Says insurance and pension increases “not our problem”
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Increased fire protection costs are causing friction between the Philipstown villages at opposite ends of Main Street.
On Feb. 21, Nelsonville Mayor Tom Corless accused Cold Spring of using the Cold Spring Fire Company as a “cash cow” to get money from his village, which contracts with Cold Spring for fire protection. In a several-minute blast delivered at the end of the Nelsonville Village Board’s monthly meeting, he also criticized Cold Spring for ignoring Nelsonville’s contributions to the wider community.
Responding on Feb. 23, Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy termed Corless’ assertions “absurd” and said Cold Spring merely charges fire company customers their share of rising costs.
Since being billed in October for 2017 fire protection, Nelsonville has withheld $1,004.44 in payments to Cold Spring for CSFC workers’ compensation costs and the Length of Service Award Program, or LOSAP, a pension for volunteer firefighters. (On Jan. 23, Nelsonville paid the main, uncontested part of the bill, $20,674.95.) The total amount invoiced, $21,679.39, included the first rate increase since 2012.
Like Nelsonville, Philipstown uses CSFC fire protection services. In November, without argument, the Town Board approved a 2017 budget that includes increases of 3 percent in CSFC workers’ compensation and 35 percent in LOSAP charges. With those included, Philipstown is paying $69,060 for CSFC protection in 2017.
Cold Spring’s government oversees administrative matters for the fire company.
“The appearance is they’re using their fire department as some kind of cash cow trying to make money off of either the village of Nelsonville or the Town of Philipstown,” Corless said. A CSFC member for about 32 years, Corless said that “the fire company did not ask for any increases from the town or Village of Nelsonville. This is the Village of Cold Spring tacking on these fees.”
Corless claimed that a higher workers’ compensation charge should not be passed along to Nelsonville because the CSFC would incur it in any case and firefighters “do the same work wherever they go.” Thus, he said, “no matter how many times they [CSFC] come to Nelsonville, their workers’ compensation isn’t going to go up.” Similarly, the LOSAP charge “belongs to Cold Spring” because it “was their referendum” that established it “and their people voted for it. That’s not our bill,” Corless maintained. “This is not our problem. It’s not our issue.”
He recalled that after the Grand Union grocery burned down in 2002, wrecking the U.S. Postal Service outlet as well, Nelsonville permitted establishment of a temporary post office in its old firehouse, until the USPS supplied a trailer. The old firehouse also has served the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, which assists Cold Spring as well as Nelsonville and Philipstown, Corless said.
Moreover, at no charge, Nelsonville allowed the CSFC to temporarily store a ladder truck in the old firehouse, although the truck primarily would have served Cold Spring, “where they’ve got 3½-storey buildings. Nelsonville stepped up and we’re not getting our return on our money for doing our part. Nelsonville has been more of a community than Cold Spring realizes,” Corless argued. “They keep kicking it back in our face.”
The disputed LOSAP and workers’ compensation sum “is not a lot of money” but the sticking point “is just the principle that neither one of these issues are our issues” and that Cold Spring officials “forget what we’ve done in the past,” Corless said. “They’re just looking to get money from Nelsonville for no good reason.”
Trustee Tom Robertson criticized Cold Spring for sending a bill without negotiating any increase. “It was so arbitrary it was offensive,” he said.
Merandy told The Current Feb. 23 he is “not sure what to say to all the insinuations and accusations other than that they are absurd. We are proportionally passing on the rising costs incurred by the Village of Cold Spring for LOSAP and workers’ compensation, to our neighbors, for services provided — nothing more and nothing less.”
At the Feb. 21 meeting, Corless left room for maneuvering. “If we can come to a resolution with them, that’s fine,” he concluded. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen before we have a new budget and some discussions.”
Cold Spring and Nelsonville adopt annual budgets in late spring.
In other business, the Nelsonville Village Board agreed to let voters decide in the March 21 village election whether to add two more trustees to the Village Board, which currently consists of the mayor and two trustees. The board approved the text of a ballot proposition, which at Corless’ suggestion will not only ask voters if they want a five-member board but inform them that each trustee earns $2,400 annually, a reminder that board expansion comes with a price tag.
During a public hearing before the board meeting, no residents opposed the referendum or creation of a five-member board.
Another good argument for consolidation of municipal services.