No time to spare

Fire protection and emergency services to the town of Pomfret outside of Fredonia’s village limits (excluding Lily Dale) are officially continuing today, the first day of a two-year contract extension between the two municipalities.

With just hours to spare before the previous contract was set to expire, the Pomfret Town Board passed the Fredonia Village Board’s contract, which was originally passed by Fredonia in late October, after a public hearing Tuesday afternoon in the town hall.

A handful of Pomfret residents attended the public hearing to speak out on potentially contracting with other fire departments closer to specific regions of the town, instead of solely contracting with Fredonia for the town as a whole.

“These (Fredonia) fire trucks have got to travel at least seven miles to get to my place. … Cassadaga (and its fire department) is three miles from my house,” Shumla Road resident Charles Skinner said during the public hearing. “The village of Fredonia is not at the center of the town of Pomfret. We’ve got Brocton, Stockton, Cassadaga and Lily Dale closer to parts of the town than Fredonia.”

“If you don’t want to do seven fire district contracts, make it all one fire district, not a fire protection district, elect a board of fire commissioners, let them negotiate with all the other fire departments, and it takes it off the town board,” Bear Lake Road resident Ken Balling, who helped in an attempt for the southern portion of the town to form its own fire protection district a couple decades ago, said to the board.

“It would easily save $100,000, if not $200,000, in tax money by going to those other seven departments,” Balling continued. “If I go home today and, God forbid, have an emergency call, I’ve got to wait for the third ambulance to get to my house to go to the hospital. That’s insane, because Fredonia says Stockton and Cassadaga cannot transport without special permission. Take the next two years, take a look at everything, take a look at membership and response … and let’s do something.”

Both Skinner and Balling said the issue has nothing to do with the firefighters themselves, “but there’s issues out in the town that need to be addressed,” according to Balling.

Outgoing Councilwoman Patricia Lynch Christina said she was glad to hear these ideas coming from residents who showed up at the meeting.

“This issue came up years ago when I was first on the board,” she said. “I think at one point, we realized we could have had eight fire contracts. It’s a decision that the residents have to make, and that’s tough to do when nobody shows up at our town board meetings. After the first of the year … (the residents) should get a group together and discuss this, and include the Fredonia firemen when (they) do.”

After the public hearing, the board voted unanimously to approve Fredonia’s contract. Councilwoman Ann Eckman was not present to vote.

Shortly after the meeting, Supervisor Donald Steger, Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe and Lawrence Barter of the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department signed the contract together in the town clerk’s office.

The approved 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.

Keefe cited the increase in contract costs as “increased expenses,” including wages and benefits, in a letter sent to the town board in late October.

“We’re in good shape; everything’s signed, sealed and delivered. I’m excited to have a contract in place for the new year. It’s a good way to start the new year,” he said after signing the contract, adding the village is “certainly” willing to negotiate with the town early on in the year for the next contract extension.

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