2010-07-22 / Front Page

Mayor: Volunteers earn Mid’twn top cities ranking

Twp. one of only four N.J. towns to make Money magazine list
Astrong sense of community and volunteerism has earned Middletown Township a coveted spot on a national ranking of America’s best small cities.

A volunteer firefighter gives pointers to a youngster during Middletown Day. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP A volunteer firefighter gives pointers to a youngster during Middletown Day. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP “The thing I am most proud of, if I had to pick one, would be that they keyed in on the volunteer aspect of Middletown,” Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said of the township’s rank as 89th of 100 towns on Money magazine’s annual “Best Places to Live” compilation.

“That spirit is difficult to put a price on.”

Scharfenberger said the Middletown Township Fire Department (MTFD), which is composed entirely of volunteers, caught Money magazine’s attention.

“They were really impressed with the fire department, not only the largeness of it but the effectiveness of it.”

Scharfenberger said the MTFD is considered the largest all-volunteer fire department in the world.

According to the MTFD website, the department consists of 11 firehouses and nearly 600 volunteer firefighters and administrators.

“They’re very passionate volunteers,” Scharfenberger said. “They’re very protective of the fire department and its reputation. They just do a spectacular job.”

Scharfenberger said he witnessed this professionalism firsthand during a fire at a Quick Chek store on Route 35 about a year ago.

A few hundred volunteers had responded, he said.

“It was spectacular the way they not only protected the property, but they got out without any injuries. Even the store owners were shocked at how the damage was minimized by their quick reaction.

“It’s amazing how professional they are, how efficient. You can really see why other paid departments hire them to do their training,” he said.

Scharfenberger shared Middletown’s recent success with the Adopt-a-Unit program, which supports America’s servicemen and servicewomen, as another example of the town’s generosity.

“We had a lot of people coming out who were first-time volunteers to collect goods, to help pack them; we had a huge volunteer effort for that.

“That just goes to show how people are willing to give of themselves and their time, money and energy,” he said.

Earlier in the year, the Middletown Supports the Troops program collected and shipped nearly 1,500 pounds of black socks, Ramen noodles, Girl Scout cookies and other supplies to the unit of U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Nicholas Abbate, a lifelong Middletown resident and Christian Brothers Academy alumnus, stationed in Afghanistan.

While Scharfenberger was especially proud of the town’s recognized volunteer efforts, Middletown also ranked well in the more qualitative areas, like test scores and crime rate.

Math and reading test scores both ranked 29.8 percent above the state average, 6.9 percent higher than the best-places average of 22.9 percent.

Money magazine reported the personal crime rate as 1 incident per 1,000 and the property crime rate as 15 incidents per 1,000. The best- places average was 2 and 24 per 1,000, respectively.

“We’re close enough to New York City where there are employment opportunities, but far enough away where you have this bucolic landscape,” Scharfenberger said.

He also mentioned the public library and active arts center, which Money backed up with numbers.

According to the ranking, Middletown spends $2.1 of state funding per person on arts. The other “best places” averaged $1.5.

“We have a tremendous quality of life with a desirable area to live in,” Scharfenberger said. “We have our problems, like any Jersey town these days, but we’re dealing with it and obviously we are still maintaining our quality of life.”

Money also selected Middletown in 2006 and 2008; the intervening years, 2007 and 2009, were limited to towns under 50,000 residents, Scharfenberger explained.

“For all intents and purposes, we were listed three years in a row, when we were eligible.

“It’s a huge honor. … It’s staggering to think how many [municipalities] you’ve been chosen out of and one of only four in New Jersey [on the top 100 list].”

Scharfenberger had only one explanation for the township’s success.

“It’s the folks who live here that make it so great,” he said, “because they comprise the volunteers; they make these programs work. Without them, we wouldn’t be the desirable place we are now.”

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