Town board: 20 percent is too high

B y Derek Liebig

Town of Hampton offers Fire Department 15 percent; approves budget

The Hampton Volunteer Fire Department will have to settle for a 15 percent increase in funding.

Town officials rejected last Wednesday the fire department’s request for a 20 percent increase, choosing instead to offer the department a one-year $31,903 contract. It remains to be seen, however, whether members will accept the offer.

Chief Joe Mead said members voted before the meeting not to accept the town’s offer if it included only a 15 percent increase.  But he conceded later that the members could change their mind.

“I’m not saying we won’t accept 15 percent in a week,” he said.

If the department chooses not to accept the offer it could lose out on thousands of dollars. In the absence of an accepted contract between the fire department and the town, funding levels would revert back to 2012 levels, the last year there was an approved contract between both sides. In that year, the town provided the department with $25,500. The town approved an increased contact—valued at $27,813—last year, but it was never accepted and the department has been operating the past year under 2012 levels.

The two sides have been working toward a new agreement for the past 12 months, but have been unable to find common ground.

In October the town presented the department with a one-year $31,903 contract, a figure that represented a 15 percent increase above what it had offered for 2013. Earlier this month, the department countered with a one-year $33,374 contract, a 20 percent increase.

At the time, board members said that figure was too high but reserved making a decision until after Washington County had approved its 2014 budget so they could weigh the total tax increase on residents. After two weeks to consider the proposal, board members still felt the increase was too high.

“A 5.4 percent (tax levy) increase in fire district one and a 2.5 percent increase at the county is way too much,” councilperson Tamme Taran said, referring to the total tax increase a resident living in fire district one—the area covered by the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department—would pay next year if the town accepting the department’s request.

Fellow board member Dave Jensen said officials needed to consider that many of their constituents are likely facing increased expenses beyond higher taxes.

“Another thought is people’s health insurance is going up and it’s significant. Mine is going up three-fold,” Jensen said. We can’t increase taxes more than we have already.”

Councilman Dave Perry said the extra $1,390 the department was seeking may not seem like a lot, but when coupled with other increases, it creates a “snowball” affect on taxpayers.

Resident Joe Panoushek said he lives on a fixed income and his cost of living adjustment is only 1.5 percent and half of that will be consumed by health insurance.

And while he was sympathetic to the plight of residents, President Eric Mead said the department needs the money to remain financially solvent. He said the department’s operating expenses exceed what it receives from the town by nearly $10,000.

“Eventually it’s going to snow ball and you won’t have a fire department, then it’s going to cost more to have another department and come in and do it,” he said.

Supervisor Dave O’Brien lobbied to split the difference between the town and the department, putting forth a proposal that would increase the department’s funding by 17.5 percent, but the measure failed to garner the necessary support.

The department could, however, get the extra money it’s looking for through other avenues. Jensen and Taran pledged to assist the department in raising the extra money through fundraisers.

The department’s funding levels were the final component of the town’s 2014 budget, which was approved during last Wednesday’s budget. The town’s budget, which will result in an overall tax increase of 4.4 percent (4.7 percent in fire district one; 3.2 percent in fire district two), will include the $31,903 for the department regardless of whether that amount is eventually accepted or not.

In other matters:

-The town accepted a new computer policy. The state Comptroller’s Office suggested a policy be enacted following an audit conducted earlier this year.

-The planning board is nearing completion of a mobile home law and hope to ordinance before the town board next month.

-The board declined a measure that would have allowed resident to pay taxes and other transactions with the town via credit card. Officials said there was little demand for paying with a credit card and the fee charged by the card company’s would likely dissuade anybody from using their credit cards.

-O’Brien read a proclamation presented by Assemblymen Tony Jordan that recognized Hampton for construction of its town hall.

The next meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18.

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