A standing-room only crowd packed the Village Hall on Wednesday, opposing the mayor’s proposal to cut the fire chief’s position from the 2008-09 budget.
Scotia Permanent Firemen’s Association President Ken Almy said Mayor Kris Kastberg has been giving mixed messages, saying that he is not eliminating Richard Kasko’s job, just not funding the position.
“I am afraid the Village Board is playing a game of smoke and mirrors in order to downsize the fire department, which ultimately puts the safety of our career and volunteer firefighters and that of our residents at risk,” he said to the applause of about 50 people in the room.
Almy said a full-time chief is needed to handle code enforcement issues and training. “How can there be a full-time chief with no pay? Is someone supposed to do the job for free?”
Longtime volunteer firefighter Tom Gifford said the volunteers fought hard 20 years ago to get a paid chief and it is necessary with the volume of activity. “We do over 1,400 calls a year.”
No one else spoke on the fire chief issue or on any aspect of the proposed $5.7 million plan, which increases spending by 1 percent.
C.J. Squires, president of the Scotia Volunteer Firefighters, said afterward she worried that they would cease to exist if Schenectady were to come and take over fire operations, which is one of the ideas circulating around the village.
Kastberg has said the village has sent out a request for proposals to see if Schenectady would be interested in taking over fire operations.
The Board of Trustees did not discuss the fire department further, other than Trustee Tom Neals lauding the firefighters for the work they did to put out Tuesday’s fire at 32 Sacandaga Road.
The board is scheduled to hold another work session on April 22 at 4:30 p.m. and will possibly adopt the spending plan at that meeting. It has to approve the budget by May 1.
The Board of Trustees did meet in executive session for a half-hour to discuss a related fire department issue. When they returned, members voted 3-2 to eliminate a fire lieutenant’s position that is on the books but is currently not filled.
Trustee Armon Benny said the department currently has a relatively new crew and no one would be qualified for that lieutenant’s position, so it does not make sense to have it on the books.
As for the fire chief issue, Benny said the board is simply evaluating options and it is not in the best interest of good government to cut off debate prematurely on potential ways to save money.
Kastberg also stressed that no decisions have been made regarding the chief, but the board is evaluating options for how it can more efficiently provide fire services, just like it has done with its efforts at exploring sharing water resources with Glenville or studying whether to build a joint police center.
“When we find what’s going to work for the fire house, we’ll fund that,” he said.
Trustee Carol Carpenter said afterward she did not want to discuss her view on the fire chief issue.
“I would never put firefighters or the residents of this village in any danger,” she said. “My husband was a firemen here over 30 years so it’s very near and dear to me.”
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