After months of debating whether to dissolve, members of the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company decided last week that it was time to cease operations.
Acting fire chief, Jeff Benjamin, said members of the company held a second vote and have decided to dissolve. Although he couldn’t recall exactly how the vote shook out, he did say there was a general consensus among members that it was time to dissolve.
The decision, however, was not an easy one to make.
Members had voted against dissolving, by a 7-6 margin, at the end of October. But with no remedy for its ills-shrinking membership and the gradual decline of fundraising money-members were forced to reconsider their options.
“You hate to see it go. The guys have worked hard and spent a lot of time building the department over the years,” Benjamin said. “It’s tough because we’re losing our identity.”
Much of the companies operations will effectively be absorbed by the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.
“There will be one fire company,” Benjamin said. “In the long term, I think it will be for the best.”
“All things have a time and this may be it,” Mayor Peter Telisky said. “It’s a sad day, but their efforts will live on and the ladder portion of the fire services will continue as part of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.”
Although the details have yet to be ironed out, Benjamin said the company is looking at turning their assets over to the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company for $1.
Telisky said village attorney Tony Jordan is looking into the legal requirements and procedures for such a transfer, but doesn’t envision any complications.
“As far as the equipment, it’s there’s and they can do what they want to with it,” Telisky said, adding that he believes the two companies should be able to reach an agreement, independent of the village.
Members of the company who would like to remain active firefighters will have the opportunity to join the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.
WVFC President Brian Brooks said the company adopted a bylaw nearly two years ago that makes it easier for members of the other departments, specifically Skenesborough, to transition into the company.
Essentially, anyone who is looking to make the transfer will have to undergo a background check, which is required byNew YorkStatelaw, and serve a 60 day orientation period that brings them up to speed on operational procedures.
Members will not be subject to a probationary period and will not lose experience they gained elsewhere.
“If they have 30 years at Skenesborough, you have 30 years here,” Brooks said.
As for any outstanding debt or payments Skenesborough needs to make, Telisky said money has previously been earmarked for Skenesborough and will be used to satisfy any bills.
Once those matters are all addressed, the only issue left to deal with is the firehouse.
The town has eyed the firehouse as a potential location for a new town hall, but a move has been tied up by the infamous reverter clause, a deed that essentially states if the town moved into the building and subsequently moved out, ownership of the property would revert to the village.
However, the town and the village came to an agreement that if Skenesborough ever dissolved, a joint fire district was created and the town pays the newly created fire district $20,000 a year, capped at $150,000, that deed would disappear and the town would own the building outright.
Telisky said he assumes the town will move quickly to establish a fire district, thus paving the way for their move.
It remains to be seen whether the town would assume ownership of the entire building or if the fire company would keep the bays for storage of fire fighting apparatus.
Members of both companies met with village officals yesterday (the meeting occurred after we the paper went to press) and are expected to tie up any loose ends in the coming weeks.