Downsized Fire Station Proposed

Funding remains the biggest question

By Michael Turton

About 25 residents braved frigid temperatures on Monday night (Feb. 16) to attend a meeting at the Cold Spring Firehouse, part of an ongoing discussion regarding plans to replace the aging home base of the Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC) at 154 Main St.

The public Q-and-A session, postponed one week due to a winter storm, was led by CSFC President John Landolfi and Assistant Chief Steve Smith. The audience included the five candidates running in the March 18 election for three seats on the Village Board. Landolfi and Smith answered questions submitted by email and also addressed comments from the audience.

The original concept drawing for a three-story Cold Spring firehouse with part of the adjacent PCNR building shown to illustrate scale

The original concept drawing for a three-story Cold Spring firehouse with part of the adjacent PCNR building shown to illustrate scale

During a break in the question period, Smith reviewed modifications to the proposal presented late last fall that called for a three-story, 19,458-square-foot building that came with a price tag in excess of $6 million.

Plans have since been scaled back to a two-story, 14,193-square-foot building that would cost approximately $4.6 million to build. Additional costs such as engineering, demolition of the old building and storage required during construction could add another $800,000 to the bill.

Costly comparisons

Smith detailed facilities planned for each level of the proposed building. The basement would house utilities such as a furnace, compressors and generators. The main floor would include truck bays, a radio room, a laundry, decontamination and fitness rooms, showers and bathrooms.

A mezzanine made possible by the high ceilings required for the truck bays would be used for offices, storage and the board of governors’ meeting area. The second floor would include a meeting room accommodating up to 80 people, ready room, kitchen and bathrooms. A divider separating the two largest spaces would nearly double the capacity of the meeting room.

The design for a proposed Cold Spring fire station is based on the Fishkill firehouse, shown here. (Photo by M. Turton)

The design for a proposed Cold Spring fire station is based on the Fishkill firehouse, shown here. (file photo)

Any scenario to replace the existing structure will be costly. Smith said that North Highlands’ 17,000-square-foot fire hall cost approximately $4.7 million, an expenditure that was reduced somewhat because parts of the original building’s skeleton were kept intact. Mahopac’s completely new 34,000-square-foot fire station was initially estimated to cost $5.7 million but in the end came in at $8.7 million.

Alternate design suggested

Resident Mike Armstrong questioned why a design for a Cold Spring firehouse put forward in 2012 was estimated at only $3 million. Smith said one reason was that the proposal did not take Wicks Law into account, a factor he said would add about 25 percent to the cost. Wicks Law requires municipalities to seek separate competitive bids from plumbing, electrical and HVAC as well as general contractors.

Cold Spring resident Frank Haggerty reviews revised plans for a new firehouse.

Cold Spring resident Frank Haggerty reviews revised plans for a new firehouse.

Landolfi also pointed out that the design was based on prefabricated components rather than a design created specifically for the lot that the current fire station occupies. Armstrong commented that the trapezoidal design currently being considered is inherently more costly than a rectangular building. He suggested that contractors be asked to bid on that type of design.

Repairs impractical

Early on, a question that may have been on the minds of many was addressed — why not simply repair the existing building? Smith said that previous engineering studies determined that is not feasible due to a number of serious structural flaws; for example, the piers that support the building are deteriorating; the west wall of the building is bulging outward; the floor of the meeting room is sinking; and the floor in the truck bay had to be reinforced several years ago. Cracks and settling are also evident in other parts of the building.

“The building cannot hold the weight [of the trucks],” Smith said. “We can’t remodel; it’s just not worth it … it would probably cost more” than building a new structure.

Fire district again discussed

As in the past, the possibility of creating a new fire district was discussed, perhaps to include Cold Spring, the Village of Nelsonville, and parts of Philipstown now served by CSFC. That approach would make it possible to build the new fire station in Nelsonville, moving it away from the very cramped quarters on Main Street.

In a fire district, residents elect commissioners who administer the fire company within its area of jurisdiction. A fire district operates independent of local municipalities and has the authority to tax residents directly for fire protection.

North Highlands currently operates as a fire district. When a new fire station was built there several years ago, spending had to be approved by voter referendum. Residents voted “no” the first time. Plans and costs were then scaled back, and a second vote approved construction of the new facility.

