Weekly Feature



2011-03-30 / Front Page

Fire company contracts get approval

.Two-year contracts for 2011 and 2012 were approved that establish rates of $775,000 per year for the Clarence Center Fire Company; $715,855 for Harris Hill; $212,849 for Swormville; and $40,500 for Rapids.
by ANDREA KIMBRIEL
Editor

After months of negotiation, the Clarence Town Board has approved contracts with the Clarence Center, Swormville, Harris Hill and Rapids fire companies that keep dollar amounts at 2010 levels.

The board agreed to two-year contracts for 2011 and 2012 that establish rates of $775,000 per year for the Clarence Center Fire Company; $715,855 for Harris Hill; $212,849 for Swormville; and $40,500 for Rapids.

Board members couldn’t come to a contract agreement during budget hearings in October, said Town Supervisor Scott Bylewski.

During the March 23 Town Board meeting, Councilman Joseph Weiss repeated concerns related to fire company budgets. He said he believes buildings and equipment purchased by the fire companies are too expensive and it doesn’t make sense to increase budgets when people are struggling financially.

The majority of calls are related to emergency medical services, and the fire companies are competing with ambulance companies to provide assistance, he said.

Weiss said it’s unusual for fire budgets not to increase, and they now have two years to look into measures such as consolidation. He also noted that the contract amounts do not include other monies for the fire companies, such as pension plans.

Steven Cohen, the attorney representing members of the Swormville and Rapids fire companies, said Weiss’ comments reflect an incomplete understanding of the fire service. Consolidation would have a negative impact on volunteer companies whose memberships are motivated by good feelings and connections going back generations, he said.

Cohen said fire companies already have mutual aid agreements and work together as much as possible. Fire halls are also used as voting places, emergency shelters and, in some cases, rental facilities, he said, but Weiss pointed out that the fire companies within the Town of Clarence are not available for renting.

Cohen said members of the Swormville Fire Company applaud efforts to keep taxes low, which is why they agreed to the 0 percent increase, however, their needs are continuing to grow. He said his comments also applied to the Rapids Fire Company.

He also noted that the amount a volunteer fire service saves a municipality is “staggering.”

“This would be a bargain at twice the price,” he said.

Fire companies are often the first on the scene of an emergency, he said. Councilman Bernard Kolber said he believes the average response time for the Harris Hill Fire Company is 2.9 minutes.

“That’s incredible,” he said.

Councilman Patrick Casilio had previously been directed by the Clarence Ethics Board to recuse himself from fire company votes, as he is a member of Clarence District One, which handles its budget independently of the Town Board. He went before the Ethics Board again, and with approval from it and State Attorney General and State Comptroller’s offices, will now be voting on matters related to fire companies except his own. He voted yes on the contracts during the March 23 meeting.

They were approved unanimously.

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