The Town of Whitehall and the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company are inching closer to a new contract, but significant differences remain.
The sides, which are at odds over the department’s current level of funding, exchanged contract offers last week.
The town offered the fire department a five-year contract with a one-time payment of $15,000 and increases of 3-percent in each of the subsequent four years. The allotment would include an additional $10,000 for the fire department and $5,000 for the first responders.
“If we are to do a $15,000 increase, we also want an agreement,” Armstrong said, from the fire company, “to a 3 percent increase annually in 2015, 2016 and 2017.”
The department countered with a three-year contract with the same lump-sum payment and a 3 percent increase in years two and three.
Brian Brooks, president of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company, said the town’s initial offer was for too long a period of time.
“I don’t want to tie future fire members to that (the town’s) contract,” he said.
Last month, the fire department asked for an additional $25,000, a request that represents a 24 percent increase above the department’s current allotment.
The town currently provides the department with $104,000, which includes $5,000 for the department’s first responder outfit.
Members of the fire department justified the request by saying the increase was needed to replace equipment that is set to expire during the next several years.
Over the next couple of years, the department needs to replace more than a dozen air packs, purchase new turnout gear and comply with a state-mandated bailout law. Those costs are expected to exceed $100,000 and does not factor in regular operating expenses and equipment maintenance.
But Supervisor George Armstrong has said the department has a “spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
“They spent money on the roof, put stone of the building and purchased an electronic sign and then they discover they need $80,000 for protective equipment,” Armstrong said.
Brooks, however, says repairs to the building were necessary.
“To criticize us for fixing the building is like criticizing someone for painting a house,” he said.
Armstrong also questioned the whether the department needs a ladder truck, which cost the department more than $15,000 last year to service and was a truck they didn’t acquire until the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Department dissolved.
Brooks continues to advocate for creating a joint town-village fire district governed by a board of elected officials which would establish the department’s level of funding, something Armstrong opposes.
Armstrong said a fire district eliminates the ability for town government to regular fire safety expenditures.
But Brooks said the town already doesn’t have any authority to regulate how the company spends its money. It can, however, establish how much money the department receives.
Armstrong said the department does a great job and is healthier, in terms of membership, than any department in the county, but said the town is limited in how much it can spend.
“There are no winners,” he said. “They do a real good job when there is a fire but we can’t spend the money.”