Fonda fire commissioners planned to meet in private Monday night to discuss a possible money-saving consolidation of the village fire department.
While Mayor Bill Peeler said it’s still early in the process, he is looking into merging the Fonda Fire Department with either the Mohawk Fire District or another neighboring department.
“I’m looking at this from a common-sense point of view,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to save taxpayers’ money, and consolidation might do that.”
Right now, the village fire department is supported mainly by village property taxpayers. According to Peeler and Fonda Fire Chief Donald Wagner, between $30,000 and $50,000 goes to insurance, building and machinery upkeep and the like every year.
“The cost of operating a fire department is incredibly large,” Peeler said, adding that the economies of scale achieved through multiple departments joining forces might cut down on that cost.
“We just need to gather the numbers,” he said.
Despite the mayor’s claimed common-sense viewpoint, Wagner wasn’t happy with the idea, saying that if the local fire department was closed down and a contract given to the Mohawk Fire District, the village would lose control of the system.
“We might save a few dollars right away,” he said, “but what about next year? The cost could go up and there’s nothing we could do.”
The idea was first brought up at an executive session of last month’s village meeting. Since then Peeler has talked separately with both the Mohawk and Fonda fire chiefs.
“We’re not talking about dissolving the department,” Peeler said. “I believe there should be a station in the village.”
Rather, they are considering a merger, he said. Village fire departments like Fonda’s are funded by their village government. Fire districts like Mohawk Fire, on the other hand, are funded by a separate tax roll.
If the village department were to merge with the Mohawk district, village government would tax residents a little less and the fire district would open a separate tax roll.
Peeler said the idea at this stage would be to keep the combined taxes lower than the current village tax.
“The main priority is still to provide the best protection to village residents,” he said, “but we have to make the system financially viable. I think merging with a district might be the only way to do that.”
At Monday’s meeting, Peeler expected to discuss the pros and cons of a change in the current system.
In the near future the village board will announce its decision, at which point a public hearing will be held if necessary.
“We’re looking into costs,” he said. “If it turns out that merging with another fire district would cost too much, we won’t do it.”