Fire Dept. official: Three towns better pay bills, or I’ll resign

In a letter obtained by the Reporter dated Feb. 4, the chief financial officer for the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue department, Christopher Pianese, said he will be “forced” to resign from his position on March 1 if certain budget issues aren’t resolved. The NHRFR provides fire services for five local towns – North Bergen, West New York, Union City, Weehawken, and Guttenberg – and was formed in 1999 from those five towns’ departments as a way to save money and increase efficiency.
But since then, some officials in those towns have complained that their fire service bills have act ually gone up since the regionalization, blaming the NHRFR for some of their budget woes.
The letter was addressed to NHRFR Chairman and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, Union City representative Martin Martinetti, West New York member Janet Passante, and North Bergen’s Francis Bruno.
Pianese, who also serves at the town administrator for North Bergen, confirmed on Tuesday sending the letter but declined to comment further.
The letter stated, “I have attempted on countless occasions over the past few years to impress upon this board the importance of proactively preparing for future budgetary increases and the necessity of making timely contribution payments.”
He said that the costs of the NHRFR include “contractual obligations, rising pension and health benefit costs, apparatus replacement, and building repairs.”
In the letter, Pianese states that $10 million is due from three of the five municipalities and that there is an excess of $8 million in bills that are past due. He said that the “sole source” of funds comes from member municipalities and that without regular monthly payments, “the financial stability of the organization will become a serious issue.”
“Although I still believe the regionalization of this fire department was a very innovative and cost effective merger that resulted in a tremendously improved fire service for North Hudson, the proper funding and the necessity to budget and pay for certain fixed costs that are inherent to this type of public safety service needs to be dealt with right now in a professional manner,” wrote Pianese. – Tricia Tirella

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