Town Board Again Focuses on Fire Company Issues

New venue for Planning Board also considered

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Town Board works through its agenda; from left: Councilors Dave Merandy (back to camera) and John Van Tassel, Supervisor Richard Shea, Councilors Nancy Montgomery and Betty Budney.  Photo by L.S. Armstrong

The Town Board works through its agenda; from left: Councilors Dave Merandy (back to camera) and John Van Tassel, Supervisor Richard Shea, Councilors Nancy Montgomery and Betty Budney.  Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Philipstown’s Town Board this week continued to wrestle with the dilemma of its relations with fire departments. A letter from the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC) triggered the latest deliberations, at the board’s April 24 workshop.

In the message, the GVFC apologized for neglecting to inform the board of its intention to purchase a new, replacement truck for the fire chief’s use. Board members questioned both the need for the truck and its source of funding, and noted it comes atop another controversial GVFC project, constructing a fifth bathroom in the Route 9 firehouse.

Supervisor Richard Shea said that he doubted the truck had been bought yet and had advised the GVFC not to proceed with the purchase, given the unresolved issues between the fire company and town government. “I have a problem with the three trucks — three chief’s trucks,” he said. “Every other fire department has got one. They’ve got three,” each costing about $48,500.

Councilor Dave Merandy sounded a note of disbelief about the latest development. In light of the board’s concerns about the bathroom project, “they know where we stand on them spending money that hasn’t gone through us,” he said. “And then they’re just informing us that they’re buying a truck, with no information on it.”

Van Tassel said money for the truck was not listed in the GVFC’s 2013 budget. “Any expenditure over $5,000 that’s not itemized in their budget needs approval by the supervisor,” he said. “I’ve no idea where this money is coming from.”

And that, Shea remarked, “is the crux of the issue.” When combined with the bathroom project, a chief’s truck means “you’re talking about $70,000 in unexplained purchases. That deserves a look.”

He also sounded exasperated upon learning that the North Highlands Fire District/Department wanted to charge the town $250 per monthly meeting for town Planning Board use of a firehouse room.

 Councilor Nancy Montgomery said the amount is more than the Marriott Hotel charges for a meeting room — and the hotel provides setup and other aid as part of the arrangement, while the NHFD does not.

“This just points to that whole turf thing” with some fire department personnel, Shea said. “It’s outrageous. Here you have this community-supported building that should be able to be used by a government agency,” but is not made available without a hefty fee.

Board members proposed separate meetings with the Garrison and North Highlands fire departments to go over matters involving each, but set no dates. They likewise plan a public meeting with an expert in firefighting and fire department-related law, to — as Shea put it — “get this ironed out once and for all as to the legal standing of the town and the oversight capacity in regard to the Garrison fire department.”

“I’d just like to clarify our role and responsibility with them,” said Van Tassel, who is arranging the session.

New Planning Board location

The board voted to allow the Planning Board to hold its May meeting at the Butterfield Library. The Planning Board wants an alternative to its usual meeting site, the VFW hall, which becomes uncomfortable in the summer without air conditioning. But the air conditioning is so loud that conducting meetings is difficult.

One thought on “Town Board Again Focuses on Fire Company Issues

  1. I seem to recall that the “expert” who was retained a few years ago, at considerable expense, to critique the Philipstown fire service community, noted, among other things, that Garrison’s Station 2 did not have adequate bathroom facilities in view of its likely service (realized in 2011 during Hurricane Irene and since) as an emergency facility, not only for firefighting personnel but also for community members, during disasters.

    The Town Board would better serve the community by letting these dedicated volunteers do the management of the service they provide, rather than micromanaging firemanic operations. The Board is, of course, free to, and indeed should, keep itself informed so as to ensure that the services contracted for are provided, and that the taxpayers’ money is being well spent.

    As an aside, I would expect vehicle purchases to be carried in existing budgets on a regular replacement schedule for capital items, rather than as operating expenses.