The Caroga Town Board is giving 5 percent more to the local fire department under a one-year contract for fire protection services.
In doing so, the board first had to override the mandatory state tax cap on the town’s 2013 budget.
The board’s contract with the Caroga Lake Fire Department for 2013 will be $108,149, an increase of $5,150. The one-year contract takes effect Jan. 1; the previous deal lasted five years.
The department had sought a five-year contract with a 5 percent increase, saying the extra money would help it replace aging firefighting equipment and add to a capital fund for a new firehouse.
The board countered with a one-year contract and a 2 percent increase and was prepared to vote on it Wednesday night.
It offered 2 percent in order to stay within the town’s tax cap of 2 percent.
Fire officials protested the amount and succeeded in getting the board to reconsider after turning out more than 60 people to the Wednesday night meeting. Some 15 people spoke in favor of the increase and one person spoke against it.
Fire officials had said that without a contract, the fire department would not be covered by the town’s workers compensation and would not be able to respond to calls. This, in turn, would have meant the end of the fire department.
Councilwoman Valerie Scribner said when she saw the turnout and heard the people speak, she changed her mind on the contract. “We work for the public and the public was there and they stated in no uncertain terms what they wanted the town to do, and they succeeded,” she said.
Scribner said the board “never had any intention of not keeping the fire department. Our plan was to stay within the 2 percent tax cap.”
The board overrode the tax cap Wednesday night with the necessary 60 percent majority in a 4-0 vote and then voted 3-0 to give the fire department a contract with a 5 percent increase. The board then voted unanimously to adopt a $2,024,653 budget for 2013, which is approximately $600,000 less than the current year’s budget.
The board exceeded the tax cap by approximately 0.4 percentage point, said town Budget Director Lita Hillier. The tax levy will be $839,292 in 2013; the maximum allowable under the tax cap would be $809,926.
Councilwoman Greta Frasier was absent for both votes. Councilman Robert Sullivan, who is president of the fire department, abstained on the contract vote.
Under the new budget, Caroga residents will pay a town tax of $6.04 per $1,000 assessed value and a fire district tax of 88 cents per $1,000 assessed value. Both figures are less than the current year tax rates of $7.23 for the town and 91 cents for the fire district. Hiller said the rates are lower because the town added $10 million to its total assessed value.
Sullivan said contract negotiations with the fire department could have been smoother, but he was glad the board approved the agreement. “They have to have a fire department and there is no way around it. Everyone else’s [fire department] mileage exceeds the 10 miles the insurance company wants to see, and no one checked to see if others were interested in providing the service,” he said.