The existing firehouse has deteriorated and has several structural flaws. 

The existing Cold Spring firehouse has deteriorated and has several structural flaws.

Fire companies in Cold Spring and Garrison do not operate as part of a fire district and as such come under the jurisdiction of the municipality.

Another possibility is establishing a single, expanded town-wide fire district with all residents within its boundaries taxed at the same rate for fire protection. That is not the case now. Landolfi did not have exact figures available but said that local taxation for fire protection differs considerably.

He estimated that tax rates per thousand dollars of assessed property value vary from 83 cents in Cold Spring and $1.19 in Philipstown to $2 in Garrison and $2.50 in North Highlands. While economies of scale may be possible by forming a large, merged fire district, it would require agreement among the villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, the Town of Philipstown and the North Highlands Fire District.

The CSFC itself has twice voted against creating a fire district for Cold Spring, Nelsonville and adjacent parts of Philipstown, in recent years. One obstacle Landolfi pointed to are the “service awards” that provide a form of pension to firefighters, paid for by Cold Spring taxpayers. He said it’s possible that if a new fire district were formed, Cold Spring taxpayers may be required to fund the existing service awards as well as the pensions required by the new district.

He also hinted at a loss of local autonomy, suggesting that while the CSFC has always had an “open-door policy” regarding use of its meeting room by community groups, in a fire district such decisions might not be made locally.

The North Highlands firehouse

The North Highlands firehouse (file photo)

To date, the lack of success in streamlining local government and related services does not bode well for a dovetailing of fire protection services. A report commissioned by the Town of Philipstown in 2011 that supported consolidation of fire departments town-wide was strongly criticized by local fire companies.

Last year the three municipalities abandoned attempts to merge building departments. The desirability of combining three local justice courts has also been discussed but with no action taken. Talk of merging local school districts has also gone nowhere.

Funding

No one in attendance questioned the need for a new fire station; in fact Landolfi and Smith received a round of applause at the end of the meeting for having provided updated information on the proposed project. The big question that remains is how the new facility will be funded in a village with fewer than 900 taxed properties.

“The Village of Cold Spring has to go after grants,” Landolfi said. “We [CSFC]can’t apply for grants.” Trustee Stephanie Hawkins, however, encouraged the fire company to be a part of the grant-seeking process. Landolfi responded in part by saying, “It’s a no-brainer; you have to hire a grant writer now.”

Photos by M. Turton


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15 thoughts on “Downsized Fire Station Proposed

  1. To bring Cold Spring’s fire fighting capacity up to snuff, more than just a new firehouse is needed. Once a building with proper entrance and ceiling height for a ladder truck are in place, the truck itself will need to be acquired — an expense not discussed at the meeting.

    There’s clearly a lot more to this analysis than we can expect a small group of volunteer firemen to do on their own, in their spare time. Some sort of joint Village-Fire Company committee should be charged with getting solid numbers and evaluating alternative solutions that can be presented to the community — perhaps a first order of business for the new leadership in this Village in April.

    The Fire Company is looking to the Village for help with grants and financial support, and it would be fair for the Village government to expect, in turn, a say in which solution — location, size, functions — is feasible and best meets the community’s needs.

  2. Having gone through this same scenario in Putnam Valley, where the proposal for another new unnecessary fire station seems to be a perennial and ongoing request, I can tell you that the taxpayers of Cold Spring are going to be in for a big surprise if they agree to go forward with the building that’s proposed.

    I totally agree with Michael Armstrong who said in his post: “There’s clearly a lot more to this analysis than we can expect a small group of volunteer firemen to do on their own, in their spare time.”

    Just as in PV, the new firehouse is a wish list that has been put together by a “small group” of non-professional members who either have not done a cost/benefit analysis or don’t seem to understand the fiscal significance of all the goodies they want for their new station.

    Example: they want a “fitness room” (some might call it a gym) so they can work out and get physically fit in their spare time. OK, that’s an admirable aspiration, but at what cost? Here’s a suggestion – how about if instead of building a gum that the taxpayers will be paying for forever, the Village paid for a membership in the local Club Fit or All Sport? That would have the benefit of pay as you go, not to mention all the great amenities that these private clubs have including trainers and such.

    While it would be nice for someone who’s already on the payroll to assist with the grant process, there are government funding sources out there that the FD can apply for on its own. For example, here’s a link to the FEMA Firefighters grant page.

