Public Hearing on GVFC Pumper Ends but Debate Continues

Town Board extends wind-turbine moratorium

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Philipstown’s Town Board last week ended the public hearing but not the debate over the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company’s intended purchase and financing of a tanker-pumper truck.

The exact level of financing, and the total in GVFC reserves, remained undetermined, prompting the board to seek more data before voting on whether to approve the venture.

Also at its June 18 workshop, the board continued the 6-month-old moratorium on wind-turbine applications for another three months, allowing more time to draft a town law on installation of such backyard energy-generating devices.

GVFC pumper-tanker

A month after the first session of a public hearing on GVFC acquisition of the 3,000-gallon tanker-pumper, the Town Board returned to the subject.

Yet if meeting turnout indicated the degree of citizen interest, the GVFC plans hardly register on the public radar. The audience consisted of GVFC President Donna Corsi and Chief Financial Officer Brad Miller, sitting with Garrison resident Lee Erickson; and perennial GVFC financial critics Joseph Regele and Stan Freilich.

The GVFC planned to buy the pumper-tanker through a lease-purchase financing agreement of up to $309,500. But Town Board members, Freilich and Regele, and Miller alike proposed that the actual financing amount could be considerably less — though an exact number proved elusive.

As initially listed, at $309,500, “the dollar amount is not accurate,” said Councilor John Van Tassel. “We need to get it accurate.”

Supervisor Richard Shea, left, with Councilor John Van Tassel and Town Clerk Tina Merando before the board reconvened the public hearing. 

Supervisor Richard Shea, left, with Councilor John Van Tassel and Town Clerk Tina Merando before the board reconvened the public hearing.

“We don’t have all the information we need,” Supervisor Richard Shea added. “We do need an exact dollar amount for the purchase.” Before voting at a future meeting, “we anticipate receiving two things: obviously, a dollar amount that’s going to be financed,” plus details of an insurance pay-out and “what that covers as far as equipment,” Shea said.

In analyzing GVFC finances, Shea said, “what I’m seeing is $109,340 that we feel should be allocated to the purchase of the tanker, to drop the financing.”

“We have $100,000 that we’re putting down toward this, roughly,” Van Tassel explained. “So you’d be financing $200,000” of the expense.

Miller said the amount to be financed might reach $195,000 or $200,000.

Despite their numerous questions, Freilich and Regele said they support giving the GVFC the resources it needs. “If it’s the collective wisdom that this truck is a good idea and it’s for the community and what not, that’s the way things work,” Regele acknowledged. “However, I think it’s important that if this decision is to be made, it be made [based] on the facts.”

He objected to what he described as GVFC stockpiling of cash. “The taxpayers’ money gets spent, with this excess money sitting around. With cash reserves around … the money is frittered away” on questionable outlays instead of things like the tanker, Regele argued. “There’s probably about $150,000 to $175,000 that’s available in cash that could very easily be used to pay for this tanker.”

Joseph Regele addresses the board. 

Joseph Regele addresses the board.

Regele also called for a different GVFC approach to budgets, to track line by line exactly how much comes in and goes out for various items. “We don’t know what they’re doing with the money. Can we have a real budget?” he asked the Town Board members, whom he depicted as lax overseers of GVFC finances.

Bristling, Shea mentioned endless hours devoted to GVFC oversight. “To not recognize that we cut the budget by 27 percent … in one year” is to miss a significant point, he said. Moreover, “to say we have no idea where the money goes is not true; it’s just not true.”

Councilor Dave Merandy said the GVFC appeared to be instituting changes and “it seems like everything is going the right way.” Nonetheless, he said, “these budgets aren’t clear and they should be clearer. I don’t suspect there’s anything wrong” but clearer budgets, with inclusion of reserve amounts, would eliminate a lot of the public anxiety, he said.

Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery, with Supervisor Richard Shea in background

Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery, with Supervisor Richard Shea in background

Councilor Nancy Montgomery expressed appreciation to both Regele and the GVFC for their contributions. “We do spend a lot of money on emergency services,” she said, adding that a few years ago, when the Town Board reviewed the matter, it found Philipstown was “in the top 5th percentile for per capita costs for fire and emergency services in New York state. I think we’ve worked hard at chipping away at that, really paying close attention to these budgets and trying to get them under control,” she said. “It’s not going to be an overnight fix.”

