HAMILTON -- The township council held their fourth and final public meeting Thursday night about consolidating the town's nine fire districts into one firefighting force.
The meeting, still attended mainly by firefighters, was shorter than the first three, and focused on a smattering of details and suggestions from the public.
The council members discussed some of the other towns that have consolidated their fire districts, or created a municipal fire department, including Cherry Hill, Toms River, Mount Laurel and Woodbridge.
Many found Cherry Hill, which consolidated six districts into one in 1994, the most comparable.
On Cherry Hill Fire Department's website, they describes the pre-1994 department as, "Six separate fire districts, each with separate tax rates, duplication of effort, excessive amounts of apparatus, overabundance of administration, and un-equal fire protection, training and response capabilities."
The description is similar to the reasons the fire unions and some district's commissioner boards started pushing for consolidation in earnest in late 2015.
Now, Cherry Hill - in the district model - has about 125 firefighters serving the town of 70,000 from six fire stations.
Hamilton's nine districts employ 115 firefighters serving a town of almost 90,000 from nine fire stations.
"Cherry Hill is a good example," Nick Buroczi, president of the fire officers union, said.
Hamilton fire district meeting centers on type of new department
The fire unions prefer a district, and Buroczi reminded the council that the 5,000 petitions union members collected from taxpayers to get the matter before the council were for a district, not a municipal department.
"They signed those petitions for a fire district," Buroczi said.
And, Buroczi said, he's been speaking with Congressman Chris Smith's office and said he learned it's could be much easier to get federal grants for a township-wide fire district.
Business Administrator John Ricci agreed with Buroczi's assessment, saying the grant process could be easier for a district.
Another item that surfaced at the meeting is that only eight districts will be consolidated and District 1 will not be part of it. The small district collects taxes from and serves residents in Hamilton and Chesterfield, and operates from a station in Burlington County.
"Leaving that district alone is the best solution," Councilman Dennis Pone said.
Also, if the council chooses the district model, and the town has to elect a new, five-member commissioner board, resident Janice Glonek suggested a public roundtable so residents can learn more about them.
Pone lived it. "Candidates night, I like that," Pone said, jotting it down in his notes.
No firm timetable on when actual consolidation would occur, but the council discussed possibly completing it by Dec. 31 and starting the new year with a new fire department.
Kevin Shea may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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