Weekly Feature

2010-11-03 / Front Page

Town Board, fire companies discuss potential cuts


In their quest to lessen the burden on taxpayers during difficult economic times, several Clarence Town Board members suggested cutting fire company contractual appropriations by 2 percent.

(See editorial on page four)

During the Oct. 27 Town Board meeting, Supervisor Scott Bylewski informed each fire company of the discussion, as well as the possibility of requiring any purchase of more than $100,000 to come before the board for approval. That limit would be similar to a policy in place in Newstead and Akron.

When he brought this information to Clarence Center Fire Company President Terry Dickinson Jr., Dickinson said he couldn’t comment and would have to talk to the board of directors and membership. The representatives of the other companies said the same thing, noting that Nov. 1 was the earliest opportunity for them to meet.

Councilman Joseph Weiss said fire doesn’t pose the same threat it did in agrarian days. He doesn’t object to benefits for firefighters, but doesn’t agree with the size and scope of things such as buildings and equipment.

“That’s where I look for you guys to get your budget down,” he said.

“We ’ve gone round and round on this topic for the last couple years. We’re actually quite proud of the cuts we have made,” said Dickinson. The company has reduced mortgage and utility costs without adversely affecting the service it offers, he said.

The town’s budget needs to be on file with the county by Nov. 23, so it must be passed by the Nov. 17 meeting, according to Bylewski. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the Nov. 3 meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall, 1 Town Place, Clarence.

“If an agreement is not reached before the budget [is due to be passed], it is possible that the preliminary budget may become the official budget, with actual contract details to be worked out within the confines of the preliminary budget,” he said. “Fire company contract discussions can go on after the budget hearing as well, but the contract should not be greater than what is budgeted by the town.”

Bylewski suggested companies consider a zero percentage increase in expenditures during a June 1 fire company budget meeting, and he kept the contractual amounts flat in his tentative budget.

“I think we put together a fair budget for the standards we provide,” said Michael Morris of the East Amherst Fire Company.

Harris Hill Fire Company has seen a 1 percent increase in its appropriations since 2006, said treasurer Gary Soehner.

“We have squeezed just about everything we can,” he said. Investment returns will probably be lower than expected, and increases are driven by insurance rates that the company doesn’t control, according to Soehner.

Cost-saving measures taken include changing from a private security monitoring company to Amherst Fire Control, and doing some of the cleaning in-house. The company has responded to 600 calls in the past year.

The company has received two Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, used for new hoses and recruitment. New people have started to volunteer with the company, which increases costs for gear and physicals, he said.

Weiss suggested the company save money by getting rid of its chief vehicles, but a Harris Hill representative said that its three chiefs have had to divide the duty of responding to those 600 calls, and a vehicle is a small remuneration.

Soehner said the town has had the figures for quite a while and only now is asking the fire companies to consider cuts. He thinks the reduction would be almost impossible without significantly hurting the services provided.

Weiss said he’s sure that the companies can find places to cut.

Swormville said it is in litigation and has emergency repairs needed on its building, so is expecting increased expenses in the next several years.

Keeping the budget request at zero percent was difficult enough, said company President Kathleen Andres.

Vice President John Gaulocher said this is the first time the fire company has faced cuts by the Town Board.

Public hearings were held during the general meeting. Other than fire company representatives and Town Board members, no member of the public made a comment.

Councilman Bernard Kolber made a motion agreeing to enter into contracts with the fire companies in the amounts of the tentative budget, but it failed, as Weiss and Councilman Peter Di- Costanzo voted “no’ and Councilman Patrick Casilio recused himself because he is a member of Clarence Fire District 1.

DiCostanzo said he would like to wait to make a decision until the meeting on Nov. 3. Earlier in the evening, he said he might be flexible about calling for the reductions if the fire companies agreed to bring purchases of more than $100,000 before the board.

Kolber said the firefighters go into difficult situations and put significant time into their volunteer work, and said the cuts would unfairly penalize them.

The Town Board also scheduled public hearings during the Nov. 17 meeting on proposed amendments to town environmental quality review local law making the Planning Board the Town Environmental Quality Review Committee, as well as proposed amendments to the subdivision local law and zoning law related to the project review process.

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