The measure failed, 273 voting “yes” and 663 voting “no,” said Fire District 1 Administrator Brian Kubiel.
Voters were faced with a second question, on whether the district should appropriate $48,750 for District 1's share of an emergency generator for the Toms River Fire Academy. It too failed, 450 to 480.
“Both projects failed,” Kubiel said. “We respect the voters’ decision.”
Why did the vote fail by a large margin? Kubiel said he believes voters were swayed by “misinformation” and referenced a series of flyers opponents to the project spread, that claimed the referendum was part of a plan to have a paid fire department working out of a “mega” three-story firehouse that could cost upward of $8 million.
Kubiel said previously that there were no plans to shift away from a volunteer force, and that plans or cost of the building were not established.
“You can’t estimate a cost if you’ve yet to approve where to build it,” he said.
But in addition to the “misinformation,” a variety of residents shared criticisms of the project, with neighbors and Toms River residents wondering if the parcel was the best place, and if there could be adverse effects on the neighborhood. Others said they were disapproving of the process behind the referendum, and wished more answers could be given.
The vote came as part of a special referendum, with residents critical of the timing of it.
“Unfortunately, it was a matter of timing,” Kubiel said. The referendum was needed before year’s end after the landowner agreed to negotiate on the land purchase, he said. The fire district needed a “yes” vote to add the appropriation to its 2012 budget, which would be before voters in February.
With 936 votes cast, the turnout was significantly higher for a district 1 vote than the entire town voted in the February 2011 regular election.
Today’s vote was open to residents of district 1. In February, 395 voters came out.
“I wasn’t administrator at the time, so I can’t speak to that (turnout),” Kubiel said.
The district and its commissioners will go back and evaluate the referendum, he said.
“People exercised their right to vote,” Kubiel said. “At the end of the day, the fire department will continue to provide excellent service.”