The Pomfret Town Board is expected to discuss its fire protection district contract with the village of Fredonia at its regular meeting tonight, and it appears some form of agreement, without any risk of a disruption in services, will be in place by the end of the year, when the current contract is set to expire.
Town Councilwoman Ann Eckman confirmed to the OBSERVER in a phone interview Tuesday night that two options will be available for the board to consider at its 6:30 p.m. meeting. Eckman, Councilman David Penharlow, Village Trustee Joseph Cerrie, Village Administrator Richard St. George and Mayor Stephen Keefe had sat down together in mid-November to discuss the terms of the contract.
"We decided to ... hash everything out," Eckman said. "We have come to an agreement, but it needs to be brought to the board. The town board has not discussed it, they haven't acted on it. We have two possibilities: To go to a one-year contract that both the village and the town have tentatively said that we could sign, and the other option is to stay with the two-year contract. (Also,) the village and the town have agreed to meet at the beginning of the year to start talking through the formula, to go through and look at all the factors that go into the contract (cost)."
Eckman said that while there has been some debate between the village and the town over the contract, the town would never allow fire protection services to expire.
"We wouldn't do that to the town residents because it's our job to protect them," she said. "While we believe if we called 9-1-1 that somebody would come, we can't jeopardize people. So, there will be a contract; we're just not sure if it will be a one-year or a two-year, and that will be discussed (at the meeting tonight)."
Less than three weeks remain in the current fire protection contract between Fredonia and Pomfret, and the Fredonia Village Board addressed that at its regular meeting Monday after it approved a resolution for Keefe to send a letter to the town reminding it that under the existing contract, fire protection and emergency services from the Fredonia Fire Department will terminate at midnight on Dec. 31.
"We have a very serious situation on our hands here," Keefe said after the meeting. "I would just like to have (a contract extension) in place. We have notified the town. They still haven't signed a contract, yet. If it's not in place, then we have a dilemma, and it's a moral dilemma. How do you sit and watch somebody's house burn and not be able to go to it? And yet, if we go to it, then we're in violation of the law. So, do you violate the law to help out your neighbor? We shouldn't be in that situation. The town needs to approve this as soon as possible."
Before the OBSERVER spoke with Eckman, Supervisor Donald Steger confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that there is a possibility for a one-year contract extension, but he didn't know of anything else at that point.
"Currently, we have nothing new from the village, so the original (two-year) offer (they passed in late October) is still on the table for certain," he said at that time. "I talked with (Eckman and Penharlow) about possibly doing a one-year contract, but we will see what the majority of the town board will decide (tonight). We have to work within the timeframe we're given."
Under the village's approved version of the contract, Pomfret will have to pay $13,000 more next year for fire protection services, bringing the total cost to $420,000. That cost will go up another $5,000 in 2015.
"Hopefully they'll approve it (today)," Keefe said. "If they approve it (today), and then they get it over to our volunteer firemen, then they can put a meeting together quickly, and then everything's golden. (The village) already approved it, we're already set. We're just waiting on the town. I just hope this (situation) doesn't go to Dec. 31, or close to that, because, like I said, the fire department has to approve it, also."
If the town approves an altered version of Fredonia's contract, then the village board must decide if it will approve Pomfret's amended version.
The town must also hold a public hearing on the contract before approving it. The notice of public hearing must state the exact contract cost the town will be voting upon and, by extension, the number of years of the contract.
In early November, after learning the village had already approved its version of the contract extension, members of the Pomfret Town Board said they felt "blindsided" and "misled" by Fredonia due to allegedly nonexistent negotiations over the contract. At that time, Eckman said the village "owes it to the town" to negotiate.
Some town officials, including Eckman and Penharlow, said they do not see the current system as a fair way to divvy up the costs, and say the town pays a third of the costs for less than 20 percent of the calls. They also argue that SUNY Fredonia does not contribute to fire protection costs even though it has a certain percentage of calls itself.
Keefe said the formula for the cost has always been based on the amount of taxable assessed valuation. Two-thirds of the revenues come from the village and one-third comes from the town.
"The town knows that a straight, per-call basis doesn't work because we have to have a fire department at the ready," Eckman said in the phone interview. "Somebody has to pay for that. So, we'd like to see something that is a call, is an assessment, and kind of everything rolled into a formula. It needs to be fair."
Lily Dale is excluded from the contract since it has its own fire department. Pomfret approved a 2014 fire district contract with the hamlet at a previous meeting.
Comments on this article may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org