WEIGHING IN – Glenville Town Board Member James Martin probably shouldn’t have posted it.
He shouldn’t have written Facebook comments that, if given a particularly harsh reading, insinuated that some members of the village of Scotia Fire Department are greedy carpetbaggers who don’t care about the community.
But nothing Martin posted to social media should disqualify him from voting in a critical contract deal between the town of Glenville and the village of Scotia. At the end of the day, the board member simply expressed an opinion publicly, which elected leaders regularly do.
Martin’s comments had to do with fire service in the town of Glenville. In Fire District 4 — roughly 740 residences in the vicinity of Bancker and Mohawk avenues, and a portion of the Glenville Business and Tech Park to the west — the town contracts with the village of Scotia and its Fire Department. It is a longstanding agreement, but one that has been the source of past disagreement, often pitting Democratic leadership in Scotia (though the village just elected a Republican mayor) against Republican leadership in Glenville. Of course, much of the underlying tension likely stems from Scotia’s younger-sibling-like relationship with the larger Glenville.
This year, Glenville paid the Scotia Fire Department nearly $500,000, accounting for roughly 20% of the Scotia fire unit’s budget. The payment was part of a contract that took effect in 2020 and is set to expire at the end of the year. The current deal followed a one-year deal in 2019 and a five-year deal prior to that, as well as a four-year deal dating to 2010.
With the current contract expiring, all sides must reach an agreement in the next three weeks, or fire service in the district is in jeopardy. Glenville could consider a volunteer unit for the district, which Glenville uses in all other town districts, but Scotia and Glenville leaders say the preference is to continue the partnership.
To do so, they are going to have to work through some animosity.
Enter Board Member Martin’s comments. To be sure, Martin says his comments, posted last month, have nothing to do with upcoming contract negotiations and are entirely about fiscal responsibility. Frankly, those two concerns could go hand in hand.
His now-deleted comments posted to a Scotia-Glenville community Facebook page with more than 13,000 members said some of Scotia’s firefighters don’t live in the Scotia-Glenville community, yet the firefighters “demand high wages and benefits that the taxpayer bears.”
Martin also wrote: “What is needed is men and women who provide such service with caring for those individuals who sacrifice to pay for its cost.”
At a public meeting last week, as well as in a phone call on Monday, Martin said he stood by the sentiments of his comments. He argues his job as an elected official is to consider the financial impact that any decision has on his constituents. As a 40-year senior planner and economic development specialist by trade, Martin says, he has a deep understanding of municipal budgets, and he takes issue with the roughly $141,000 average annual compensation that Scotia’s 15 paid crew members make when you add in benefits. The average Scotia firefighter’s base salary, without benefits and overtime, is about $85,000. Part of Martin’s point is that the pay far outpaces the $38,000 per-capita income in Scotia and the $42,000 per-capita income in Glenville.
Martin said any criticism about spending isn’t meant to diminish the respect he feels for the Fire Department. However, members of the Fire Department feel attacked. During the meeting, firefighters pointed out that Martin’s comments criticize members of the Fire Department for living outside the area, but do not criticize other municipal employees for doing the same thing. Firefighters also said using the word “demand” mischaracterizes what’s actually just standard negotiating.
But the firefighters’ demands that Martin be barred from voting on any contract are also off the mark.
As you may have guessed, all of this is political. While both sides say they’d like to put the past behind them, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Scotia Firefighters union has previously endorsed Martin’s political opponents. Martin clearly feels as though firefighters who live out of the area shouldn’t be able to influence local elections.
As a board member, Martin is a valuable member of the community, but so are firefighters– yes, even the ones who don’t pay local taxes.
As Scotia Fire Lt. Adam Henery said during the meeting: “While individually we have different addresses, we collectively reside at 148 Mohawk Ave., that beautiful century-old firehouse in the heart of the village. We each spend a quarter of our time at that address.”
Even if Henery’s comments are a tad Norman Rockwellian and a slight to taxpayers, he makes a fair point about firefighters being important to a community. (Plus, at a time when many communities are struggling to hire firefighters, local leaders would do well to maintain strong relationships with the firefighters they currently have.)
All members of a community deserve to know they will be kept safe, and everyone I talked to indicated that the best way to ensure the safety of the residents in District 4 is to continue Glenville’s paid partnership with the Scotia Fire Department.
Martin said he advocates for cost-cutting measures that could make the fire services less expensive to Glenville. Obviously, involving Scotia’s firefighters in the conversation will lead to better outcomes, since they know best what goes into providing their service.
Long-term, Martin said, his hope is to facilitate more robust commerce and industry in the area so that residents ultimately face a lower tax burden, which could change the tenor of future negotiations.
All of that would benefit the community.
“Community is what makes Scotia-Glenville great, and it’s why we are proud to be a part of it,” Henery said.
Of course, a key part of building a strong community is allowing all sides to take part in the conversation.
Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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