By ANN BELCHER
BROCTON - A consensus was sought, and one was found.
OBSERVER Photo by Ann Belcher
Portland Town Supervisor Dan Schrantz, addressed questions during a special meeting.
Town of Portland council members, village of Brocton trustees, as well as governing Fire Commissioners representing the Portland Fire Department joined area residents and members of both the Brocton and Portland Fire Departments for a public meeting this week to hammer out important issues concerning public safety.
Committees from both departments are slated to regroup and take task to work out a potential merger of both departments and will hopefully satisfy New York state in regards to the quandary of the certificate of need involving Portland Fire Protection District 1.
Routinely covering for one another as mutual aid, especially with low volunteer numbers, the departments haven't taken any flack for journeying into one another's jurisdictions in response to emergency calls. However, with fire protection agreements for fire protection district 1 expiring in December, the state has now stepped in to say that Brocton Fire Department members can only respond to calls within the village limits, as specified by their certificate of need. This would prevent them from answering emergency calls within Portland's sizeable fire protection district 1, which they are currently contracted to do.
The entities met in early July to weigh the options, some of which the state has offered guidance with, and at that time set the date for this past week's meeting hoping to garner interest from the public on how to proceed.
Portland Supervisor Dan Schrantz opened the meeting stating, "The whole problem we have is with the certificate of need for ambulance service in the village of Brocton.
They're only capable of using it within the village and can't use the certificate in Portland's Fire Protection District 1, and we need to resolve that. We need to find the best solution here, and need everyone's input on how to give coverage to the residents on the east side of the township."
Brocton Mayor Dave Hazelton, who has been in close contact with the state regarding this matter, explained that Brocton and Portland departments have operated inter-municipally since 1943. In the early 1970s, the federal government pushed for local ambulance coverage and required each responding entity to file a certificate of need for their coverage area, but offered no guidance on how to draft them. The solution put onto the table now would be to have one combined fire department encompassing the entire township.
Many in attendance questioned why the departments can't operate on the current mutual aid agreement that currently stands for all responders.
"We can't do mutual aid as an ongoing thing," stated Hazelton. "It's not supposed to be used as a long-term solution, and they're using that as a little heat under us to get us moving along."
Rick Cole confirmed that sentiment but added, "I have long since been in favor of consolidating if it's done properly, but with the different tax rates among the town and village, as a village taxpayer, right now I pay $1.02 per thousand (of assessed valuation) for fire protection. If the village no longer had a fire department, what break in my village taxes would there be, if any? What would be my new tax rate under the board of fire commissioners?"
Those answers, along with what the budgetary concerns and needs of both responding departments would be, are details that will be looked at as committees return to their halls and begin looking at a possible merger, according to Hazelton.
'Time is now'
Portland fireman Herb McIntyre questioned the leaders. "What do you people have in mind for a solution to this?" he asked.
"We need a contract for fire protection district 1," answered Schrantz. "It doesn't matter how this gets accomplished, but we need to provide service to our residents, and at the same time, we're concerned with the village losing revenue."
Bob Patterson Sr., Portland fireman exempt and fire commissioner, added, "If I'm going to pay an extra 20 cents, let's say, for public safety, as an exempt member and fire commissioner, my interest is for public safety."
Portland resident Mickey Mitchell, who posed many questions throughout the meeting, spoke in favor of her desire to see volunteers continue responding in Brocton and Portland. "As a resident of the town, I don't want to pay a high dollar amount to take an ambulance if I have to go to the hospital. People in these communities are not rich people, and can't afford to pay large bills to have an ambulance crew respond to them."
District 23 Chautauqua County Legislator Tom DeJoe added, "The concern of our residents, is when they go to bed at night, they want to know that someone is there in an emergency situation. To all of you I would say do what you have to do, just get it done."
Brocton fireman Jim Rizzo Jr. concurred. "The time is now. This is the time when we need to pull together as one. Why have two separate buildings, two separate sets of utility bills? This is the time when we can finally come together; I'd say there's never been a better time."
Brocton Trustee Art Donovan echoed that. "We need each other. A life is very important."
Asking for a show of hands for who would be in favor of researching a merger between the two separate departments, Schrantz polled those seated in Brocton Central School's auditorium. A visible majority of hands were raised in favor.
Those involved will be seeking legal advice as to how to proceed forward and what to do in the interim with the current certificate of need, while the state will be notified of the plans to work toward formation of one department.
Brocton fireman Gary Magnuson suggested seeking input from members who joined the Randolph and East Randolph fire departments together.
Schrantz thanked the volunteer men and women of both departments for all they do, unpaid, for the communities they serve and thanked those in attendance for their presence.
In conclusion, Cole added, "We formed committees in our departments once, and we need to get back to that. We need to get some attorneys on board to guide us. We were headed down the right path a year ago, let's get back to that."
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