    There’s a lot of good information on the site as well as links to other federal agencies who might also be able to provide assistance. Along with planning for all those new bells and whistles, it might be a good idea to spend some time looking at options for funding them.

    • Just to clarify something, Patty, the Cold Spring Fire Co. has asked the Mayor and Board of Trustees multiple times and were told to bring designs and ideas to the table. So they have. Also, they, CSFD, do not want a fire district because that would increase the tax base for the residents of Cold Spring among other reasons.

      I personally feel that other locations would be less expensive to build and the current property could be sold, bringing total expense even lower. Parking is always an issue and trucks just keep getting bigger. If the local government didn’t muddy the water forever on Butterfield, perhaps a previous agreement to add a firehouse there would have happened. Take the current property and make a metered parking lot! I think the term is “win, win”.

      As for your opinion on a gym, everyone has one. It’s a room, how it’s used will not be a taxpayer’s burden. CSFD purchases its own equipment, both firematic and recreational.

      One more thing, this isn’t Putnam Valley.

      • It is possible that Cold Spring residents living in a Cold Spring Fire District made up of Cold Spring, Nelsonville, and the area of Philipstown currently served by the CS Fire Company would pay higher taxes for fire services. It is also possible that taxes would be lower. To decide which is correct, I would have to see the actual numbers (all costs and transfers included, nothing held back), and the basis for the numbers would need to be clear and open to public scrutiny.

        I strongly support building a new firehouse, and would like to see a really compelling case made to do it. So show us the numbers!

        • Mr. Landolfi basically put the numbers out there. Understand that one of strong reasons the membership of CSFD voted against a district was tax base. Most of the company are taxpayers, common sense. Here is what I take of it and a good way to look at it. CSFD asks for money, fund raises etc., in a district, taxpayers just pay.

          I didn’t make any friends with my comments but I, too, have my opinion. I can only hope that the new administration steps up to plate and runs the village like a business. Stop the petty bickering or we will be putting plans for the firehouse on the shelf for another decade.

          • I’m sorry, but the numbers presented at the recent firehouse meeting were far too vague and incomplete. What is needed are numbers that are complete, detailed, verifiable and published on the web or in print. There’s just too much at stake here — too much money, too many safety issues.

            I also think it may be helpful to look at the whole fire protection system in the Village, which includes net fire-flow requirements and the hydrant capacity in key locations. Is there enough water volume to douse a fire in the old, unsprinklered Haldane building (the newer building is sprinklered)? How about the three- and four-story buildings on Main, clustered close together as they are, often with old wiring and without any sprinklers? Are there any Knox boxes installed on the multi-family buildings with residences, to permit faster access to fire fighters? A careful review of the entire Village for fire management risks would help establish a plan, including priorities and funding options.

  3. It’s unfortunate that those FEMA grants falsely continue to be put forward as potential funding sources for a new fire station, which is totally incorrect. Those grants are intended for recruiting, training and equipping new firefighters — what bureaucrats refer to as capacity-building. They are not to be used for capital, i.e. building construction, purposes. There may be other government sources (and all have detailed eligibility requirements and other strings attached) but that ain’t one of them.

    Jeff and Mike have both brought up the idea that other sites may be cheaper and more functional. I agree that this deserves detailed exploration. Not only the costs, but also the logistics of building on the current site and the impact that could have on Main Street and adjoining residential streets, should be addressed. Cold Spring isn’t Putnam Valley.

  4. As the Secretary/Treasurer of the Philipstown North Highlands Fire District, I would like to correct the following from the article, which is incorrect: “‘He said it’s possible that if a new fire district were formed, Cold Spring taxpayers may be required to fund the existing service awards as well as the pensions required by the new district.”

    There are no REQUIRED pensions in a Fire District. North Highlands has a Service Awards program, just as the other fire companies do. I am not certain whether each companies’ program is the same or not, but I am certain that there is not a district-required pension. I’m also not 100 percent sure forming a district in Cold Spring would cost taxpayers more money. However, I do know it would put the voting power of major purchases (i.e., buildings and apparatus purchases) into the hands of the voters.

