Questions for Garrison Fire Commissioner Candidates

Nine candidates for five seats on the Garrison Fire District will appear on the Garrison Fire District ballot on Tuesday, Dec. 13, including all five current commissioners (Sandra Bohl, David Brower, Joseph Mercurio, Nat Prentice and Rodney Tudor) and four challengers (Stanley Freilich, Joseph Fronio, Linda Lomonaco and Joseph Regele).

The Current asked each of the candidates by email to answer the same questions:

  • Why do you want to serve as a Garrison Fire District commissioner?
  • What skills or experience would you bring to the post? Are you a past or current member of the Garrison fire company or another company?
  • What is your view of the 2017 budget?
  • What is your recommendation to voters on the $40,000 reserve fund?

Their responses are below. The polls are open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Garrison firehouse, 1616 Route 9.

Why do you want to serve as a Garrison Fire District commissioner?

Sandra Bohl
I volunteered for this position to help the community I live in. The commissioners serve the community and the volunteers who help the fire department run. The volunteers help to keep our taxes low and as commissioners our job is to keep them and the community safe in a fiscally responsible way.

David Brower
I want to keep the fire company intact and maintain the current infrastructure.

Stanley Freilich
I have always taken an active interest in our community and have volunteered in various ways over more than 20 years. I greatly respect volunteerism and the work that the fire company volunteers do for our community.

Because of my financial experience, I have followed and been involved in the finances of many areas of our community. The fire company budgets have been especially hard to understand and questions have too often been met with obfuscation and delays. I hoped that the newly appointed commissioners, four of whom are fire company members, would take a more open approach. Unfortunately they have not. Without producing the state-required audit for 2015 or a projection of their actual expenses for 2016, they produced a 2017 Budget with a 27 percent increase. I am running to provide transparency and financial oversight for the residents of Garrison and so that we can all be sure that our volunteers have the best equipment to keep them and our community safe.

Joseph Fronio
My knowledge of the fire service and related issues can benefit not only the Garrison Fire District but the taxpayers, as well.

Linda Lomonaco
I used to be very involved with giving back to the community. However, for the last number of years I have been spending all of my time raising my family and working. I now have the time and energy to once again focus on community issues, and I think the new fire district is a good fit for me, not to mention it is an honorable place to do my volunteering.

Firefighters give their time and risk their health, and subject their families to absence and worry. They deserve our grateful thanks. It is a noble thing that they volunteer for, and should be recognized as a separate endeavor from a budget process. The fireman deserve our thanks and it is my intent to try and assist them by participating in their nonfirefighting responsibilities.

Joseph Mercurio
I was appointed by the town to serve as a commissioner for its first year, after serving a couple of years as a volunteer firefighter. I was active in maintaining budget controls while insuring the safety of both the firefighters and the community we serve. I enjoy serving the community.

Nat Prentice
I grew up in Garrison and my friends’ fathers were members of the Garrison Fire Company, an institution that was well regarded by everyone in town.

I was appointed as a commissioner when the town formed the district and called for volunteers a year ago. I am running for an elected position because I believe that I can help the district manage its finances in a transparent manner and build a positive relationship with the residents of Garrison.

Joseph Regele
The Garrison Volunteer Fire Company is a dedicated and hard-working group. Over the years they have become increasingly isolated from the community they serve, and I believe it important that a broader spectrum of people from the district participate in its budgeting, protection and governance. Being a commissioner would allow me to bridge the gap between the volunteers and the taxpayers.

Rodney Tudor
I began volunteering for the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company more than 20 years ago. It has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. A significant commitment is needed to become and remain an active member of the company. My experience and firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices and accomplishments of the members of the company drives my desire to continue in a leadership role.

I was honored to be selected by the Town Board as one of the initial commissioners for the fire district. We have accomplished the initial steps of creating the district and realize there are many challenges ahead. I feel my experience in the fire company and Garrison Ambulance Corps give me a unique perspective of the resources needed to continue to actively protect the Garrison residents.

What skills or experience would you bring to the post? Are you a past or current member of the Garrison fire company or another company?

I am a member of three volunteer agencies in the Philipstown area. I’ve volunteered for the Ambulance Corp for seven years and have recently joined the fire department. I’ve had the commissioner training and have worked this year to understand the complexities and legalities of running a fire district. I do believe in accurate budgeting and working to keep taxes as low as possible for the district residents while keeping the firefighters and community safe.

