N.Y. village dissolves FD after officials refused to hand over financial control
The Copenhagen Fire Department is required to continue to supply fire protection until a new arrangement can be made with the towns it services
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
COPENHAGEN, N.Y. — Village trustees voted 4-1 Wednesday to dissolve the Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department after the extended deadline passed for their opportunity to hand over the department's finances and assets to the board for management and avoid the department's shutdown at least for a year.
Candace Randall, attorney for the village, said no further steps can be taken, including signing an agreement with any other fire department for protection for at least 30 days so that anyone interested in calling for a public vote on the decision can get signatures from 20% of the total number of voters in the last general election.
Mrs. Randall noted that because all of the towns currently under contract with the village fire department — Denmark, Harrisburg and Pinckney — have decided to pay other area departments for fire protection rather than signing again with Copenhagen due to safety and financial mismanagement concerns, the loss of income means that taxes would increase at least 45% for village residents in order to support the fire department on their own.
The lawyer also reviewed some of the liability concerns for the board including the chance that the trustees could be held personally liable if they allowed the department to continue operating without intervention, because they now know of internal issues that need to be addressed.
"They've had 10 months — since before I was on this board — to comply and get everything you guys have asked for," said Trustee Kerry Colton. "I'm not willing to give up and lose my livelihood and my future of my business for people that are just wasting the taxpayers' money. I'm not willing to do that... we've given them more time that they've asked for and it just does no good."
After the initial deadline was extended to Sept. 12, the full membership of the village Fire Department passed a resolution on Sept. 8 to send a letter to the village board asking for further clarification of what the village believes their "job" to be from their lawyer.
It was never received by the board or Mrs. Randall.
According to the Copenhagen Fire Department, Inc. President James Henry, however, a special meeting of the department's board overruled the resolution made by the full department membership in favor of refusing to make a decision until the department was reimbursed for bills they have paid rather than giving the bills directly to the village for payment as was requested by the village board.
Mrs. Randall said no reimbursements have been made because there are a number of questions about many of the vouchers received. The village has been asking for the bills and invoices for operations costs to be submitted directly to them for more than a year.
Trustee Patty Bates, who was the only no vote, said she didn't believe it fair to ask the department to give the village their building and equipment, but the village and Mrs. Randall maintain they were paid for with taxpayer money.
One of the 13 people in attendance accused the board of being anti-firefighter to which all every board member disagreed, acknowledging the progress made by Fire Chief T.J. Williams, who was in attendance, with training improvements and communication and the hard work put in by the volunteers that do the actually firefighting.
Most residents at the meeting, many of whom are former firefighters, said the department has changed for the worse since they were active with it and called out fire department leadership, with one asking if the "head" could be replaced.
Mrs. Randall said for that to happen, some of the firefighters would have to come forward about the mismanagement in the department and that has not been happening.
In a meeting held earlier on Wednesday, the village of Lowville board acknowledged the receipt of letters from Pinckney and Harrisburg asking for a contract for protection from the Lowville Fire Department.
Fire Chief Joseph Austin said he wanted the village to be aware of the contracts before he brings them to his department's members, although the Harrisburg agreement was already reviewed by the department's board, according to Trustee Daniel Salmon.
Mayor Joseph Beagle recommended that the letters be sent to the Fire Department for consideration and approval of the full body. "It's a work in progress," said Mr. Beagle. "Deep down I think everyone wishes Copenhagen would solve its problems."
The current fire department is required to continue to supply fire protection until a new arrangement can be made, although Mrs. Randall said the village is prepared to "make a call" at any time to get coverage by another department which was previously indicated to be either the town of Rutland or the village of Castorland.
The Copenhagen clerk is required by law to post a notice of the opportunity for a permissive referendum within 10 days.
(c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)