Fredonia village officials have responded to insinuations by Pomfret Town Board member Ann Eckman that the town board was "misled" and "blindsided" by Fredonia due to allegedly nonexistent negotiations over their fire protection district contract.
In a phone interview with the OBSERVER Thursday afternoon, Keefe said the village would be happy to sit down with town officials and discuss the terms of the contract with them, but "the phone does work both ways."
"We're not at war with anyone here," he said. "We did meet with Ann Eckman earlier and I know our administrator had gone over and talked to the town board about the fire contract earlier also. We had gone through the details on how we come up with our fire contract, and the formula's fairly simple."
“We’re not at war with anyone here.”
Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe
Keefe explained the cost to the town and the village for fire protection services is determined by the amount of the taxable assessed valuation, the same way Pomfret determines its yearly budget. Two-thirds of the revenues come from the village and one-third comes from the town. That same idea was adopted in the fire contract, with two-thirds of the costs coming from the village and one-third coming from the town.
"We thought that was kind of a fair method, so that's been the standard we've lived with," Keefe said. "There were some concerns that (the town) wanted us to charge by ambulance/fire truck run, but that didn't make a lot of sense. We have eight full-time firemen that are always ready to go and you've got equipment that you have to maintain, some of which is special equipment for the town that's not necessarily needed in the village, such as tanker trucks. We have to carry water into the town to fight fires. There's also longer distances in the town, crews are out longer in the town, these all become factors."
Keefe also mentioned the town board is not factoring in how insurance rates for property owners in the town will be going down in the new contract. This is due to newly installed fire hydrants as part of the North End Water District.
"There is savings for the homeowner," he said. "The fire contract maybe raises the (tax levy), but having that contract in place and then having the hydrants in place also would probably lower the insurance rates."
Some town officials say they do not see the current system as a fair way to divvy up the costs, citing how the town pays a third of the costs for less than 20 percent of the calls.
"I understand it's based on assessed value within the town, ... but I'm not sure that's an equitable way to do it," Town Councilman David Penharlow said at a past meeting. "The village has a lot of property that's not on the tax roll. You've got SUNY Fredonia, which has a huge percentage of the calls."
After finding out the village board had passed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 21 with a $13,000 cost increase next year to the town, Eckman said the village "owes it to the town" to negotiate.
"When I met with (Keefe and Trustee Joseph Cerrie), they had assured me that Pomfret would be involved in the Fredonia Fire Department negotiations and, seemingly, they had already negotiated the contract and we were blindsided by yet another increase with no input," she said during the town board's meeting Wednesday. "We're willing to pay what we paid last year, we still believe that number is unfair, but we want to negotiate the balance."
Cerrie said he and Keefe met with Eckman on Sept. 27 at 8 a.m. in the village hall and Eckman now wishes to have another meeting soon regarding the contract.
"I think we just need to have a joint meeting of both boards and get everything out in the open regarding this," he said. "There's many different things associated with the cost of the fire department and (the town board) could have contacted us at any time once they received the contract a couple weeks ago."
Fredonia is asking Pomfret to pay $420,000 in 2014 for fire protection services. A public hearing still needs to be scheduled by Pomfret in order to approve the new contract by Jan. 1, when the current contract is set to expire.
Keefe said when Eckman left the Sept. 27 meeting, he was "under the impression everything was all right."
"We sent the contract over and I looked at it like the ball was in their court, so the next step would have been if they weren't happy with the contract, just call and we'll talk about it," he said. "We want to be good neighbors and we want to work with the town closely."
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