Pomfret takes control

By GREG FOX

OBSERVER Staff Writer

In a new twist to the discussion over the fire protection district contract extension between the village of Fredonia and the town of Pomfret, Pomfret has taken charge with a time crunch of 12 days remaining in the current contract.

During Wednesday’s Pomfret Town Board meeting, the board rejected a motion to schedule a public hearing on Fredonia’s original, two-year extension, which the village board passed in late October. After that, the board scheduled a public hearing on Dec. 30 at 3:05 p.m. (during the town’s year-end special meeting at 3 p.m. that day) for an altered, one-year contract that councilmembers Ann Eckman and David Penharlow alleged was a pre-arranged agreement between the village and the town.

Eckman, Penharlow and Councilwoman Patricia Lynch Christina voted down the original public hearing. The second public hearing was agreed to unanimously.

“I think without even scheduling a public hearing for the proposed contract, there is a great possibility that there will be no resolution to a contract by year’s end,” Supervisor Donald Steger said heatedly after the original public hearing was voted down.

“At this point, this board has totally rejected even the opportunity to support the proposed contract and are anticipating the village will accept an amended contract. Right now, by having three negative votes on the proposed public hearing, it’s effectively removed the two-year contract from the table. Period.”

Town Attorney Jeffrey Passafaro said Steger was correct on that matter.

“We’re right where we are every time we have to renew this contract with them,” Christina said before the vote on the original public hearing. “Things have not changed. We’re always optimistic that (the village board is) going to express at least a degree of equanimity … and they never do.”

Penharlow said he and Eckman had met with Village Trustee Joseph Cerrie, Mayor Stephen Keefe and Village Administrator Richard St. George in mid-November at the Pomfret Town Hall to discuss the contract.

“We had a good meeting,” he said. “We met for a couple hours and came up with an alternative to what they originally proposed. It was something the mayor and Trustee Cerrie were comfortable with, I think. This (altered contract) is not something we’ve created in a vacuum ourselves as ‘the town’s proposal.’ This is a product of a joint meeting with the village and town.”

“At the end of the meeting, all four of us said that we felt it was an agreement that both boards could accept and approve,” Eckman added. “It was my impression that the village board was going to talk about that (new contract) … and send us an amended contract. That was my impression. The mayor disagrees with me on that.”

“It sounds like the village and the town were waiting for the other one to do something,” Steger said. “The message I got from the mayor was, following the (mid-November) meeting, he thought (Eckman and Penharlow) said our board wouldn’t accept (the altered contract). So, he was waiting to hear back from us that those terms were possibly acceptable.”

“That is completely not what I remember the conversation as being,” Eckman replied. “And I did think we were going to get an amended contract from the village, but we don’t have one.”

“If only this had happened 60 to 90 days earlier in the year,” Steger added. “That’s pretty much what it boils down to.”

Under Pomfret’s proposed, one-year extension, the town would pay an additional $9,000 for fire protection services in 2014, bringing the total cost to $416,000. Fredonia’s approved version called for an increase of $18,000 over two years ($13,000 in 2014; $5,000 in 2015).

“The idea was a one-year term, and that would give the two boards time to get some real thought to the methodology, the (cost) formula, and how we want to modify things going forward, rather than enter into an extended, or two-year, contract under the old terms,” Penharlow said.

Now that the village board has no more regular meetings in 2013, a special meeting must be called by the village if there is any hope of reaching an agreement on the contract before fire protection and emergency services to the town outside of village limits (excluding Lily Dale) will terminate at midnight on Dec. 31.

The Fredonia Fire Department, which must now call a special meeting regardless, has yet to approve any version of the contract. It must wait for the village and the town to first agree on a version.

Eckman and Penharlow said they would be hand-delivering a letter to Keefe today informing him of the town’s decision.

“(Keefe) has plenty of time to get his board together to ratify that contract,” Eckman concluded.

Comments on this article may be sent to gfox@observertoday.com