Fredonia’s fire contract expected to pass Tuesday

As time continues to tick down to the expiration of the current fire protection district contract between the village of Fredonia and the town of Pomfret, it appears Pomfret will accept Fredonia’s original, two-year contract passed in late October – with little time to spare.

In a 10-minute, emergency town board meeting held immediately after the Fredonia Village Board rejected Pomfret’s altered, one-year contract extension on Dec. 20, the town set a public hearing on the two-year contract for Tuesday, Dec. 31, at 1 p.m., which is 11 hours shy of the end-of-the-year deadline.

“My understanding is the supervisor left a call for a meeting on an emergency basis,” Town Attorney Jeffrey Passafaro said. “What I recall is the town board met on the 20th, and then called for the public hearing and special meeting on the 31st.”

“We are quite certain we have the three votes we need to pass the two-year contract,” Town Councilwoman Patricia Lynch Christina said over the phone.

The OBSERVER was not notified of any emergency meeting taking place.

“There should have been a call to alert the media,” Passafaro said. “That’s what should have happened from the clerk’s office.”

Christina and Councilmen David Penharlow and Scott Johnston attended the special emergency meeting, according to unofficial meeting minutes. Penharlow made the motion to schedule a public hearing on the two-year contract. The meeting apparently convened around 5:30 p.m.

Only two days remain in the current fire contract. Fire protection and emergency services to the town outside of village limits (excluding Lily Dale, which has its own fire department) will terminate at midnight on Tuesday if an agreement between Pomfret and Fredonia is not officially in place.

“If only (negotiations) had happened 60 to 90 days earlier in the year,” Supervisor Donald Steger said at the town board’s most recent regular meeting. “That’s pretty much what it boils down to.”

Fredonia’s approved version of the contract calls for an increase of $18,000 over two years ($13,000 in 2014; $5,000 in 2015) to Pomfret’s cost for fire protection services, bringing the total cost in 2014 to $420,000. According to the cost formula set in place for fire protection services (one-third Pomfret; two-thirds Fredonia), Fredonia is expected to pay $840,000 in 2014.

A letter sent by Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe to the town board in late October cites the increase in contract costs as “increased expenses.”

“Year two of the contract reflects a 3 percent decrease in pension rates as provided by the state comptroller,” the letter stated. “It also reflects the impact of approving a wage and benefit contract with the firefighters that mirrors the police contract, with appropriate increases in healthcare contributions by the employee and a 1.75 percent increase in pay scales in year one and a 2 percent increase in year two.”

“Healthcare is assumed to increase by a more modest 7 percent versus the 15.5 percent increases experienced over the past two fiscal years,” the letter continued. “This is an estimate since the village’s experience rates will not be developed until May of next year. We have assumed increases in certain expenses in year two at the rate of 3 percent.”

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

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