By LIBBY CUDMORE • for AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – A state Supreme Court judge this morning ordered the City of Oneonta and Town of Oneonta Fire District #1 to negotiate an extension to the current contract so the Oneonta Fire Department can continue protecting homes and businesses after midnight Dec. 31.
“It’s not the role of the court to negotiate a contract,” said Judge Michael V. Coccoma. “But I’ll make myself available.”
During the hour-long hearing in Supreme Court chambers at the Otsego County Annex Building, both City Attorney David Merzig and Terence Hannigan, attorney for the town Fire Commissioners, presented their arguments.
“We’re trying to resolve this,” said Hannigan. “But they are a vendor, and now they want 30 percent more or they won’t provide service. The commissioners have an obligation to provide service, but they also have an obligation to show what tax dollars are being used for.”
“Our concern is that the commissioners have not fulfilled their one job, to provide fire coverage for the city,” said Merzig. “911, EMS have told us that they haven’t been contacted by the town to change their vendor, so if a call comes through, it will be directed to us, and without a contract, we have no authority to respond to a fire in the town. But if we don’t respond, we’re putting lives and property at risk.”
The town has not negotiated with another vendor, Hannigan said, and would rely on the county’s mutual aid agreement in the case of a fire. “We’re not playing chicken with public safety,” he insisted. “The city responds to mutual aid calls from the West Oneonta fire department without a contract.”
But Merzig said that plan would not work. “There has to be a primary response department to provide mutual aid to,” he said. “We can’t have a mutual aid agreement with ourselves.”
Coccoma offered use the court’s conference rooms for both parties to concur with fire commissioners and council members not in attendance in hopes of bringing about a temporary resolution, with the stipulation that any contract would have to be approved by Common Council.