections.
Turner is Albio Sires’ right hand man, while Public Affairs Commissioner and mayoral hopeful Cosmo Cirillo is the Guttenberg business administrator. Hiram Gonzalez, one of the Cirillo’s running mates, also works for the Town of Guttenberg.
“Mayor Zitt’s statements about North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue are incredibly misinformed and raise serious questions about whether his employees Cosmo Cirillo and Hiram Gonzalez (both candidates in the West New York May 9th election) really have the best interests of West New York taxpayers at heart,” he said in his own statement.
“The fact is that Mayor Zitt has been threatening to pull Guttenberg out of NHRFR for months and return to a volunteer fire department. This would not only endanger the lives of Guttenberg residents, but it would also cost West New York taxpayers over $500,000 per year. This would be a disaster for West New York, but with Cosmo Cirillo working for Mayor Zitt as his business administrator, you have to wonder whether he would stand with his employer or with the people of West New York.”
Turner continued that the funding formula for NHRFR is based on the assessed property values in all five municipalities and payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements have zero impact on that, he also questioned the notion that the department has manpower issues.
Furthermore, the NHRFR charter indicates that their funding structure must be re-examined every 25 years, which would be next year, something Turner says he and Hudson County Democratic Organization Chair Anthony Vainieri told Zitt to his face.
“I also would question why Mayor Zitt and Cosmo Cirillo refuse to utilize the REAP tax credit for Guttenberg residents. The other four NHRFR participating municipalities use this credit to benefit their taxpayers, as the state allows, to incentivize regionalization,” Turner also said.
“If they were really so concerned about Guttenberg taxpayers, they would use this program instead of putting out false attacks and lying.”
Additionally, a letter from NHRFR Chief David Donnarumma from today says the department “is responding to alarms with the highest level of personnel in the last 13 years.”
He also indicated that their daily staffing has at least 56 personnel on duty, with a minimum of 35 personnel responding to each fire.