The Caroga Lake Volunteer Fire Department is at odds with the town over a new contract for fire protection services going into 2013.
Fire Chief Barbara Deluca said the company will lose its workers’ compensation coverage under the town if there is no contract. That, she said, could spell the end of the department.
“Now, we are not only fighting fires, we are fighting for our very existence,” she said in a news release.
Deluca said the town could contract for fire services with a nearby company, but that could affect response time and possibly increase fire insurance premiums for local property owners.
The fire department is seeking a 5-percent increase in its contract, bringing the total to $107,000 for one year. The town is proposing a 2-percent increase for one year.
Deluca said the fire company needs the 5-percent increase as part of its strategic plan to replace equipment and build a new firehouse.
“It is expensive to keep our firefighters safe. Our bunker gear has reached its end-of-use cycle, and we need to replace that. We have a capital project to replace a 60-year-old station. We are at capacity in the station, and we have taken money each year and put it into building fund,” she said.
Caroga town Supervisor Ralph Ottuso was not available for comment.
Deluca said the fire company has saved about $30,000 for the firehouse and wants to break ground in three to five years. The company plans to use the saved money as a down payment on construction, helping to lessen the financial impact on taxpayers.
The company has three pumpers, a water supply truck and a rescue vehicle in its current firehouse. To date, it has answered 138 calls this year, of which 50 were for emergency medical services. Last year at this time, it had answered 115 calls.
Caroga residents pay 91 cents per $1,000 assessed value as a fire district tax under the current budget. The fire department said a 5-percent increase would equate to an additional $1.80 for an average taxpayer next year.
Deluca said the fire company’s current five-year contract with the board expires at the end of the year. Initially, the company wanted a five-year contract but agreed to the town’s term of one year. The company, which is a corporation, then voted against accepting the 2-percent increase.
“I know this is a tough time for local towns, villages and cities. No one knows that more than a volunteer fire department. But I simply cannot ask my team to rescue more people, fight more fires, help after major storms, respond to numerous EMS calls and then go sell cookies,” Deluca said. “We already fund raise. We are already conducting business in the most fiscally responsible way possible.”
The Town Board had planned to hold a public hearing tonight on the proposed contract with the 2-percent increase. The board has since postponed the hearing, Deluca said, allowing the fire company more time to present its case. She said this is progress, whereas before, Town Board members did not engage in a discussion about the contract with the fire company.
Treasurer and firefighter Brian McIntosh said in the news release: “Everyone knows that every contractual relationship starts with an offer, leading to acceptance, and finalizing with monetary exchange. We would like the same consideration extended to our organization.”
He said the fire company has not “had a chance to accept, negotiate or finalize this essential service for our neighbors. It is doubly upsetting knowing our level of commitment to this area, and that we are an all-volunteer team.”