    Additionally, prior to the voter-approved building for North Highlands, our tax rate in 2007 was $1.61 per $1,000 of assessed value (keep in mind that North Highlands also has the largest square miles to cover in the Town of Philipstown when compared to the other fire companies). In 2008 it was $1.99, in 2009 it was $2.49 and has consistently remained at $2.50 for six or seven years. So the new firehouse is costing approximately 83 cents (thus far) per $1,000 of assessed value in North Highlands. For me personally as a taxpayer and a volunteer firefighter, it costs an additional $290 or so per year for a total cost of approx. $900/yr) That’s a lot less than a paid fire department — I wish I could find the analysis Dan Valentine did years back.

    I personally support Cold Spring needing a new/updated firehouse (and thank you Carolyn Bachan re: grants — we went down that road with our firehouse and explored every avenue possibility. No grants were available). All fire departments need members who will join us and keep it volunteer or you’ll all be talking much more about costs if you have to face a paid service. The Firefighter 1 training program that is needed as a qualification to become an interior firefighter takes up to 104 hours (let’s all realize what that equates to as in your working hours).

    It sounds like there have been some great ideas brought forth and I’m sure all will be explored to ensure an accurate response as to why something will or will not work in this situation.

  5. I guess I will be the one to say, why aren’t we building the firehouse at the Village-owned property known as McConville Park, aka Tots Park? We all know the Village missed the bus on Butterfield and ended up burning the bridge with Mr. Guillaro. Instead we are proposing throwing wasted money at a retrofit, more like a square peg in a round hole. The current location doesn’t answer the very basic problem of parking for responding members. Finding parking during a fire call emergency can waste valuable time, but that is just the basic problem. Then we get into no future room for possible expansion, if it’s ever needed.

    So back to McConville Park. From what I recall from past meetings, the Tot Park would remain and would actually be improved since restrooms and a public pavilion would be available as part of the firehouse. But the public at large was against it, for whatever reasons. Using the “park” saves money, leaves room for expansion, provides needed parking and allows the FD trucks and members to stay in the current house until the new one is built.

    As for another committee to look into this project, I disagree. We overanalyze everything in this Village, from Butterfield, sidewalks, post office, metered parking, boat club, Grove Property, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Dockside, senior center, previously discussed firehouse renovations, new firehouse and waterfront condos, to name a quick few.

    It’s been discussed in public, on the streets, pizza place, and everywhere else in town for over 10 years. The Village Trustees need to provide their stance on where it should be so then the FD can get more solid numbers. Let’s move this and take it off the ever growing to-do list.

    • From what I heard at the firehouse the other evening, I’d say that this project is far from being over-analyzed. The figures were just guesses, and if this is the best we can do, we sure need to find a better way to get the answers.

      McConville has a serious deed restriction, which is likely to be hard to break, which was pointed out to the Trustees in 2008 (as part of a study done by Pete Henderson, myself and others) and again this year. Using a big part of McConville for a firehouse is fiercely opposed by residents who use and love Tot’s Park.

      I’m frankly skeptical about the high parking requirements. When an alarm goes off, most firemen go right to the fire, the location given by a message on their cell phones. They don’t go to the firehouse, or need to park right in front of it.

      I don’t know where the Village should put its new firehouse (I agree one is needed). But I doubt the best place is McConville, and I’d say this community still has its work cut out for it, to find feasible options, and then hone in on what it can afford. And while it’s working on that, can we please take a serious look at metered parking on Main Street?

      • As assistant chief of the Cold Spring Fire Company No. 1, with over 20 years experience, I would like to correct Mike Armstrong’s comment about firefighters and parking. Firefighters have always responded to the fire department for calls unless passing the scene on the way to the FD. It’s very difficult for them to do anything without their fire gear with them as it’s kept in the FD. Secondly, the fire trucks may not be on the scene of the call yet. Almost 3/4 of our active responding firefighters respond to the FD because that is where all their gear they need to wear is hanging. The two chiefs and maybe a couple members who live out of Village carry their gear in their vehicles. Only three interior, one driver, one exterior, and one probationary firefighter are within walking distance of the FD. So, yes, parking can be an issue for us and almost always on weekends come nicer weather. Time is very important when it comes to emergency calls and the time it takes looking for a parking space can make a difference.

  6. Yes it’s true — Cold Spring is not Putnam Valley and vice versa, although what this has to do with the issue at hand, other than to seemingly cast aspersions on a non-resident stakeholder, is beyond me.

