B y Dan King

Brian Brooks has been in the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Co. for more than 30 years, and he feels it’s time the town considers a fire district.

“It’s been cooking in the back of my brain for years, and I think the time has come,” Brooks said last week. “I think we should have a board of commissioners to look over the day-to-day operations of the fire department.”

The suggested fire district board could either be elected by Whitehall taxpayers or could be appointed by the town board, Brooks said, adding that he preferred the elected board, so residents could get involved. It would essentially oversee how the department spends its money and how much will be allocated to the department through the levying of taxes.

Bryan Brooks, Brian Brooks’ son, who is also a member of the fire company, said: “The town and village have no say in how we spend our money right now, but this board would be elected and would say how we can spend it.”

The point the younger Brooks is making is that the town and village currently allocate money to the fire company in their respective annual budgets, but these boards do not directly oversee operations of the company.In 2014 the fire company received $31,000 from the village and $119,000 from the town.

The elder Brooks made a detailed presentation to the town board last Wednesday, outlining why he felt a fire district would be beneficial to both taxpayers and the fire company itself.

“No government agency has really looked into this,” he said. “It’s going to save taxpayers a lot of money.”

Town attorney Erika Sellar-Ryan said a fire district would operate nearly identically to a board of education.

“It is the same as a school board,” Sellar-Ryan said. “They’re the ones running your budget and levying the taxes; (the town) board and the village board would no longer be in charge of giving any money to the fire company.”

Both Brooks made the point that without a board to oversee the fire company, if the company were to fall under bad leadership it could easily cost the town and village a lot of money.

“We’ve seen what a poorly operated department can do,” said the elder Brooks. “They can sign a bunch of contracts, run (the town) into debt and then just leave.”

He said that a fire district board not affiliated with the fire company could oversee day-to-day expenditures and ensure that the department is operating efficiently. The board would effectively serve as a check on the department’s spending power.

“This is accountability of the department back to a government body that will always oversee it,” said the younger Brooks.

Town Supervisor George Armstrong said he was open to the proposal and that he would speak with village officials, including Mayor Ken Bartholomew, to get their opinion on the matter.

“I will be talking to the village, but if we decide to do something it would be a long process,” Armstrong said.



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