I am a 40-year resident of Garrison and have been a member of the Philipstown Town Board, the planning board and the comprehensive board. I am a lifetime member of the Garrison Fire Company and currently an appointed fire commissioner.

I volunteered for the finance committee of the Garrison School, was elected to the Garrison School Board in a write-in vote and served on the school board for seven years, two as president. I am on the board and serve as co-chair of the Finance & Audit Committee of the BronxWorks, the largest social welfare agency in the Bronx and was treasurer for many years.

I have never been a member of a fire company but believe that the management and financial skills I gained over the years as an actuary and consultant to major companies both here and overseas, principally on pension plans, can be of great benefit to the district, the fire company and the public.

I have 13 years’ experience as a career fireman and am currently assigned to Ladder Company 51 in the Bronx. I have the skills to provide resources necessary to analyze district needs and plan for the future.

In my working life, as the Indian Point emergency preparedness coordinator and an assistant department head, I have been responsible for the creation, justification and tracking of million-dollar budgets. I was very involved with the Garrison school budget and instrumental in the creation of their community-included Budget Advisory Committee.

I understand this fire commission is new and will require new policies and procedures, of which I have spent much of my professional life researching and writing. Most of all I bring my energy, and what I like to think a balanced and fair and realistic perspective toward issues which affect many people in both their hearts and their pocketbooks. I am not a member of any fire company, and I am willing to learn about fire company operations so I can make informed suggestions.

I own and operate Mercurio Farms and for a decade an antiquarian book business. I’ve run my own media buying advertising company for 40 years. I teach communications at Fordham Graduate School. And I’ve been a firefighter/fire police for three years.

My experience is in financial analysis and includes service as a board member and officer of a number of nonprofit institutions. As an appointed fire commissioner, I coordinated the preparation of the 2017 budget and served as the administrator of the company’s insurance coverage and service award program. I am not a member of the Garrison or any other fire company.

I am not a fireman nor do I have any Firematic experience. What I will bring to the commission is the experience I have earned from running a construction company in New York City for more than 40 years. I started as a carpenter with a tool belt and now have more than 30 full-time employees and a successful and stable business. My experience with budgets, planning, balance sheets, insurance and negotiations is an expertise that is necessary to help the Garrison Fire District rationalize its operations.

During my 20 years as a volunteer fireman, I served in many roles, including lieutenant, captain, second assistant chief and chief on two separate occasions of the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company. I have served on the company’s board of directors for two years, including a term as vice president. I am also a six-year member of the Garrison Volunteer Ambulance Corps, serving on its board for the past two years.

What is your view of the 2017 budget?

In 2010 the Garrison Fire Budget was $742,115. It was cut in 2011 to $585,771. The company was asked to use up capital reserves to assist the town with funds it needed in other areas. It was told it would be restored, but the tax cap was put in place and the company was unable to restore the budget the following year.

This new budget will allow the fire district to get back on track with capital expenditures needed. Some of these include a generator for Station 1 so the engine can respond to emergencies during power outages, updated fire protection gear and equipment for the safety of firefighters and the community. It also includes added expenditures for becoming a district, $24,000 for salaries, $24,000 for rent, workers’ compensation and the $40,000 in reserve funds. My fire tax will only go up an additional $140 in 2017 with this current increase in the budget.

The budget increase is about $166,000, with over three-fourths of that being used for the formation of the district and infrastructure. I believe our tax rate will go from $1.60 to $2.07 per $1,000 of assessed value. The North Highland Fire District is more than $2.50 per $1,000 and the Continental Village Fire Department is $ 1.97 per $1,000 in 2016. The Garrison Fire District is the biggest in Philipstown and we have two firehouses.

It is too high and the reasons for this large increase are unexplained. I believe there was a surplus in last year’s budget and this year’s. The appointed commissioners took the opportunity to impose their “wish list budget,” unexamined and opaque to the public, because they were not subject to the state tax cap in the first year that the commissioners, rather than the Town Board, prepared the budget. This budget does not cover any major new equipment which will be an addition to this budget and must be voted on by the taxpayers separately.

If the current commissioners did their homework planning future justified expenses, I would feel confident that the 2017 budget is right where it should be or not far off.

