Impasse Over Fire Protection

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.

Cold Spring Fire Company trucks (File photo by Michael Turton)

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.”

The three-person Nelsonville Village Board (from left): Trustee Alan Potts, Mayor BIll O’Neill and Trustee Thomas Robertson (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

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.”

4 thoughts on “Impasse Over Fire Protection

  1. LOSAP is among many taxpayer funded benefits/entitlements (local, state and federal) whose costs come into public focus over time. If you haven’t already, would please provide readers with a history of Cold Spring’s LOSAP program, how long it has been supported by Cold Spring, how and when it came to be administered by the Village, how it was originally justified to taxpayers, its cost to the Village when initially launched and a comparative view of how those costs may have increased, decreased or held steady since?

  2. …and while you’re at the above exercise requested by Ms. Hawkins, can you please provide readers with accurate numbers of what an all-paid Cold Spring Fire Department would cost the taxpayers of Cold Spring? Along with the associated equipment purchases that are currently paid for by the volunteer department?

    I bet it far exceeds the $32,000 per year that the Village of Cold Spring pays for fire protection.

  3. The LOSAP was developed by New York State to encourage people to join and stay in the volunteer ambulance and fire service. It was established in Cold Spring by referendum vote of the citizens and by law it must be administered by the village. The costs vary from year to year and all the history should be available through a Freedom of Information Law request to the village clerk. As far as costs are concerned, if you can find any costs in New York State that have not increased from the 1990s to now, we would all be interested in seeing that rare bird.