BELMAR — Members of the Belmar First Aid Squad [BFAS] have opted to sell its former headquarters to Down to Earth Construction, turning down a bid from the borough to purchase the half-acre property.

Down to Earth Construction, a property development firm, was the highest bidder, having submitted a bid amount of $1,443,000, according to the squad’s attorney. The firm is owned by Belmar resident Bill Merkler, and his business partner, Walter Bostian.

“As part of the bid requirements, all bidders were required to submit a certification that they would not seek to expand the existing non-conforming use of the property, or to develop the property for uses other than single-family residential homes,” Kenneth Pringle, an attorney of the firm Pringle Quinn Anzano and the borough’s former mayor said.

There were two offers in the sealed, closed bid sale despite five parties picking up bid packets. The second bid was submitted by the Borough of Belmar in the amount of $1,160,000. At their last meeting, borough council members discussed buying the building to serve as the headquarters of its new borough-run first aid squad, which started after the Belmar First Aid Squad ceased service on April 1, after roughly 90 years.

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The borough’s attorney was contacted on Tuesday morning, Mr. Pringle said, and informed that the borough “was outbid for the property by a substantial margin.”

At the council meeting on May 18, members of the borough council voted to introduce a bond ordinance allocating $1.5 million for the purchase of the first aid squad headquarters. In order to pass, Ordinance 2021-11 will need to have a public hearing and vote for final adoption.

The BFAS, which dates back to 1923 and styles itself as the oldest volunteer first aid squad in the country, announced in January that it would be shutting down on March 31. The announcement came as the squad and Belmar officials sparred over funding for the squad.
Belmar and Lake Como utilized the services of the BFAS, and contributed funding to the squad in exchange for residents of those boroughs not having to pay out-of-pocket costs for medical transportation. The squad’s leaders have contended that Belmar, which allocates a yearly stipend of $33,000 for its services, was not paying enough to continue.

For its part, the borough said it has helped the squad pay for supplies and equipment, as well as paid for staff to work at the beachfront during the summer season.

The squad had asked the borough for an additional $40,000, bringing the yearly stipend to $70,000, but borough officials refused until financial records were turned over.

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