Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fire Department Contracts

[This started as a comment on Living In Dryden's link to the Ithaca Journal article about the Enfield Department. But it's important enough to rate its own front page space.]

I'm only superficially familiar with the Enfield fire district conflict, but it certainly illustrates the importance of cultivating cooperative relationships with volunteer fire departments. I don't understand the reasoning behind a proposed 20% cut in the Enfield contract. As you know, fire district taxes are levied separately from town taxes. While it's important for the Town Board and the Fire Department to exercise fiscal responsibility, the town doesn't want to be without fire protection any more than the fire department wants to stop responding to calls. It's a lose-lose situation.

The situation in Dryden, particularly with regard to the Etna contract, is a little different. While it was careless of the Town Board not to have contracts in place on time, contracts with Varna, Dryden and Freeville have been signed and the problems with the Etna contract will probably be resolved this month. Because the contract is in negotiation, there is not yet any liability problem and the Etna department has agreed to continue responding to calls. The Etna budget was not cut permanently. But the Board proposed to withhold a substantial portion of the department’s budget request while we consider performance standards the department must meet to qualify for the total amount of the proposed budget. We didn't make this clear in the contract and the Board of Directors of the Etna department understandably declined to sign the contract without this clarification.

It's worth noting that the Enfield conflict is over $40,000 of the $240,000 request. The Etna issue involves $40,000 of the total $791,689 fire district budget. Enfield's 2005 fire tax rate(the last year for which I have figures) was marginally lower than the combined fire/ambulance tax rate in Dryden (1.78 per $1,000 vs 1.87 per $1,000.) The Dryden Board, like the Enfield Board, sometimes questions allocating large sums of money when we have no control over how it's spent. But it's little different from health insurance rates or the price of salt for the highway department. Fire protection is expensive and it would be astronomically more expensive without the thousands of hours of volunteer time the fire departments donate. Do I mind paying $186 a year for fire protection for my $100,000 house? No! Let's do what we can to support the volunteers.


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