Cold Spring, Nelsonville continue to clash over payments
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The dispute over Cold Spring’s provision of fire protection to Nelsonville took new turns this month, threatening to impair funding for the Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC) and change the way Nelsonville pays for firefighting, although both villages insist they’re acting in good faith.
Since late 2016, the neighboring villages have clashed over what Nelsonville should pay Cold Spring for coverage by the fire company, which under state law functions as a Cold Spring municipal agency, such as the highway department.
Cold Spring wants Nelsonville to contribute to escalating costs of workers’ compensation and the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP, a pension plan) for the volunteer firefighters.
Nelsonville has balked. Mayor Bill O’Neill informed his Cold Spring counterpart, Dave Merandy, in a June 30 letter that “Nelsonville intends to hold a referendum in 2018 to gain approval” of voters for contributing to LOSAP/workers’ comp.
Merandy countered in a July 14 letter to O’Neill that the amount of workers’ comp and LOSAP “does not have to be approved by Nelsonville since the matters concern a Cold Spring village department.”
Cold Spring billed Nelsonville $21,679 in October, in a semi-annual installment, for charges that included an increase in workers’ comp and LOSAP. In January Nelsonville paid $20,675 of the invoice, withholding $1,004 that represented the increased LOSAP/workers’ comp.
When LOSAP and workers’ compensation costs again went up early this year, Cold Spring, in April, sent a contract whose terms require Nelsonville to pay about $44,824 a year for fire protection, or $22,412 every six months..
Nelsonville protested, drafting its own contract and arguing that it had paid $20,675 semi-annually for eight years, even after the previous contract expired in 2013. On July 1, O’Neill sent Cold Spring another check for $20,675, accompanied by his June 30 letter, in which he complained that Merandy “consistently refused to negotiate in good faith.”
In his July 14 reply, Merandy agreed to a few changes to the proposed contract that Nelsonville had requested, such as having it last one year, instead of five. He termed the concessions “a good-faith effort” to reach agreement but said he and the Cold Spring Village Board “object to Nelsonville’s attempt to unilaterally force Cold Spring to agree to Nelsonville’s terms. An agreement must be on terms mutually agreeable to both parties,” he emphasized.
Merandy then asked O’Neill to sign an acknowledgement that Nelsonville’s latest check “represents only a partial payment.” Signing it “will allow Cold Spring to cash the first payment and direct funds to the CSFC while the villages work toward finalizing an agreement,” he stated. If O’Neill does not sign the acknowledgement, Merandy added, Cold Spring “will continue to honor calls for assistance” from Nelsonville but “the cost of responding to these calls will be billed” to Nelsonville’s village government separately in each incident.
At Nelsonville’s July 17 Village Board meeting, O’Neill said he would not sign the acknowledgement. “I can’t simply say ‘Yes, this is a partial payment,’ ” he said. “I don’t have any idea what that means.”
Trustee Thomas Robertson said that Nelsonville had sent the $20,675 payment “in good faith until we reach an agreement. It’s getting difficult and very bizarre.”
“It’s been a strange situation,” O’Neill concurred, calling on Cold Spring to negotiate. “We have no desire to have a conflict.”