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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Holy Smokes Backman!

A story in today's Observer Dispatch article, Should New Hartford redraw its fire districts? focuses on the rising costs of Willowvale Fire Company that serves part of the southern end of town.

Don Backman, councilman for that part of town covered by the Willowvale Fire Company wants to redraw fire district lines. According to Councilman Backman:
“It’s getting pretty expensive,” he said. “We have to look at how we can make it more fair.”
Fair to whom? It may seem like a good idea to people in the Willowvale Fire District, but what about the rest of the town? Why should taxpayers in other districts be required to pay more fire tax just because Willowvale taxpayers want to pay less?

Councilman Backman, represents all of Ward 1, not just those in the Willowvale Fire District, although he lives in the Willowvale Fire District. Would Councilman Backman be considering redistricting if the costs were the other way around?

Perhaps a better way to handle the costs associated with the Willowvale Fire Company is to take a look at revenues and expenses to see where cuts might be made much like a business does when their costs keep rising.

For instance, General Municipal Law § 209-z became effective on August 1, 2007, and, applies to covered fire companies starting with fiscal years ending on and after August 1, 2007. That law states, in part:
1. Notwithstanding any provision of general or special law to the contrary, any fire company with revenues of two hundred thousand dollars, or such lesser amount as the state comptroller shall designate, that contracts with a city, town, village or fire district to provide fire service shall obtain an annual audit of its records by an independent certified public accountant or an independent public accountant. Such audit shall be an examination of the revenues and expenditures in connection with such contract or contracts.
Looking at the 2010 budget for the Willowvale Fire District, the amount raised by tax was $391,388. Guess General Municipal Law § 209-z applies to the Willowvale Fire Company.

Are they in compliance? Has the Willowvale Fire Company been hiring an independent public accountant to audit their books?

General Municipal Law § 209-z also says:
2. A copy of the audit report in the form prescribed by the state comptroller and certified by the accountant shall be furnished to the entity, and the municipal corporation with which the entity contracts, within one hundred eighty days following the end of the fiscal year audited.
By now the Town Clerk should at least have a copies of their audits for 2008 and 2009 which means that they would be available from the Town Clerk under the FOI Law. A FOIL request has been sent to the Town Clerk.

Then there is General Municipal Law § 204-a.

According to NYS Comptroller Opinion 2007-8 :
General Municipal Law § 204-a provides that a fire company, before engaging in fund raising activities, must notify the governing board of the political subdivision having general control of that company of the proposed activity. The governing board of the political subdivision may prohibit the fire company from engaging in fund raising activities or in any general or specific type of fund raising activity (General Municipal Law § 204-a [6] [a]). We have expressed the view that, instead of totally prohibiting fund raising activities, the governing board of the political subdivision may place reasonable restrictions on such activities, which may include a requirement for the submission of a financial report on the receipts and expenditures of the proceeds of such activities, and submission of related books and records of the fire company for audit (Opn No. 88-55, supra ).
Hmm...we don't remember Willowvale Fire Company ever notifying the town board of any fundraising they plan to do. Interesting though...requiring the submission of a financial report on the receipts and expenditures of the proceeds of their fundraising activities. Perhaps this needs to be further researched to determine if Willowvale Fire Company should be reporting their fundraising activities to the town board.

In an April 13, 2010 Observer Dispatch article, Willowvale fire costs highest in New Hartford, Supervisor Tyksinksi said:
...he had heard several complaints from residents of the Willowvale fire district about the costs.
Let's keep in mind that Willowvale fire rates are higher than other town rates because of the cost of building a new firehouse and the cost of the pension benefit plan. Willowvale fire district residents had a chance to vote on each of these issues; the rest of the town did not have a vote!

Both issues were discussed at numerous town board meetings; there were public hearings on each; there were newspaper articles and we blogged about the retirement benefit. How many of the "complainers" sat at home and never bothered to go to the polls?

The point of this blog is not to say that we necessarily believe there are problems with the way the Willowvale Fire Company is managing their money. However, there does need to be some accountability and perhaps some cost-cutting on the part of the fire company. The laws allowing for accountability are in place; the town board needs to make sure that the laws are followed. An extra set of eyes might be able to find cost-cutting measures that might help to reduce the budget, thus reducing the fire tax.

One last note, although the residents in the Willowvale Fire Company are obligated to pay for the new building, the retirement incentive plan can be reversed by the collection of signatures presented to the town board to force it to a vote. Perhaps if the residents in that district are so upset with their fire tax, someone might actually decide to collect those signatures instead of complaining.

