The ordinance to allocate $2.5 million for renovations to the West Caldwell Fire Department headquarters was unanimously passed by members of council without any resistance or need for discussion following a public hearing at Tuesday night's meeting.
The lone obstacle was a new state law that went into effect on Jan. 15—just four days before council introduced the ordinance—that's directed at members of a governing body who also serve as volunteers with a fire department or first aid squad.
"The law clarifies that elected officials may continue to serve as members of volunteer fire departments and first aid squads, provided that when matters come before the governing body concerning those emergency services agencies, they recuse themselves from a vote in respect to those matters," explained James Lott, West Caldwell's municipal attorney.
Since Councilman Richard Otterbein, chairman of the public safety committee who introduced the ordinance on Jan. 19, Council President Joseph Cecere and Councilman Thomas O'Hern are members of the fire department, the ordinance was re-introduced by Councilman Dominick Aiello on Tuesday night.
The introduction of the ordinance was then voted on by council members Rosemarie Sutherlin, Stanley Hladik and Aiello, while Otterbein, Cecere and O'Hern were forced to abstain.
However, since a vote for a capital ordinance project needs a two-thirds majority, an exception under the "rule of necessity" was made so all members of council could participate in the final vote to pass the ordinance, according to Lott.
"Pursuant to the local finance law, capital ordinance requires a two-thirds vote of members of council. In this instance, we have three members of the council who are members of the volunteer fire department. The council would not be able to act to adopt an ordinance with those recusals," he said.
"The law provides for, by a traditionally created doctrine, a rule of necessity. It's my opinion that the rule of necessity has to operate here, because the governing body would prevent it from ever enacting a capital ordinance based on the current composition of the council."
Under the "rule of necessity," all members of council unanimously voted to move forward with the project following the public hearing in which no one from the audience spoke.
According to Town Administrator Andrew Katz, the project will take approximately 18 months to complete.
The renovations include extending the apparatus bays by 18 feet and eliminating the adjacent auxiliary driveway to expand the station to accommodate a separate changing room for the department's 57 members. With the elimination of the driveway that leads to Fairfield Avenue, vehicles will access the rear parking lot from Bloomfield Avenue, according to Chief Charles Holden.
The project will also add a second floor—over the front of the apparatus bays and meeting room—that will house several offices, including one for the Office of Emergency Management and a training room for simulations like search-and-rescue operations, according to Holden.
Improvements to the athletic room on the lower level of the building will also be made as well as an upgrade to the emergency generator, Holden said.
"This plan has been in the works now for three or three and a half years. A lot of hard work, time and effort have gone into this," Mayor Joseph Tempesta said to the large gathering of firefighters who attended the meeting.
"In the interest of public safety, it was the right thing to do for our volunteer firefighters. We thank you for all that you do and we look forward to working with you."