ROTTERDAM & PRINCETOWN – The town boards of Princetown and Rotterdam will both vote in the coming weeks to stop contracting with the Plotterkill Fire Company for future fire protection, allowing for the creation of a Plotterkill Fire District to serve residents.
The change would mean that rather than a set contract with the towns, the district – headed by a board of commissioners – will set a budget and taxes to be levied that residents of the district vote on every year.
The district is a “separate, self-sustaining governmental entity under which the fire company would operate,” said Terence Hanningan, an attorney with Hannigan Law Firm, who gave a presentation during a public hearing on the topic Tuesday evening at the Plotterkill Fire Department.
“It would bring it more in line with what everybody else in the town of Rotterdam and the town of Princetown have,” Hannigan said.
But the change to a district won’t mean a change to fire services.
A fire district operates much like a school board, with a board of five commissioners whose sole responsibility is to support the fire department and ensure it has the tools it needs to protect the properties in the district,” Hannigan said.
There would be 669 properties that make up the district.
Hannigan said those five commissioners would initially be appointed by the towns together and then elections would be held to determine who sits on the board.
“You’re not going to get anybody from outside of the district coming in and levying taxes,” he said.
Budget hearings will be held in the third week of October. Currently, with contracts, there are no hearings.
Hannigan said this way residents can directly ask the fire district what their taxes are being used for.
“Boards of fire commissioner tend to end up being very fiscally conservative because they end up paying as well,” Hannigan said.
The board of commissioners would also be trained on how to do the job and what it takes to operate a fire district.
The creation of the district would mean Rotterdam taxpayers within the district – 257 – would pay $1.10 per $1,000 of assessed value next year, while Princetown taxpayers – 412 – would pay $3.49 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“Princetown is more only because your assessed evaluation is a third of what Rotterdam’s is,” Hannigan said.
Hannigan said the formation of a fire district has many benefits, including the district being able to plan better for the future. Hannigan said the district can bond for necessary purchases or establish reserve lines to save for items like fire trucks, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think as a fire district the ability to do long-term planning is really important to us,” said Dan Brudos, an emergency medical technician and firefighter for the department.
It also enables the firefighters to spend less time preparing for contract negotiations with the towns and practicing skills.
“I would much rather spend three or eight hours training than I would eight hours in a meeting budgeting or planning or flipping chickens or pancakes because we got to buy two new tires for the apparatus,” Hannigan said.
The concept was welcomed by both Princetown and Rotterdam town board members.
“To be quite honest with you I know nothing about running a fire department,” said Princetown Supervisor Louis Esposito.
He said the department has the full support of the Princetown Town Board to establish the district.
Rotterdam Deputy Town Supervisor Evan Christou said the move was long overdue.
The next Rotterdam Town Board meeting is Sept. 8, while the next Princetown Town Board meeting is Sept. 14.