Move Would Put Town-City Contract

In the Hands Of Oneonta Town Board

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

ONEONTA – With its fire protection contract with the city stymied for three years now, the Town of Oneonta fire commissioners have set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at Elm Park Church on dissolving the fire district.

Town Supervisor Bob Wood, a former fire commissioner himself, today said, as he understands it, the commissioners could dissolve that evening by a 3-2 vote.

With chair Johna Peachin and commissioners Fred Volpe and Ron Peters supporting that idea, there appears to be the necessary majority, Wood said.  Commissioners Michelle Catan and Al Rubin favor negotiating a new contract with the city, he said.

From a service standpoint, while the independent fire district would dissolve, a “fire protection district” would continue to exist and the town board would then assume negotiations with City Hall.

Wood said he and three of the four town board members – Pat Jacob was away on vacation – attended the fire commissioners’ meeting Aug. 14 to urge the body to reach a deal with the city and continue the current arrangement, but were rebuffed.

While the end to the fire district would not endanger the area it currently serves – Southside and the East and West ends beyond the city line – there are two issues, Wood said.

One, he is required to submit a tentative budget to the town clerk by the end of the month, giving him 12 days to negotiate a fire-protection contract with City Hall and submit a valid budget by the deadline.

The town budget would go up 50 percent, he estimated, with those costs absorbed by property owners already paying a fire-protection fee, not town taxpayers as a whole.

Two, a district is empowered to start its own fire department, and the town cannot without recreating such a district, a lengthy process.

While that is theoretical for the time being, Wood continued, he envisions a day when the town, with so much space to grow, may actually be a bigger municipality than the city, and may wish to develop its own department.

Wood said both he and his counterpart, city Mayor Gary Herzig, were taken by surprise about the dissolution decision.

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