B y Derek Liebig
After more than a year of contentious debate, the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department has inked a contract with the town of Hampton.
Supervisor Dave O’Brien said the department signed the one-year $31,903 contract on Dec. 10. They also retroactively agreed to a $27,813 contract for 2013. The department had been operating the past year under 2012 levels after both sides were unable to come to an agreement last year.
The contract, which members had rejected during a meeting held last month, represents a 15-percent increase over 2013 levels.
The agreement ends a contract dispute that began more than a year-and-a-half ago.
In July of 2012, members of the department asked the town for $37,000, an increase of nearly 50 percent. The town balked at that offer and later that year countered with a one-year $27,813 contract, which members of the department said was not sufficient to keep up with the soaring cost of operation and allow them to replace and upgrade equipment.
Shortly thereafter, in the spring of this year, contract negotiations broke down and there was little dialogue between both sides until this fall, when the town began putting together its 2014 fiscal budget.
In October, the town presented the current contract parameters, and after a few weeks to consider the offer, members of the department countered with a one-year $33,374 contract. The town, however, declined that request because they felt that it, when combined with increases in both the town and county budget, created too much of a tax burden on local residents.
Facing the prospect of receiving only $25,500, the department ultimately accepted the town’s offer. It remains to be seen however, whether the contact will appease the department over the long term. President Eric Mead has said the department needs additional money to remain financially solvent. He said the department’s operating expenses exceed what it receives from the town by nearly $10,000.
Town councilman Dave Jensen and councilperson Tamme Taran have pledged to assist the fire department with fundraising in an effort to raise additional money for the department.
The department and the town, which have had a more constructive dialogue over the past few months, are now working on a lease agreement regarding the department’s firehouse.
Supervisor Dave O’Brien said those negotiations were ongoing and the two sides were working to resolve a number of minor details and are hopeful an agreement can be signed in the coming months.