Gloucester Township businesses can expect a small hike in their yearly inspection costs soon, as the six fire districts have jointly proposed an increase in non-life-hazard fees.
According to Lambs Terrace Fire Co. Capt. Michael Breeze, the move is long overdue, as fees have not increased since 1986, and the township's fees are far below all neighboring towns.
“When I started here in 1995, there were 40 businesses in this section. Now there are 140. The fees just aren’t covering it more and more,” he explained.
The fees to cover inspection, including vehicle costs, inspectors’ salaries and mailing, are implemented to sustain the bureau of fire prevention within the department.
“If you come up short that comes out of the taxpayer-funded budget,” Breeze explained.
The increase businesses could be facing looks to be around 27 percent. For example, a 1,000- to 3,000-square-foot space currently costs $27.50; the increase will bring it to $35 per year.
Breeze hopes this increase will lessen the taxpayers’ burden.
“I live in Erial. I don’t want my taxes being raised,” he said.
Small businesses feel the same way, however slight the increase might be.
Natalie Mooney has co-owned The New You Salon and Barber Shop on the Black Horse Pike with her friend Darlene Hagy for the past six years.
“Since we’ve been here, everything has increased to the point where week to week we’re just treading water. Our accountant just left a few minutes ago and he said we had a loss this year,” she sighed.
Knowing that the increase was less than $10 lightened her mood.
“You have to do what you have to do, but if anything goes up more it’s going to be a hardship,” Mooney said.
Norman Chew Florist owner Debbie Chew-Conville echoed Mooney’s exasperation.
“I just look at the total amount of money that goes out and it’s just overwhelming. Every one of these little bills adds up,” she said.
Her grandparents started the flower shop in Blackwood 75 years ago.
“We’ve been here a long time and we’d like to stay, but it’s hard when I think about how many flowers I have to sell to make up for the increases," she said. "Still, I really do appreciate everything the fire department does.”
Another third-generation business owner is taking it in stride.
Lance Oberparleiter’s grandfather opened Skeeters Pub on Coles Road in 1947. He’s been at the helm for nine years now and counts his blessings as a local bar doing stable business.
“They’re all kind of in trouble right now. I know Sam’s Bar down the road is struggling. Charlie Brown’s closed. This is just another bill,” he reasoned.
Right before the crash in 2008, Oberparleiter completed a $750,000 renovation, which he credits with keeping the bar afloat through the tough economy. He does not feel the need to lose sleep over non-life-hazard fees.
“I’ve got bigger bills than that,” he said.
Breeze is hoping the new costs take effect within the next month, before the next round of bills goes out.