COPENHAGEN — The Copenhagen Fire Department Inc. has two choices: relinquish control of the volunteer fire department’s finances, assets and buildings to the village or lose at least 45% of the money it uses to operate from contracts with three cities and to be dissolved.
In a meeting fraught with passion, frustration and miscommunication, around 60 people gathered in the gymnasium of Copenhagen’s Central School District on Tuesday evening to learn more about the department’s precarious position after city officials In Denmark, Harrisburg and Pinckney voted in meetings this month to “investigate options” to replace the village department as the main source of fire defense when their six-month contracts expire in January.
For the first time, the village made clear the total financial impact these disruptions would have, including a total revenue loss of approximately $68,493 for the three contracts, 45% of the department’s $153,436 annual budget.
Although the town of Champion has yet to decide whether it would be willing to sign another contract with the department in January without the village taking control of its department, the town’s $37,773 contract would not be enough. to make the department financially viable for the village without a significant tax increase.
The contract with the city of Denmark is for $40,000; Pinckney is $15,000; and Harrisburg is around $13,500.
If all four towns find fire protection elsewhere, the village tax rate is expected to rise from $8.63 to $12.58 per $1,000 of property value. This would cover the increase from a rate of $1.75 per $1,000 of value for the fire department’s 20% share of the village budget to a rate of $3.95 per $1,000 of value, depending on the presentation.
In addition to paying $15,000 in operating cash to the department, the village also covers $28,000 a year in workers’ compensation insurance and $2,000 for mandatory firefighter cancer insurance.
Since 2018, the Village and Towns have been asking the Volunteer Fire Department for clearer and more complete financial accounting of how it uses taxpayer dollars and maintains service assets, but the service’s board of directors The fire insisted that it was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the 1950s, they were independent of the village.
The village attorney retained specifically to help with fire department issues, Candace L. Randall of Campany, McArdle & Randall in Lowville, addressed the issue of jurisdiction at the start of the presentation.
“There is no independent village fire department,” read the first slide she told the crowd, citing state municipal law. “It doesn’t matter who owns the property or the equipment. The village board still has supervisory powers.
The village cited a lack of transparency and accountability from the department and a lack of clear documentation such as copies of bank statements and receipts for all expenses as well as a number of issues that have arisen this year and were discussed at an executive session in June with city supervisors. . The Village also cited the state attorney general’s reporting requirements following a departmental audit and various security breach citations as key reasons why departmental oversight is important to cities.
Jim Henry, chairman of the corporate side of Copenhagen Fire, said they were working on providing the documentation, but because they went through two accountants and the third volunteered recently, gathering all the information has been delayed.
The municipalities have issued an ultimatum: if the firefighters entrust the municipal council with control of finances, the building in the center of the village and the equipment, they can reconsider signing a contract with other services.
If Mr. Henry and the Fire Department Corporation agree to this and follow through, the Village has funds it has collected from the towns for departmental services, – a legal obligation – to sustain the department until a year in order to put the finances of the department in order before signing new contracts with the municipalities.
“The towns assured us that if the department complied, they would come back to the village for contracts,” Ms Randall said.
If the department does not agree to transfer financial and asset management and accounting to the village, the department will be dissolved, the village will construct a new building in the village which will be used by other departments as a local base for coverage of fires and possibly a new department will be formed.
Reactions to the options were mixed.
Throughout the two hours of comments following Ms. Randall’s presentation, including Mr. Henry’s rebuttal to a number of points made in the presentation, the conclusion that was drawn was that while no one wants the ministry is disbanded and the work of the firefighters is appreciated, accountability in the future must be swift or the window of opportunity to win over the cities will be lost. The department has a big decision to make – whether or not to allow the village to administer the department, which they say is “time consuming”, while it deals with firefighting.
Mr Henry said they would endeavor to obtain all the documents the village had requested from the clerk as soon as possible, but said after the meeting that the decision to hand over control had to come from the board of the village. ‘company.
Pinckney’s supervisor, Sherry Harmych, who was the only representative from the towns present, said that although they have sent antennae to other fire departments for coverage, no contracts will be signed until November, so that if the department decides to go with the “rebate” option, it’s time to prevent a new department from taking over.
“You will be covered. You will have fire protection whether it is Plan A or Plan B,” administrator Kimberly Vogt told those gathered.
Scott Simmons, a former firefighter who left the department and spoke out against Mr Henry’s leadership, said if disbanding Plan B is the department’s choice, he and volunteers from other departments will be able to provide a quick response time to their fellow citizens. .
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