There are other recent laws that have been passed in relation to fire districts and companies; you can read some of them on the State Comptroller's website.


Robin said...

Councilman Backman,

I see you flying everywhere out there in the Country and you arrive very later (in the early morning hours) at the Bat Cave.

You need your rest to fight all those bad people out there.

Best you let the Willowvale Fire Department fight their own battles. Is not the owner of Edwards Fire Ambulance Company an Officer of the Willowvale Fire Department.

Is not Edwards required to file and Ethics statement because of his holdings.

Perhaps, the real "criminals" are in your own back yard?

Anonymous said...

Lets hope Donnie isn't serious about this and is just covering his behind.

Don said...

1 of the largest reasons this area suffers in comparison with others is the lack of comprehensive regional services also called metro government. Eventually money factors will override the parochial attitude and a meltdown will occur, meaning somebody will merge something with somebody. A prime example is NH left almost broke by Earle Reed and the resultant 911 merge. So good does come out of bad.

You can gripe all you want. We already have mutual aid and there are situations where when Willowvale tones out, NH automatically responds and vice versa. So you are already paying, Cathy.

The inequity began when 1 area gets about a billion dollars in tax base and the other gets 300 million. Both have to build and maintain firehouses, both have to have class A pumpers which have to be less than 10 years old (and WV is about to fall off the list there) and both have to have adequate manpower to respond.

It's not just about money, take a look at how the fire districts are drawn. They are drawn for money, not response time. And this is ridiculous, if safety is supposed to be the first factor in response time.

Nobody seems to have a problem with Edwards Ambulance being located in Chadwicks; they seem to get there fast. Now tell me why a portion of my street, just down the road, is in the NH fire district when WV is so much closer.

Until the veil is lifted and people begin to think regionally, not square foot by square foot, NOTHING will get better.

BTW, it is almost FOUR times the NH rate (last year it was over 4 times the NH rate).

And I'm a bad guy for putting this on the table?


Don said...

[Robin said] I see you flying everywhere out there in the Country and you arrive very later (in the early morning hours) at the Bat Cave.


Robin, you and I both know the location of the Bat Cave is secret. Ssshh.


Anonymous said...

Be interesting to see who calls who more often for aid? Also to look at the numbers of trained staffed in these stations? Repsonse times seem like the hot topic now.... does anyone stop to think you need the bodies to respond with? Do you really think you can take an area served by NYM or NH that is paying a cheaper rate and tell that tax payer... well we are gonna send Willowvale to your house now...oh and by the way you are gonna pay more for it. Then turn around and tell NYM and NH districts there tax will go up as well just because we think its the current great idea?
This is insane.

I dont know where your getting your stats from but the usual accepted standard is 20 years for a fire service vehicle per my research online. If Willowvale is replacing one after ten years and you are ok with it than bravo for them cause NFPA is twenty. I know NYM and NH have pumpers in service older than ten years. Good to see Willowvale needs newer stuff than that.

Tax base is what it is. These depts grew and were funded and manned with the tax bases you quote. They purchased stuff and are prepared to handle emergencies in these areas theyve grown up around to protect. Now you wanna just redo it all because one private company got into an issue of over spending? That is crazy.
They knew what they were getting into when they had the referendums.

Edwards is in Chadwicks because they are a family business and operate in this area geographically.

I do not feel I as a taxpayer in nym fire area should be paying for willowvale. We didnt goto them when our calls increased for consumer square! We didnt ask the Willowvale public to pay for new pumpers or whatever. And why the no comment from the chief? We all know why. Its blatant this is all been worked out behind the scenes.

Seems your trying to win back some hearts and minds of voters in the Willowvale area after shutting the dispatch and cop commision down.

You presided over these rate increases. Now magically you feel its an awful problem. This is a blatant situation of someone trying to make there FD bigger and justify there overindulgences without any regard for anyone else, taxpayer or fellow neighboring fire district. You should be so proud to be a part of this.

Bob said...

This is one of my first times i agree with some of your conclusions. The blog today was insightful and a spot on. Why is Don doing this to the rest of the town?

I lost quite a bit of respect for him today.

Anonymous said...

does anyone see this issue going anywhere beyond hot air?

Anonymous said...

i heard that their is an old oil tank under ground behind the old building so just watch to see if that work gets done by the dec with the work at the old centeral steel building

Anonymous said...

thats the old willowvale fire house