Freilich linked the costs to lack of fire department consolidation. Town Board scrutiny of fire department matters included commissioning a study by an outside expert whose conclusions proved unpopular with firefighters and controversial town-wide. “We are among the highest-cost per capita,” Freilich said. “I’m sure that’s because we have four fire companies and however many emergency services. The study was done. It recommended consolidations. Consolidation is the basic issue underlying all of this.”

Windmill moratorium extension

Before adjourning, the board extended the wind-turbine moratorium to gain time to weigh legal approaches. “We have to come to an agreement as to how stringent we want this law to be,” Shea said. “Do we want these in town, or don’t we want them? Are we going to craft a law that encourages the use of these things, or are we going to craft a law that discourages use of wind turbines?”

Councilor Mike Leonard, who leads the Town Board law-drafting effort, said ordinances elsewhere can serve as models for a Philipstown law that might also consider such local features as ridgelines and scenic viewsheds, without imposing a complete wind turbine ban. “It isn’t an all-or-nothing thing, in my opinion,” he said.

Photos by L.S. Armstrong


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2 thoughts on “Public Hearing on GVFC Pumper Ends but Debate Continues

  1. Again, the Town Board seems to be missing the point. It is not up to the Board to decide whether the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. (“Fire Company”) should acquire a tanker. The contract between the Town of Philipstown and the and the Fire Company provides, essentially, for a total budgeted annual amount in exchange for the Fire Company’s services to the Garrison Fire Protection District. The Fire Company’s budget is reviewed by the Town Board in the context of the budget as a whole. Regular reports on finance are provided to the Board. Those reports, and the contract involved, are available for public review.

    The contract provides that the Fire Company shall inform the Town Board about its major purchases. So long as a major change to the existing budget is not requested, that is all.

    The only “approval” here sought is for the financing arrangement. In order to obtain lowest possible interest rates (read: cost to the Fire Company) the municipality (Town Board) must formally improve issuance of the “triple tax free” obligations.

    Many officers (firemanic and corporate) and members of the Fire Company (in the interests of full disclosure, my husband has been and continues to be one of them)have worked extensively AS VOLUNTEERS for many years to determine not only the equipment most appropriate to the increasing needs of our growing Fire District (and shrinking volunteer base)but also the most economical acquisition arrangements.

    I certainly hope that the delays caused by the Town Board’s dithering will not end up costing the taxpayers more than would have been necessary.

  2. The simple fact, which needs to be repeated over and over, and over again, is that the GVFC is not an independent entity.

    The New York State supreme Court (S.W. Pitts Hose Company et al. v. Capital Newspapers) is very clear on government control over volunteer fire companies. In its analysis, the court states that “the plaintiffs’ contention that their relationship with the Town [ ] is solely contractual is a mischaracterization. The municipality clearly has, by law, control over these volunteer organizations which provide a public function.”

    The Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) states in the matter of Westchester Rockland Newspapers v. Kimball (50 N.Y. 2d 575, 579, 430 N.Y.S.2d 574, 408 N.E.2d 907). “The appellant performs a governmental function, and it performs that function solely for [ ] a municipal entity and a municipal subdivision of the Town of Brookhaven (hereinafter the Town). The appellant submits a budget to and receives all of its funding from the Town, and the allocation of its funds is scrutinized by the Town. Thus, the appellant clearly falls within the definition of an agency and is subject to the requirements.”

    The company financial reports that Ms. Von Bergen refers to are never provided in a timely fashion, are confusing and lack continuity. A constantly ignored but simple fact is that the Philipstown Town Board is also the sitting Board of the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company. As such, and in the words of the New York State Comptroller, the Town Board has “a fiduciary obligation to see that our tax dollars are well and wisely spent.” It is well within the purview of the Town Board to try and understand why Philipstown is in the top 5 percent in cost-per-capita (statewide) for emergency services. To do this (should they have the inclination) they need to demand, and be involved in, the creation of detailed, transparent budgets. Budgets that show revenue, expenses and actual costs and are produced in the same format year after year.

    As far as the “dithering” by the Town Board costing the taxpayers’ “more than would have been necessary,” it should be noted that as a result of the partial review (to date) that $110,000 has been identified from various accounts maintained by the GVFC that will be used to offset the cost of the new tank truck. If that is “dithering,” I hope to see more of it.