I have only attended a few fire commission meetings, but my impression is the 2017 budget is fair, maybe a bit inflated, but I have not gone over it line-by-line and my knowledge is only in the beginning stages so I am not casting dispersions on it. As with most other budgets I have been involved with, I am sure the tax burden to taxpayers can be reduced. I am a fiscal conservative, and believe in common sense, realistic and responsible budgeting meaning: no padding, necessary and thoughtful purchasing, and making sure volunteers have the right tools and training to keep us safe and keep themselves safe as well.

The fire company budget was drastically cut back for several years, and it had a smaller budget in the past and less than neighboring companies. Too much of the equipment is warn and broken, and the volunteer morale and recruitment are down as a result. Major items went unfunded or underfunded by the town, even though they were safety issues and violations of government mandates. We kept the budget as low as possible while getting into compliance and insuring public safety.

I voted no on the 2017 budget because while I fully understand that an increase in the budget was called for to cover deferred maintenance, unanticipated costs associated with the formation of the district and the establishment of modest reserve accounts, I believe that it could have been brought in at a meaningfully lower number and with significantly greater transparency to the taxpayers.

I don’t think much of it. It is inaccurate to term the 2017 district levy as a budget. There is no backup for the levy. There is no indication of what was spent in 2015 because the state-mandated 2015 audit has not been released. How do you request more money when you can’t show what was spent in the previous year? How can line items be increased without a comparison to what was spent before? For the current year to date, no figures were presented for what has been spent nor, other than vague suggestions, was there any plan for what the fire company will do with additional funds. It is all just nuts!

The district worked long and hard to come up with an appropriate budget. We all live and pay taxes here, so we were painfully aware of the consequences of raising taxes. It is very important, with the 2 percent tax cap, to establish a baseline budget that provides the financial means for the district to make needed purchases and repairs in the future like new trucks and building repairs. The budget may look high but compares, and is in line, with other area departments. The goal of this budget was to ensure the stability and safe workings of the department and, especially, the safety of the community.

What is your recommendation to voters on the $40,000 reserve fund?

Vote yes for the reserves. The reserves are used to keep the budget stable when major repairs need to be done or when apparatus needs to be replaced. Most of us try to put away money for an emergency and the fire department, as the New York State Comptroller recommends, is no different. If a major piece of equipment breaks down and there are no funds set aside for the repair, where does it come from?

The comptroller recommends that we have reserve funds. To my knowledge, there is not a school or fire district that doesn’t have reserve funds.

My recommendation is to vote no. The budget already contains more than sufficient funds for any emergency and state law require a public referendum for a major purchase of equipment.

Establishing and funding allowable reserve funds for a clear purpose can help smooth out spikes in the budget. They can be excellent financial planning tools when combined with a realistic analysis of future needs and obligations. Reserve funds can also be utilized to help protect the budget against known risks such as potential lawsuits or major storms.

The vote is on the creation of three reserve accounts. The $40,000 is already in the adopted budget for 2017, and would be split between the three propositions on the ballot; Building, Equipment and Vehicle capital account reserves. There is currently no legal bank account/accounts for reserves. Creation of such accounts is a responsible policy to provide for contingency repairs, maintenance and replacement money as budgeted items. Eventually a roof, a floor, pavement, a fire truck, fire equipment, etc. will need to be repaired or replaced, and there is always need for capital maintenance. The establishment of these accounts will be a minimally invasive way to spread eventual financial burden of these over a period of time, rather than all in one tax blow.

The comptroller recommends fire districts have reserve funds for trucks and for capitol facilities. Given the nature of the work and the physical condition in fires, boat and auto accidents and storm conditions, it is wise to have reserves. The amount is voted by the board while voters decide to have funds. Forty thousand dollars is substantially less than neighboring companies.

I recommend voters support the establishment of the three reserve funds: Apparatus, Buildings and Equipment.

Vote no! Reread what is written about the budget. A reserve is not needed or justified. The fire company needs a plan more than it needs a reserve.

I highly recommend the reserves. The current and past state comptrollers have recommended reserves to plan for and offset costs of large purchases, projects and repairs. The fire company maintained reserves in the past and used them very effectively to save money. This was done by purchasing a truck chassis directly from the manufacturer, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars on several truck purchases. The reserves will be an effective tool to operate within the tax cap.

Comments are closed.