The Pomfret Town Board discussed at length the recent back and forth between it and the village of Fredonia regarding the upcoming fire protection contract. A two-year agreement was approved by the village board earlier this month but is contingent upon the town's approval.
A public hearing on the fire protection contract will be held Dec. 28 at town hall.
Residents who shared similar concerns expressed recently by Councilman Rod Pennica and worried the town may be without fire protection come Jan. 1, spoke out Wednesday.
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
Pomfret Town Councilman Rod Pennica shared his frustrations regarding the fire protection contract formula with the rest of the town board and audience members who were also concerned.
"It's my understanding that there are less and less services (calls) going to the town as opposed to the village. I think we need to bring our share down," Robert Lauzon of Hahn Road said. "My next concern is how this is assessed. Right now it is assessed on the value of your home."
Lauzon said he is paying $300 a year for his fire protection while the trailer down the road pays $30 for the same protection.
"I don't think that's fair and I think it should be adjusted," he said. "If I have a trailer here, and my house is here (side-by-side) and we both catch fire which is going to go faster? The trailer. The trailer is a bigger fire hazard than my house. They pay less for the same service ... they should at least pay the same amount, maybe even more since they are a bigger fire hazard."
Pennica asked Lauzon if he had a lot of land, to which he said he did.
"A significant percentage of the assessed valuation that the formula is looking at is something that probably won't generate emergency calls or a fire call," Pennica said. "In that regard that sort of supports my contention from the beginning and that is the current assessment-based formula penalizes the town in a number of ways, and one is the fact that we have a large percentage of property that are just not going to generate emergency or fire calls."
While the topic was on the table, Pennica noted instances when he expressed his concerns for the formula with village officials as far back as June. Recently, he said, Mayor Steven Keefe noted on a radio broadcast that the village would be willing to talk, but in writing Pennica said the village was standing firm on the formula as presented.
"The village's cover letter to the contract they offered states clearly that they think the current assessment-based formula is most equitable. I object to the fact that they're deciding what's equitable for us when that's our job to decide," he said.
Pennica also said the town and village had some limited negotiations that he said went nowhere.
"In my view the contract is lopsided and is biased in favor of the village. I'm a village taxpayer, we own three properties in the village, and if I have this right and things go in the direction I think they should, it would cost me a little more money," he said.
When asked by Pat Dashiell, a village taxpayer, why the village was not responding to Pennica's requests, he said he was not sure.
"I know if they do it will cost them money and they're looking down the double-barreled shotgun that is the 2 percent tax cap which changes the behavior of everybody, it appears," he said.
Pennica noted flaws he sees in the formula and how it specifically subtracts the most highly valued properties in the village.
"The fact they're using just taxable assessments in my view tips the scale in favor of the village. When you're taking out SUNY Fredonia which is tens of millions of dollars in assessed valuation, every church, any government building in the village, these are all taken out of the formula but they're all protected properties. They should be in the formula," he said, noting it also does not include non-taxable property in the town. "Go ahead, throw in the high school which is in the town, go ahead and throw in BOCES, go ahead and throw in one church ... you want a formula based on assessment then use all of the properties that are protected not just the ones that are taxable."
"Show me all of the assets not just the ones you choose to include. Include the college, they generate enough calls for crying out loud," he continued. "You're never going to send them a tax bill but include the college, include every church, include every government building ... it's a bad formula and they know it. In my view they're acting desperate."
Whether or not Pennica is right in his feeling on the formula, Supervisor Don Steger kept the matter in perspective in that if the town does not have a fire protection contract in place by Jan. 1 town residents will be without that service.
"We're being provided a service that we're paying for, contractually. We include in our tax rolls an amount for the Pomfret fire protection district which is the balance of the town of Pomfret outside the village excluding the Lily Dale fire protection district. Currently in the tax bills coming out for 2012 there is an amount of $362,000. If we don't have a contract by Jan. 1 the village is not obligated to provide any service outside the village limits," he said. "This is a concern of mine because we have legally formed the fire protection district. We have legally included the taxing amount in our tax bill for 2012, therefore we're obligated to some degree to provide fire protection to the residents of the town outside the village limits as of Jan. 1, 2012. There turns into the quandary."
Steger said he would be doing a disservice not to inform the board on what a negative vote on Dec. 28 would result in. Three out of the four board members will have to vote in the affirmative on the contract or else the town will be without a contract. If that meeting is canceled due to inclement weather Supervisor Steger has the authority to call for an emergency special meeting.
Lauzon wondered if the town could negotiate with other fire departments to cover the town should there be no contract in place. Councilwoman Pat Christina said in the early '90s the town was looking into possible fire contracts with area departments. She noted how town residents live close to Sheridan, Brocton and Dunkirk and that those departments would be closer to them than Fredonia.
The proposed contract is for a two-year term commencing Jan. 1 and ending Dec. 31, 2013. The compensation paid by the town to the village for the first year will be $362,000 broken down into $302,000 on March 1, 2012 and $60,000 on Aug. 1; and $407,000 for the second year broken down into $342,000 on March 1, 2013 and $65,000 on Aug. 1.
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