    Be that as it may, I am very impressed with the high level of interest and debate that regularly occurs on these pages regarding every issue of public life in Cold Spring. This is really an anomaly in this day and age, especially when you compare it to (Put Valley) and your other neighbors, most of whom seem to care very little if at all about what goes on in the real world around them. I find it amazing that this small Village can support not one but two outstanding news outlets that provide such a rich source of information and conversation for the community.

    Back to the firehouse issue, which is going to have some fiscal effect on the taxpayers in and outside of Cold Spring, regardless of what iteration of the new station is constructed. Less than 1,000 taxpayers of the Village simply cannot afford to do this on their own and of course will be getting funding from other sources whether State, County or Federal; in that respect, I supposed it can be said “Je suis Cold Spring” as this burden will be borne by all of us to one degree or another.

    As far as the FEMA grants or any other funding sources that have been mentioned, I think it is not fair to place the burden of due diligence for such an important matter on the FD volunteers who, as has been pointed out, are firefighters who selflessly serve their community, not financial consultants. Once again we have the situation where the taxpayers are being assessed for millions of dollars each and every year, but get back little in the way of actual services rendered by their “public servants.” There are enough employees on the payroll of the County, Town and Village who should have been doing this work all along as part of their job descriptions, not handing it off to the volunteers who already go above and beyond the call of duty.

    The people who work for the government have access to the same Internet that we do. It is really not so hard to do research and find out information about funding for this project; it just takes time and some focus to put everything together, kind of like the homework that you help your kids with after school.

    For example, our state Senator, Ms. Gillibrand, has an excellent booklet on her website entitled “A Guide to Federal and State Funding Opportunities for Fire & Emergency Services” that is a treasure trove of information and could be a starting point for projects like this one.

    For better or worse, the volunteers have spent a lot of time and effort to come up with their proposal for a new building, a very complex undertaking any way you look at it. Maybe now they should light a fire under their public officials when it comes to figuring out how to raise the money for it.

  7. Michael, I applaud you for putting your opinion out there…not too many do …and I’m sure we all have our thoughts as to why. While I have my opinions as to why the Tot Lot may and may not be the best spot, I will follow your lead and ask for someone to educate me as to why not the Allen Coal property in Nelsonville? (My apologies if this was discussed at a meeting that I was unable to attend.) There is a structure there that may or may not be feasible to work with, there is WONDERFUL space for parking and think of the “community room” that could be built and used among the community. (I can tell you our calendar is almost always filled!). There should be no issue with relocating the trucks until construction is complete and there is AMPLE space for the ever-growing size of firetrucks. Additionally, it seems there would be little impact to any residents during construction as compared to construction at the current site.

    • I agree the Allen Coal site should be seriously considered for a fire house. In fact, why not take it a step further, and build a combined firehouse and Cold Spring Highway Garage there — and free up the spectacular and valuable two acres off Fair Street (west of Riverview) overlooking one of the finest views in North America where the Village now stores salt and maintains garbage trucks? Use the money from the sale or development of the scenic site to help build the firehouse.

      When a working group of the Cold Spring Special Board looked into firehouse sites in 2008, only sites within Cold Spring’s bounds were included (The possible exception — American Legion site — is partly outside Cold Spring, but was included). In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.

      The tax implications of consolidating the service areas of the Cold Spring Fire Company into a single fire district need to be accurately determined, including all costs, nothing hidden.

      If residents are being asked to foot the huge costs for a new firehouse, shouldn’t they have some confidence that all options have been fairly considered, without bias? As a practical matter, voters will vote against any plans for a firehouse if they think realistic, cost-effective options are being given short shrift.

  8. It is just wonderful the way some talk about doing things in Nelsonville as if it doesn’t exist as an independent political entity. It might not seem so since the mayor of Nelsonville hasn’t lived within the limits of the village for over a year, and may not even after the approaching election. But the people of Nelsonville don’t need Cold Spring (the water lines flow through Nelsonville) and can’t seem to get Cold Spring to extend the sewer lines. When Nelsonville disbanded its fire department, it contracted independently with the CSFD, but then the politicians screwed up that. Now Cold Spring wants to impose, without the consent of Nelsonville voters, to the Length of Service awards.