Fredonia Douse hopes for fire grant

Sound the alarm. A $1.3 million grant to hire nine new firefighters, which pays wages and benefits for two years, has plenty of goodwill associated with it in Fredonia. But the grant also has plenty more traps for taxpayers.

Last month, Fredonia Fire Department Lt. Randall Butts announced to the Village Board his proposal, on behalf of the department, had been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grant provides wages and benefits for the departments to have 24-hour coverage with at least two paid firefighters on duty at all times.

In a perfect world that would include a growing economy, this proposal would be a no-brainer for approval.

But Fredonia – and the rest of Chautauqua County for that matter – is not riding an economic boom. After the grant dries up, it is unlikely the village will have the financial means – without raising taxes more than the 2 percent cap – to continue paying these firefighters wages and benefits.

“What is good about this is we have two years to figure out how to maintain the nine employees,” Butts said.

That line of thinking, however, is unrealistic. Village residents – and officials – already have enough anxiety regarding what the next two years and future holds for its tax base. Businesses do not fill downtown storefronts like they once did and the Carriage House facility remains in limbo regarding its future.

In addition, the village already has more than 80 employees serving a municipality of about 7,000 residents – or one employee for every 88 residents. If you add in the college population, the number surpasses 11,000.

Reductions have been made through layoffs and attrition in the Department of Public Works and the Police Department in past years. Those are never easy decisions.

So extinguish the optimism. At this time – grant or no grant – additions are just not feasible for the village Fire Department.

Those who believe otherwise are just not owning up to the facts of an already overtaxed village and region.