WEST ONEONTA – The Oneonta Town Board has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, after which it can vote to create a new fire district, ending more than two years of uncertainty on whether 80 percent of the town would continue to be served by the city’s paid, fulltime Oneonta Fire Department.
Town Supervisor Bob Wood said he and city Mayor Gary Herzig took “an hour and half” of negotiation to reach a new fire contract between the town and city, an achievement that had eluded the now dissolved town Board of Fire Commissioners for more than two years.
COOPERSTOWN – State Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma today issued a decision that appears to clear the way for the dissolution of the Town of Oneonta Fire District and the end to the city’s contract to provide fire coverage to Southside Oneonta and other neighborhoods.
Specifically, Coccoma dismissed the Town of Oneonta’s lawsuit and said it has no standing to prevent the town Board of Fire Commissioners from dissolving.
Fire Commission Chair Johna Peachin immediately scheduled a meeting for 1:30 p.m. at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Oneonta, and could vote within the hour to dissolve and leave town residents and businesses in limbo.
Please check back; this is a developing story. Managing Editor Libby Cudmore will be reporting from the fire district commission meeting.
When one least expects it, a breakthrough.
The Town of Oneonta’s Board of Fire Commissioners has voted, 3-2, to set a hearing to consider dissolving. The vote could come at the end of the hearing, scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Elm Park
Good idea. About time.
If the fire district is dissolved, a “fire zone” continues to exist within the town, so coverage will continue. The Town of Oneonta would assume responsibility for negotiating with the city. That’s good too.
There’s probably no one better than Town Supervisor
Bob Wood, previously a longtime fire commissioner himself, to bring talks with the city to a sensible conclusion.
For more than two years, negotiations have gone nowhere on extending the contract with City Hall for professional fire protection for the town’s Southside, and neighborhoods beyond the city’s East and West ends.
Only state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma
imposing a two-year settlement in January 2016 assured businesspeople and homeowners coverage as negotiations continued.
The two commissioners objecting to dissolution are the newcomers, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, who since their election last December have been foiled in efforts to get the talks moving again.
The three in the majority bloc, chair Johna Peachin, veteran commissioner Fred Volpe and Ron Peters, who is associated with Peachin’s accounting firm, have not responded to city Mayor Gary Herzig’s requests for negotiations, the mayor says.
As noted here before, Coccoma imposed a regimen that allocates one-third of the costs of the city’s Oneonta Fire Department (OFD) to property owners in the town fire district; the remaining two-thirds would be covered by city taxpayers.
An independent consultant agreed to by both sides came up with roughly the same formula.
Still, no movement.
The majority bloc has been tangled up in the issue of revenues created by the OFD’s ambulance squad, which generates about $1 million of the fire department’s $4 million budget.
In effect, those revenues – insurance payments generated whenever a city ambulance carries a patient from either the city or town to Fox or Bassett – pay down the total, meaning there’s less for city taxpayers and fire-district property owners to split.
The bloc believes the way it’s being done is illegal, but so far hasn’t found anyone with authority to agree.
Again, if an “i” or two needs to be crossed to bring everything up to Hoyle, Bob Wood has the understanding to figure it out amicably with Herzig.
There are implications for the future.
For one, a town can’t operate its own fire department under New York State law, an option the fire commissioners have been threatening to pursue in negotiations with City Hall.
However, if it came to that, the town could create a town-wide fire district that could do so, a lengthy process – but slower is probably better. Plus, that may never happen and shouldn’t – the town and city’s fates are linked.
Arguably, given the $1 million contribution from townsfolks, it makes sense for a liaison to be brought into discussions with Common Council on policies regarding the OFD. Perhaps Al Rubin, who has tried to be an honest broker since joining the fire board, would be a good prospect for this role.
Regardless, it’s time to move forward. If the majority-bloc fire commissioners have concluded they can do no more, it makes sense to leave the scene.
The Oneonta Town Board is more sensitive to what the public wants – only a handful or two of voters turn up at Fire District elections – and the public has said it wants the standoff resolved.
With Wood at the helm, along with town board members of good will, an end to a worrisome situation may finally be within reach.
ONEONTA – Town Supervisor Bob Wood and town Fire Commissioner Al Rubin will report on the prospective dissolution of the town fire district when Common Council convenes its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.
The town fire commissioners and City Hall have been stymied for more than two years on a contract that would allow the city’s Oneonta Fire Department to continue providing professional services to the town’s Southside business strip and well-populated neighborhoods contiguous to the city.
ONEONTA – The remaining Town of Oneonta fire commissioners, Johna Peachin and Fred Volpe, will have the regularly scheduled meeting of the Oneonta Fire District tonight at the Elm Park Methodist Church at 6 p.m.
Additionally, former commissioner Don Lamanna’s resignation letter will be read at the Town of Oneonta Board Meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 11.
Reconvening the hearing in state Supreme Court here shortly after noon, Judge Michael V. Coccoma said “there have been proposals” that City Attorney David Merzig and the lawyer for the Town of Oneonta Fire District #1, Terrence Hannigan of Delmar, should discuss with their clients over the lunch hour.
Coccoma said he will reopen the hearing at 1:15 p.m., in hopes both parties will be nodding their heads by then.