Joint fire service

 

The hope is to bring everyone together.

The challenge is figuring out how that will happen.

Members of the Whitehall town and village boards met with members of the Whitehall and Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Companies to talk about consolidating the two entities on Monday, April 27.

“We are here to talk about ways to save money for the village and town,” said mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti. “We need to brainstorm and figure out if these things will work or if they will not work. My vision is that the companies come together. Is it possible that we work under one name?”

“There are definitely some plusses of getting together,” said Skenesborough first assistant chief Jeff Benjamin. “Obviously, though, we are not going to fit all of the equipment into one of our buildings. It would be great if we got the pie in the sky and got the funding so we can get a new station, but that’s not going to happen.”

Whitehall vice president Brian Brooks said that they talked to an architect last week, with the cost of a new station being put on the table.

“The figure that the architect was shooting at us was $2-3 million,” said Brooks. “but what you get is a state-of-the-art facility that you can grown and improve with.”

Brooks said that there are several things that the Whitehall company can do to improve their facilities, but the biggest problem is not fixable.

“There are things that we can change, but not the door size,” said Brooks. “We have to special order trucks to make sure that they meet the height of our doorway.”

Town board member David Waters said that in thinking about consolidating services, everyone also had to think about the taxpayers.

“What we hear from them is that there is a limited amount of funding,” said Waters. “If you are all going to write grants then great, hopefully we can get all the money we can get our hands on.”

Whitehall president Ray Downs said that he did not feel a consolidation of companies would result in a savings.

“There is no duplication of services between the two companies,” said Downs. “There is some redundancy in administration costs, but they are small.”

“Our redundancy is in two board of directors, two sets of incident reports that are filed to the state each month, and things like that,” said Brooks.

The fire companies also brought up differences in how the two organizations are spending their time.

“It’s tough to schedule time for training and time for bingo,” said Brooks. “It’s tough to do both.”

“The big difference is that Skenesborough is doing fundraising stuff while Whitehall is doing fire fighting,” said Skenesborough member and town board member Jim Putorti.

“We can’t spend 90-percent of the time doing fundraising,” said Skenesborough member Mike Putorti. “You ask guys to come down here three nights a week for fundraising. Even I am getting tired.”

“As a taxpayer and a town board member, I don’t feel that they should have to do bingo and work dinners in order to survive,” said town board member David Hollister. “I feel that the taxpayers should pay for the fire departments in this town.”

“What I would like to see is a town-wide fire department and see a minimum charge of $1 per assessed $1,000 property value,” said village trustee Kenneth Bartholomew. “This way, you would have a lot more money to go around.”

“There are some who will think that is a big amount,” said Brooks.

“It is a lot when you get on the other end and you are retired and every dollar out is another dollar that you can’t use,” said Marvin Brooks.

“I respect Mr. Brooks opinion a lot,” said Waters. “But we have to be real here and Whitehall has got to get into the future.”

Waters did add that with the limited income, he does see an obstacle.

“There’s more fixed income in this town than probably anywhere around,” said Waters. “And if we lose any of the big businesses that are here, we’ll be in even bigger trouble.”

Downs said that currently, there would have to be an increase in funding.

“If you put both companies together and they are getting $90,000 combined and you figure a district between the two, it is not going to work,” said Downs.

“It sounds like right now no one can afford a fire department,” said Waters.

“That’s why we have to put more money into it,” replied Bartholomew.

Both companies agreed that there was a need to sit down and talk about combining services.

“We can meet with our officers and get the people that we want onto the board,” said Whitehall chief Bryan Brooks. “There should be three from each company that get together and work on this, then we can come back to the town and village board on a united front.”

The two companies will appoint members to a commission that will meet on Tuesday, May 19.

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