No deal

In the ongoing debate over the fire protection district contract extension between Fredonia and Pomfret, the Fredonia Village Board rejected the town’s altered, one-year version of the contract on Friday during a special meeting.

After an executive session, citing “attorney-client privilege materials concerning fire protection,” as well as personnel at the Fredonia Fire Department, Trustees Joseph Cerrie, Susan Mackay and Phyllis Jones voted to stick with the village’s originally proposed two-year extension, which was passed in late October. Trustees Marc Ruckman and Janel Subjack were not present during the meeting.

“What we’re running into now is the clock,” Mayor Stephen Keefe said after the meeting. “We’ve made multiple attempts to talk to the town. With the original contract, we asked for communication. Now, it’s the last minute and the town is making a change. The village board felt that this isn’t the proper way to approach it. It should’ve been done in a timely manner; it should’ve been done in a fair, equitable manner. To put the village in this situation isn’t fair.”

When the OBSERVER asked if the altered contract was, in fact, a deal hashed out in a mid-November meeting between the village and the town (as alleged by town councilmembers Ann Eckman and David Penharlow), Keefe denied anything was ever officially agreed to.

“There was never an agreement; there was only discussion,” he said.

“We did go over and meet with them, and at that point, they brought up a one-year contract with no increase. I made the comment that negotiations can’t be all one way. The one-year contract shouldn’t be just a one-year contract with no increase. We have a two-year increase, we take the two years, add the increases together, divide it by two, which ended up being $9,000, and that $9,000 could possibly be added to the one-year contract. (Eckman and Penharlow) said they’d take it back to their board, but didn’t think their board would approve it because their board wasn’t interested in any increases. That’s the last we heard on a one-year contract.”

However, that is not what Eckman remembered from the meeting, which was between her, Penharlow, Keefe, Village Trustee Joseph Cerrie and Village Administrator Richard St. George.

“Councilman Penharlow and I are surprised because we did spend two to three hours with the mayor. This one-year agreement was what both boards agreed to take back to get approved,” Eckman said in a phone interview after the village board meeting Friday. “Our goal was to have a one-year contract, look at the (cost) formula, and the village said they wanted to go back to a more lengthy contract and we said we’d be willing to look at a three-year contract again. But we just wanted to have the formula reviewed. And so, the mayor saying this one-year contract comes out of the blue, I’m not sure where that’s coming from since he was part of the discussions. This agreement was the consensus of the five representatives from the village and the town.”

Eckman stressed that the debate over the contract is by no means a reflection of the services Pomfret receives from the fire department.

“We respect them. We have one of the greatest fire departments around,” she said. “This is just about making sure the formula is fair. We think both the village and the town are very blessed to have such a good fire department. We don’t harbor any bad thoughts on the fire department. They’re phenomenal!”

Keefe said he later followed up after the mid-November meeting with Town Supervisor Donald Steger, who told him he didn’t know anything about a one-year contract being brought to the board.

“He said he had a two-year contract on the table, he’s happy with that two-year contract and he said, ‘I only can work with what I have.'” Keefe stated. “At that point, I assumed (Eckman and Penharlow) didn’t go back to their board, and then, all of the sudden, at the last minute, we’re getting this (one-year contract).”

Only 10 days remain in the current contract. Fire protection and emergency services to the town outside of village limits (excluding Lily Dale) will terminate at midnight on Dec. 31 if an agreement is not reached between Pomfret and Fredonia.

Also during the village board’s special meeting, Thomas Kawski of Fredonia was appointed to the position of water plant operator trainee at an hourly rate of $15.60, effective Jan?5.

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