The town of Whitehall is set to decide on Thursday whether or not to call the Skenesborough firehouse its new home.
At a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 30, between Town Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon, Village Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti, and members of both the Whitehall and Skenesborough volunteer fire companies, all sides said it was time to act on not only moving the Town Hall out of the Pavilion, but creating a local fire district.
“We need to get everything resolved and finalized,” said Gordon. “If we are going to do this, then let’s do it and stop horsing around.”
Gordon said the proposal worked out between the town and the Skenesborough company would call for the town paying $20,000 to the company for the first year with an option for an additional $20,000 to be paid a second year if a fire district had yet to be created.
Under the proposal, the town would take over the bingo hall portion of the Skenesborough firehouse while the fire company would keep the vehicle bays and its meeting room.
“We can re-negotiate the deal from there if it goes longer than two years and we still do not have a fire district,” said Gordon. “We want to get the ball rolling as long as all sides realize that a joint fire district is one of our goals.”
Skenesborough member Jeff Benjamin said the main concern of company members was to make sure they still had a source of funding.
“We are losing our bingo and we are also losing out annual truck raffle if this move takes place,” said Benjamin. “Those are our main sources of funding. We want to make sure that the company has a source of funding until the fire district is created.”
“Once the fire district is set up, the town does not have to worry about it,” said Skenesborough member Michael Putorti.
Once a fire district is created, the district would then be able to levy taxes based on budgetary needs. As of now, the fire companies rely on town and village funding through the budgets of each municipality.
“It’s an incentive for the town to hurry up and get a fire district so they do not have to pay the $20,000 in the second year,” said Village Trustee Kenneth Bartholomew. “I bet it will take about a year to set up a fire district, and the fire district is the key here, I think.”
“Whether or not there is one fire district or two, there is still no change in the need of a financial structure for both of them,” said Michael Putorti.
“You still need a way to fund them both,” said Brian Brooks of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.
Another issue the town, village and fire companies discussed was the current deed for the Skenesborough station, which currently reverts back to the village if the company ceases to exist.
“We want the town to take over the ownership,” said Fra Putorti. “We do not want any ownership on the property. If we were to move anything over there, it would be as a tenant.”
Attorney for the town Christian Morris said the village had options in changing the deed for the property so that the town would be the sole owner whether or not the fire company was inexistence.
Gordon said he was ready to make the move to the firehouse, and called for a special town board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2, at 11 a.m. at the Pavilion town offices to vote on the matter and also to vote on moving forward with the creation of a fire district.
Gordon said he had received calls from other groups and agencies about potential Town Hall sites, but felt that the firehouse was the best option as long as things got moving.
“I have heard from the people in charge of the armory and from Garden Time that they would sell for $200,000,” said Gordon. “We have options, but I feel this is the best one as long as we get things moving on it. If we come in, then everyone has to be able to get along.”
“I do not see a problem with that,” said Benjamin.
“I am sure that everyone will get along,” said Brooks. “I have always been an advocate of the town moving to the firehouse instead of going any place else.”
Fra Putorti said he felt the village was ready to do whatever they had to do to get the town moved into the building and then work toward a fire district.
“Let the town take care of the building matters first and let’s get that resolved,” said Putorti. “Then we can go on together toward the next step of establishing a fire district.”